How to Leverage the Diversity of Your Team (Even With Slow Learners)


Diversity means “differences”. It is not only about the color of a person’s skin, gender or background. It is about the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Leaders have the biggest influence on organizational success, but they often forget to do some of the most important part of their job—Leveraging the diversity of their team properly!

 All companies and organizations will have to deal with the ever-changing business landscape at some points. This means they must face and overcome new challenges to stay ahead of the increasingly harder competition. All organizations have competition for resources, talent, and revenues. It is not uncommon for leaders to be driven to frustration when some employees or member of their team are not keeping up with the pace of work and does not handle the expected workplace tasks given fast enough. Any good leader has to accept the reality that some people are not learning new skills or perhaps processing information/instructions as quickly as others. They take more time and efforts to change behaviors, acquire new skills, and adapt to new strategies. In such case, there are at the very least two actions leaders should take: provide mentorship and give constructive feedback.

 Leaders often forget that leadership is an active process. All team members are different and need to be treated equitably. Equity is not equally. You cannot expect all team members to learn the same, be motivated the same way, and know all the same stuff. This is why coaching is one of the biggest on-going opportunities that every leader must never forget. Coaching helps lower costs of doing business, keeps employees engaged and motivated, and helps keep your organization competitive. Employees need to be challenged to grow. Leaders must model expectations by rolling up their sleeves and helping out when things need to get done, but more importantly, leaders must, “teach a man (and woman) to fish”. In other words, make sure that each employee is setup for success.  Coaching is all about mentorship and giving proper feedback at the right time in the right way.

 1.      Supplement Instructions with Mentorship

 As a leader, it is only natural to expect that employees always understand the instructions well and know what is required to get the job done. Keep in mind that every project has its own unique problems, and there is always a possibility that the assigned employees have not experienced the same situations before. Without the proper knowledge or skills required to cope with newly discovered challenges, they are not likely to complete the project on time. Even worse, the project ends up in a situation where progress cannot be made. Clear instructions minimize the possibility, but orders alone are not enough for slow learners. This is a leadership challenge. It is not fair for leaders to expect more out of an employee than what he/she has prepared each employee to do. Leaders must set each employee up for success and this takes time and resources.

 Micromanaging the project (and therefore the employees) is a poor solution. The method develops a tendency to make the employee grow more dependent on a leader instead of encouraging them to grow and acquire more professional skills. It may also take too much time on a leader’s part at the expense of other equally important tasks. An experienced mentor, either from an external party or from the HR department, is a better idea. This investment of time and resources can pay huge dividends in employee productivity and organizational success in the longer-run. Cutting costs by not supporting employees properly creates confusion and frustration. Hence, motivating the employee to look for a new place of employment that makes them feel better about their career. This creates one of the most controllable and expensive costs of doing business. It is a real result of poor leadership. Employees quit their bosses, not the organization. Leaders must lead properly by being thoughtful, supporting, respectful and kind. This means setting an employee up for success.

 Unlike micromanaging, mentorship can give fresh perspectives to slow learners (or people who are learning new skills and expectations) and plants more professional-learning with required training of new ideas and ways of doing things. The proper guidance should make the employees more adaptable to various circumstances and help them become more capable of developing their own ideas. Mentorship helps avoid the need to constantly provide instructions during any project in the future. Learning takes time, but ultimately keeps the employee’s behavior positive and actions more productive.

 2.      Provide Constructive Feedback

 There is a clear difference between relentless personal judgment and constructive situational feedback. The former focuses on employees’ inability to perform specific tasks. Some employees may take such an approach well, but personal judgment is almost always demoralizing. It does not motivate employees well because the feedback only highlights their weakest traits. On the other hand, the latter emphasizes on certain portions of the project where progresses are insufficient.  Employees will always remember how a leader makes them feel. It is more difficult to win loyalty back from an employee once it is lost, than to maintain it by being a good leader. While the purpose of both approaches is basically the same, the difference lies in the subjects being addressed. If personal judgment is borderline casting blame, constructive situational feedback points out room for improvement. The subtlety makes all the difference to the audience. Treat employees as THEY each wish to be treated (The Platinum Rule is better than The Golden Rule).

 Another thing to consider is frequency of the feedback. Constant feedback is often seen as micromanaging. The risk is that employees think their leader always demands perfection to the point where nothing is ever good enough and your expectations are unrealistic. Micromanaging also shows that you have little confidence in the team you lead. Trust is the glue of all relationships. Build trust by giving trust with proper feedback and LOTS of listening to understand.

 Results-oriented people do not necessarily make excellent leaders. They have a strong inclination to micromanage employees rather than encouraging them to develop and learn from mistakes. Leaders are put in charge of organizational management indeed, but bear in mind that a massive part of that responsibility is to guide employees, including slow-learning ones, to better performance. Every person learns at their own pace. This means that leaders must engage with employees to understand how their team members learn and what they need to be successful. Giving an employee, “…fishing pole and teaching them to fish.” Can make the job of a leader easier in the longer-run.

This is how to best leverage the diversity of your team.  Every team member is different. Great leaders know that leadership is an active process that requires being available, effective listening, proper coaching, care, resources, and proper guidance. It is a leader’s fault in most cases if people are not meeting expectations. These are opportunities to support employees and to make the organization stronger. Treat employees as they wish to be treated and earn their loyalty, which will ultimately make your job easier.

Make good choices and have a great day! Only you get to choose how you feel about it!

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Dr. Paul Gerhardt is a skilled leadership and diversity trainer who builds customized workshops online or at your workplace. He is a tenured professor of management. He is a diversity and leadership well-respected and trusted trainer who helps organizations get amazing returns on their training investment. Visit for more great free articles and to learn more about leadership effectiveness. Dr. Gerhardt is the author of several publications available on, including Diversity at Work, The Diversity King; Leadership Lucy and the Leadership Handbook. Consider inviting Dr. Paul Gerhardt to do customized leadership or diversity training at your organization. Most organizations find that diversity and leadership training by the right trainer yields a significant instant return on investment. You can get your FREE COPY of the Leadership Handbook by clicking this link:




Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.