How “superbosses” support diverse teams

While studies show that businesses with more-diverse teams outperform their less-diverse counterparts, many employers still struggle to create an inclusive work environment, writes Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Management at Dartmouth College, for Harvard Business Review.

After conducting more than 200 interviews to identify dozens of individuals he considered to be "superbosses," Finkelstein identified practices these managers adopt to be more inclusive. Here are four ways the best managers support diverse teams.

1. Focus on talent

Inclusive leaders depart from traditional hiring models that focus on credentials and backgrounds, Finkelstein writes. Instead, these managers create their own formula that emphasizes "underlying qualities such as exceptional intelligence, creativity, and flexibility."

These leaders recognize that many standards, like unpaid internships, mark privilege rather than innate talent. By being "open-minded and shrewdly opportunistic," managers expand their talent pool by tapping into groups other companies overlook to spot truly exceptional hires.

For example, Bill Walsh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, established an NFL internship program for minority coaches, "allowing participants a fast track into the NFL, and himself a chance to tap into a vast source of talent others had ignored" Finkelstein writes.

2. Foster creativity

Inclusive managers welcome good ideas from all levels of the organization. Traditional leaders, on the other hand, give lip service to innovation but "really only want employees to do what they're told," says Finkelstein. To help employees feel more empowered and creative, Finkelstein recommends that managers "define the core vision of the team, and regard everything else as potentially open for innovation."

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3. Use opportunity as a development tool

Great leaders don't place "arbitrary limits on the potential of their employees," Finkelstein writes. Believing that their employees are capable of anything, inclusive managers look past traditional age and background requirements to open opportunities up to often overlooked groups, like women and minorities.

For example, Finkelstein writes that Tommy Frist, the co-founder of Hospital Corporation of America, was known to direct promising physical therapists into executive roles, "simply because he saw something that others didn't."

4. Mobilize competition and collaboration

Finkelstein suggests that inclusive leaders ensure their employees "gel into a unified, high-performance team" by fostering a competitive environment and close collaboration simultaneously. By pairing competition and collaboration, these managers create a culture that is "both intensive and nurturing," Finkelstein writes. This strategy creates "a cauldron that prompts new ideas to arise and fuels exceptional performance" (Finkelstein, Harvard Business Review, 7/17)

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