For those leaders that have teenage kids, or that are big kids themselves, you probably remember the 2005 cartoon series, “The Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The cartoon’s main character was a young boy who was destined to be the Avatar.  The Avatar was to maintain harmony among the four nations and act as a mediator between humans and spirits. However, to be successful in this mission, he had to first master the ability to bend the elements from each of the four nations; fire, water, air, and earth. Like the Avatar, leaders must learn to master multiple leadership styles in order to lead a diverse team of individuals effectively. Diverse groups are not limited to race, gender, age, etc. but also personality types, education level, beliefs, and values. Therefore, successful leaders require a mastery of different leadership styles to maximize the skills and potential of the workforce toward accomplishing organizational goals.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”
– Malcolm Forbes


To have obtained a position of leadership, in most circumstances, a leader has demonstrated a level of expertise in one or more areas required to lead a team or shown the potential to be successful in a leadership position. Once in a leadership position, a leader usuallly adopts a leadership style that he or she is well versed and comfortable in applying but also one that is effective in motivating and influencing the majority of their team. For many leaders, this method can continue to yield results for a time, but eventually, leaders will discover that their sphere of influence will begin to diminish. This decrease in influence is usually the result of the team becoming more diverse, whether from actual size or changes in the dynamics of the team. When this happens, the leader will need to employ one or more leadership styles to direct, influence and motivate the whole team effectively.


By now most leaders understand the benefits of the diverse team. If not, there have been some convincing studies over the past few years that highlight these benefits. Among the most well-known studies is the McKinsey report from 2015 that examined 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The results showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Also in regards to gender diversity, companies in the top quartile were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Organizations are beginning to understand and capitalize on diversity within their ranks. Therefore, leaders must be able to effectively influence, motivate and direct a diverse team toward accomplishing organizational goals. Leaders require multiple leadership styles to account for the diversity of the team. In a previous post I mentioned that as a young leader in the military, I had only adopted one leadership style, directive leadership. This approach was effective when leading a few young, inexperienced soldiers, but as the team expanded and diversified, I had to adopt different leadership approaches for the team to be effective.


Additionally, organizations go through various stages in the life cycle, and as a result, leaders must adjust accordingly to achieve success in the organization’s vision. In a recent article, Jim Canfield, managing director of CEO Tools, ascertains that as companies grow, they require different leadership approaches. He goes on to discuss four leadership approaches for various stages of a business; the champion, the leader, the leader of leaders, the coach of leaders. For example, a startup company will likely require a different approach than an established Fortune 500 company. In my career, I’ve needed to utilize different leadership approaches to maximize my effectiveness during various stages of the military. I am currently a member of the United States Cyber Command, which is a very new military command, having been in existence for less than a decade. Therefore, I’ve had to adopt a more collaborative, delegating leadership style to focus on professional management and build out of the organization.

Successful companies employ diverse teams, and more organizations are capitalizing on the unique skills of diverse leaders. Therefore, a leader will likely need to employ multiple leadership styles to maximize the production, innovation and ultimate success of a diverse workforce. Leaders that can master multiple leadership styles will close the gap between their organization’s vision and the individuals responsible for working towards that vision.