It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people who are just like us. Research by the likes of Robert Cialdini has uncovered solid evidence that we evaluate people who share our experiences, attitudes and appearance more positively.

Even a tenuous link such as sharing a name, initials or the model of car they drive can positively influence perceptions.

All of which might make sense when choosing your friends (although I’d argue it makes for a pretty dull social life) but is a pretty disastrous strategy when you’re choosing people to join your leadership team.

In fact, Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways, described ‘hiring yourself’ as the number one hiring mistake.

Diversity in all things

Diversity has, quite rightly, risen to the top of the agenda for most organisations in the twenty-first century. The drive to build a team that represents the customers you serve – whether by gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and so on – makes good economic and moral sense.

And while it’s not quite become part of business as usual for many organisations it is something that most are working on.

So I’m often surprised by how comparatively little thought seems to be put into ensuring leadership teams include a diversity of complementary competences. Indeed, it is within leadership teams that recruiting in one’s own self-image can be most prevalent.

And it can be a fatal mistake.

Diversity of capabilities

For much of our history an unrealistic view of the omnipotent leader who merely needed to surround him or herself with like-minded people for enforcement and implementation prevailed.

It’s a view that sets unrealistic expectations of – and intolerable pressure on – chief executives and other leaders. When one person is trying to determine the direction of the organisation and progress the day-to-day actions required to keep the organisation going, as well as maintaining communication with all stakeholders, it’s hardly surprising that some elements go better than others.

The Primary Colours® Model of Leadership

The Primary Colours® Model of Leadership developed by David Pendleton and Adrian Furnham in their book, Leadership – All you need to know was a groundbreaking and, for many leaders, liberating way to look at leadership.

Liberating, because the approach recognises that it is highly unlikely that one individual can excel in all the necessary leadership capabilities described in the model.

So, if you buy into the concept of the model, it becomes clear that the only way to ensure comprehensive leadership capability is to assemble leadership teams comprising individuals with complementary capabilities. And the most effective leaders are those people skilled in collaborating with others who bring different contributions.

This might mean a CEO who is highly competent in the interpersonal domain – motivating teams and helping understand where they fit in the achievement of organisational objectives – may need to make sure his or her Finance Director has exceptional talents in setting strategic direction.

Of course not all teams are collectively self-aware of their relative strengths and weaknesses, and I would argue this borders on self-delusion at times. A clear view of who within the team is best at what – and where there are competence gaps – is critical in the formation of the high performing team.There are several assessment models that can help create this view.

At Change Associates we’ve adopted the Primary Colours© Model of Leadership because it’s based on a solid evidence base, it’s simple to communicate and it can easily adapt to existing competence models.

The model provides a consistent thread and common language that links assessment, leadership development, team formation, succession planning and assessing change readiness.

Image (c) Shutterstock | fizkes

Grahame Russell