John C. Maxwell: Take the ‘Cult’ Out of Culture

UPDATED: September 26, 2015
PUBLISHED: June 10, 2015

Remember the last time you experienced a professional failure or setback? Of course you do.

What went wrong? Was your strategy flawed? Did you miscalculate costs? Did the client suddenly bail on you? Did a vendor let you down? What if the thing you think created the problem was only a symptom of another, deeper issue? What if the problem is really your  team?

Who you are is who you attract. I call it the “Law of Magnetism.” As leaders, we tend to draw in people like ourselves, and we tend to hire them. It can be a real problem. Building a team that is too like-minded is the same as filling a golf bag with only 9-irons. We limit ourselves, and that puts us at a disadvantage.

We value diversity; it erodes prejudice. That’s an important goal, but diversity also has a practical side: It overcomes the gaps created by a team that lacks variety.

Let’s explore what happens when your team isn’t filled with clones of yourself:

• Diversity minimizes the giftedness gap. I can count on one hand the things I’m good at. In just about everything else, I’m worthless. Should I spend my life trying to improve my weaknesses? No. I partner with others who have strengths I lack.

For years I’ve relied on my son for anything tech-related—and I don’t mean only now that he’s an adult. When he was 12 years old, he was my go-to team member. And he still is. He’s a master.

• Diversity bridges the knowledge gap. If you’re a successful leader, you’ll reach a point when you can’t know everything about your company’s ins and outs. It’s inevitable. The more complex your organization, the greater the knowledge gap you’ll experience. To continue being successful, you must rely on the knowledge of others.

If you were building your dream home, would you want a construction crew comprised entirely of the world’s best plumbers? Of course not. You would want plumbers, electricians, carpenters, concrete specialists, roofers, landscapers, designers—the whole spectrum of tradespeople. If everyone on your team is just like you, then you’ll have access to knowledge only like yours.

• Diversity eliminates the perspective gap. You’ve probably heard the old story of the six blind men who encountered an elephant. One felt the animal’s side and said they had come upon a wall. The second felt the animal’s tusk and said, “No. It’s a spear.” The others asserted they had found a snake, a tree, a fan, and a rope. None of them could tell that an elephant stood before them because they lacked the perspective to observe the big picture.

You and I are more like those blind men than we would like to admit. Our perspective is limited. If we recruit others with different viewpoints—and use our leadership to bring them together—we will see the bigger picture.

• Diversity closes the experience gap. A Chinese proverb says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” That’s the essence of how to close the experience gap. We need to seek out those who have had experiences different from our own.

As a young leader, I had all the energy in the world and looked to others to gain from their experience. Now that I’m 68, I’m often the one with the greater experience. Others have the greater energy. But we still need each other. Even with wisdom gleaned from a lifetime, I still seek out those who have traveled different roads.

• Diversity overcomes the problem-solving gap. Too often people believe that creative breakthroughs are the result of a lone genius’s eureka moment. That only happens in movies. Shared thinking is always stronger than solo thinking. When you pull together a diverse group of skilled thinkers, they come up with better, more creative solutions than any single person or homogenized group.

Now, analyze your own practices. Do you keep fishing in the same talent pool? Do you keep hiring clones of yourself? How much might that homogeneity be limiting your success?

Maybe you are hiring a diverse group. If so, are you truly harnessing the power of that mix? Do you expect everyone to conform to the norm and fit in the box you defined? Or are you recognizing and valuing the differences in individual backgrounds, gifts, experiences and perspectives and inviting each team member to contribute his best? You might be surprised by how much horsepower you can get out of a small but diverse group.

New to your team? Presenting a big idea? Find out how to gain trust as a leader.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.