Monday 25 September 2023

Cognitive diversity: get the best out of your team.

By Mike Read, executive leadership coach and Founder of management consultancy .


If I knew then what I know now.

When I say ‘then’, I mean as an advertising executive, dating back to the mid-90s through to early noughties.

And when I say, ‘knew what I know now’, I mean a whole bunch of things relating to leadership, both internally and in relation to clients.

It was a privilege to be asked to facilitate a short session at Advertising Council Australia’s recent Business & Agency Leadership course, using Whole Brain Technology to underpin a conversation around the importance of understanding thinking and communication styles.

In planning what to present, an inevitable visual tapestry and audio soundtrack of memories from my time in adland came to mind, along with a few ‘ouch’ recollections too.

The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) is a world-class diagnostic that measures individual and collective thinking and communication preferences and competencies. It’s perfect for agency folk because our competitive advantage and capacity to curate world-leading creative content comes down to:

a) our ability to think differently about identifying problems and providing strategic creative solutions, and
b) our capacity to communicate efficiently and effectively.

The tool provides insight into four different selling styles – a timely reminder that the best salespeople are brilliant listeners while being adaptive to the communication preferences of their audience.

Using the four modalities of the human brain (the HBDI construct), questions can be posed, such as ‘which selling approach to our clients is the most important? Strategic (blue quadrant), transactional (green), relationship (red), or creative (yellow)?’ Of course, there’s only one technically correct answer. It depends. On how our clients prefer to receive information versus how we prefer to give it.

One of the reasons I was told I did so well in advertising was that I championed the cause of creativity. But if the truth be known, I can now see how I sometimes did this to such an extent that it made getting client approval way harder than it needed to be. Had I known this then, I might have kicked the poor metal bin I had under my desk less often.

And the same is true of my leadership style.

I remember telling my London team that the only thing that would annoy me would be if they didn’t come to me ahead of a problem they couldn’t solve themselves, escalating it to a point where the matter in question became a major client issue.

But again, this was my preference.

I now know that having an expectations exchange with the people in our charge is a fantastic way of building an authentic, mutually trusting and respectful series of intra-team relationships. My expectation was one way.

However, I think the greatest ‘ouch’ realisation, and something I often speak about in my role as a performance coach, is that the immediacy of judgment in a fast-moving world is usually completely misguided. If only we took more time to empathise – because we have all got stuff going on – our world and everything around us would be way less fractious. On this note, numerous research studies conclude that empathy is the primary leadership skill required in business today.

Whole Brain Technology reminds us that the people we think of as being DIFFicult (and let’s be honest, we use way more colourful adjectives at this juncture), are in fact DIFFerent. And that difference, in particular cognitive diversity, is key to building high-performance teams, both internally and alongside clients.

Like I said, if only I knew then what I know now.


To find out more about how HBDI profiling can help your agency perform at its best, check out Mike’s work .

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