Blog Post

The Management Superpower That’s Essential to Lead Diverse Teams

By Mollie Teitelbaum
December 27, 2023

People management and workplace culture go hand in hand as two frequently cited sources of employee satisfaction and retention. For many organizations, rising disengagement and turnover have decimated budgets, productivity, and brand perception. A significant determinant of organizational success lies in the hands of frontline and middle managers. But which employees are recognized as “manager material” and how are they equipped with the skills needed to lead in this rocky talent landscape?

Historically, people who excel at technical tasks and core job functions have been promoted, but few of these leaders receive on-the-job talent management training. In fact, 69% of HR leaders agree that training for new leaders is inadequate at the organizations where it is offered. Developing leaders who will make a significant impact on an organization’s biggest priorities (e.g., employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and fiscal growth) requires more than technical know-how.

In-depth training is required to become more emotionally intelligent and to learn from differing perspectives to unlock the full potential of direct reports and the wider team’s combined success.

Setting the Tone for Diverse and Dispersed Teams

With five generations in the workplace, having a shared language to guide the way employees and managers interact with each other is increasingly important. Every employee has the power to impact other team members’ experiences at work, but managers set the tone for workplace interactions. Whether you call it inclusion, belonging, psychological safety, or something else—employees need to feel confident about their role in an organization to bring their best selves to work. To create a welcoming culture for people from various walks of life with different workplace values and beliefs, talent and HR leaders need to provide additional training and tools for people managers.

By teaching people to tune in to their emotions with intelligence and to expand their circle of caring, we can transform organizations from the inside out and make a positive difference in our world.

—Daniel Goleman, Psychologist and Author of Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ

When every member of the team feels heard and valued and understands their part of a shared vision, managers can focus on more of the administrative and strategic parts of the job. When the “people management” elements of the job are neglected, fear of failure, being “othered,” miscommunication, and lack of clarity can hurt the team’s performance—and the new leader’s career path.

Why EQ, Not IQ, Is the Key to Team Success

To drive business outcomes, managers must intentionally decide where to focus their energy. According to Daniel Goleman, you can identify outstanding leaders by the way they manage themselves and their relationships with their employees. He asserts that emotional intelligence (EQ) predicts high performance better than traditional IQ and can be broken into five domains:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social skills
  • Empathy
  • Motivation

It is no surprise that self-awareness tops the list. The increased responsibility that comes with a promotion often requires new leaders to manage other people’s emotions, communication styles, unique needs, and career interests. Additionally, they juggle the needs of individual team members with their own career development and the organization’s performance demands. Notably, to recognize the needs of employees across lines of difference, emotional intelligence on its own is insufficient. Managers must also develop intercultural competence: the skills, attitudes, and cultural knowledge to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. For example, empathetic and socially adept managers cannot effectively lead diverse teams through essential conversations without awareness of their own perspectives and biases.

“Inclusive leaders are individuals who are aware of their own biases and actively seek out and consider different perspectives to inform their decision-making and collaborate more effectively with others.”

—Center for Creative Leadership

As managers work to improve each aspect of emotional intelligence, it is crucial to recognize intercultural competence as an indispensable complement to the five domains of emotional intelligence. Understanding cultural nuances helps leaders navigate challenging employee exchanges and foster inclusion. Helping managers develop intercultural competence alongside emotional intelligence provides a holistic skill set for managers to lead effectively with sensitivity in today’s globalized and culturally diverse workplaces.

Micro-Learning Leads to Large-Scale Change

In preparation to lead with emotional and cultural intelligence, new managers need dedicated time for skill-building, reflection, and practice. To move from theory to implementation, they also need ongoing opportunities to practice new skills and reflect on the outcomes in the context of their specific organization or industry. Broad principles and theories aren’t nearly as useful without a relevant and recurring application.

Implementing newly developed skills in low-stress moments with a peer group provides a safe environment for managers to build muscle memory they can tap into when high-stress moments arise in the future. High-impact digital learning can be an effective complement to a busy leader’s schedule. If rising leaders can carve out short blocks of time to complete learning modules, leadership development can be impactful without it feeling burdensome. Peer feedback, periodic check-ins, and reflection exercises should be incorporated in leadership training for lasting impact.

Emotional intelligence should be the cornerstone of every leadership or manager training program. While coaching and conflict resolution aren’t the sole focus for managers, the team’s performance will never reach its full potential without the right tools to navigate interpersonal dynamics. Managers will be better equipped to help employees contribute, collaborate, and feel valued when emotional intelligence competencies are combined with cultural knowledge and awareness. Organizations that prioritize building these essential skills and developing inclusive leaders will see sustained success and innovation as the talent landscape becomes increasingly diverse.

Are your people managers equipped with the interpersonal skills needed to lead in the modern workplace? Learn how Seramount’s Learning Solutions can transform leadership development training.

About the Author

Mollie Headshot
Mollie Teitelbaum
Associate Director, Learning