It's difficult to lead people who are not like you. Differences in communication preferences, work style, and personality can complicate how we relate to and work with others. We've seen the studies, and we know diverse teams produce superior results. That doesn't make it easier. It takes extra time and energy to work with differences, and this can create friction.
Inevitably, there will come the point when you can no longer dodge differences, and you'll have to manage this productively. Although it's convenient and comfortable, avoidance harms team dynamics and negatively impacts productivity. It creates barriers that prevent positive working relationships and collaboration.
I'm not saying that you have to love everyone you work with. If everyone were just like you, we would have another issue to address. However, it's the responsibility of a leader to manage differences and create a cohesive team.
The fastest, and hardest, way to overcome differences is to tackle them head-on. However, it takes two to tango. You will need to ask the other person to help.
Asking others for help is tough enough. Maybe it's pride, vulnerability, or the fear of rejection that sets in, but many of us would rather exhaust ourselves before we reach out to others.
You're not alone. Kelly McDonald, author of How To Work With And Lead People Not Like You, visited Welltower (where I work) to share tactics that can help leaders manage differences in the workplace and create common ground.
McDonald provided concrete ideas and offered a simple yet brilliant solution to engaging others with these four words:
"I need your help."
I know, seems too easy, right?
Based on her research on persuasion, McDonald discovered that human beings are very "tribal" in nature. In other words, we are wired for connection and community. Deep down, we know that we need to help and be helped by others to survive.
When you tell others you need their help, it taps into the human nature, and people are more inclined to put aside their differences to lend a hand. Try it. Next time you need something, ask the other person for their help. Additionally, this method is flattering, and people feel valued when assisting others.
Even if they can't help you, because you chose to be vulnerable and ask for their assistance, they will likely point you in the right direction.
Setting aside differences and pride to work with people who are different from you and asking others for help can feel counterintuitive for managers. But, it can be a catalyst for building trust and respect with your team.