Chapter 4 – Project Team

4.6. Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership

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The Power of Diversity

The rationale for putting together a team is to combine different people, personalities, and perspectives to solve a problem. HR Specialists know that inclusive and diverse teams make the best business and project decisions, make faster decisions and execute decisions with better results.  The difference is the whole point.

Diverse teams are more effective than homogenous teams because they are better at processing information and using it to come up with new ideas. According to David Rock and Heidi Grant, diverse teams tend to focus more on facts, process those facts more carefully, and are more innovative (Rock & Grant, 2016). What’s more, researchers investigating creativity and innovation have consistently demonstrated “the value of exposing individuals to experiences with multiple perspectives and worldviews. It is the combination of these various perspectives in novel ways that results in new ideas ‘popping up.’ Creative ‘aha’ moments do not happen by themselves” (Viki, 2016). In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Scott Page (2007) puts it like this:

As individuals we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.

HR in Focus: HR and Diversity 

HR Specialists understand the need for diversity.  Diversity with teams starts with recruitment and selection.  Hiring diverse employees increases creativity and innovation.  People with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences make for highly competitive organizations.  When hiring employees or project teams, HR looks for diverse teams that result in better problem-solving and decision-making and highly engaged employees.


If you were selecting a team for a project, what types of diversity would you be looking for to balance the team’s creativity and innovation?

Considerations of Leadership

Good teamwork depends, ultimately, on a leader with a clear understanding of what it means to lead. HR could be involved in the hiring of the project leader to ensure that unique qualities, talents, experience and education are taken into consideration at the hiring level. To judge by the countless books on the topic, you’d think the essential nature of leadership was widely understood. However, few people really understand the meaning of “leadership.”  HR understands the importance of good leadership.  They facilitate the culture of the organization that builds trust among employees.  In turn, project teams would build trust on the same premise.  Also, HR needs to set an example for project teams as leaders and support and encourage the team by treating them with respect and recognition for their achievements in the project.

In his book, Leadership Theory: Cultivating Critical Perspectives, John P. Dugan (2017) examines “core considerations of leadership,” zeroing in on misunderstood terms and also false dichotomies that are nevertheless widely accepted as accurate explanations of the nature of leadership. Dugan argues that a confused understanding of these essential ideas makes becoming a leader seem like a far-off dream, which only a select few can attain. But in fact, he argues, anyone can learn how to be a better leader.

Here’s what Dugan has to say about core considerations of leadership:

  • Born Versus Made: This is one of the most pernicious false dichotomies regarding leadership. Dugan explains, “that there is even a need to address a consideration about whether leaders are born or made in this day and age is mind-numbingly frustrating. Ample empirical research illustrates that leadership is unequivocally learnable when defined according to most contemporary theoretical parameters.”
  • Leader Versus Leadership: People tend to conflate the terms leader and leadership, but according to Dugan (2017), “Leader refers to an individual and is often, but not always, tied to the enactment of a particular role. This role typically flows from some form of formal or informal authority (e.g., a supervisor, teacher, coach). When not tied to a particular role, the term leader reflects individual actions within a larger group, the process of individual leader development, or individual enactments attempting to leverage movement on an issue or goal. Leadership, on the other hand, reflects a focus on collective processes of people working together toward common goals or collective leadership development efforts.”
  • Leader Versus Follower: “The conflation of leader and leadership makes it easier to create an additional false dichotomy around the terms leader and follower,” with follower considered a lesser role. “The label of leader/follower, then, is tied solely to positional authority rather than the contributions of individuals within the organization. If we flip the example to one from social movements, I often see an interesting shift in labelling. In the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there are multiple identified leaders (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin) along with many followers. However, the followers are often concurrently characterized as being leaders in their own right in the process. In social movements, it seems we are more willing to simultaneously extend labels of leader and follower to a person.”
  • Leadership Versus Management: “Also tied up in leader/leadership and leader/follower dichotomies are arguments about whether leadership and management represent the same or unique phenomena. Once again, the role of authority gets tied up in the understanding of this. Many scholars define management as bound to authority and focused on efficiency, maintenance of the status quo, and tactics for goal accomplishment. An exceptional manager keeps systems functioning through the social coordination of people and tasks. Leadership, on the other hand, is less concerned with the status quo and more attentive to issues of growth, change, and adaptation.”

Whether hiring from within or an external hire, HR Specialists are trained to recruit Leaders.  When searching for Project Managers, they are looking for people who are professional, focus on results, inspire others, take responsibility for their actions, are able to influence others, including stakeholders, align the team to work toward a common goal, and have a strong emotional intelligence.


What skills do you possess to be a good leader?  What skills do you think you need to develop to be a good leader?  How would you go about developing these skills?

12.2 Diversity and Leadership” from Essentials of Project Management by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Strategic Project Management Copyright © 2022 by Debra Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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