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On Being Divergent

Last week I read Divergent, the debut novel of American novelist Veronica Roth. The book is a dystopian novel set in the so-called Divergent Universe.

The novel explores the main character’s emotional struggles as she defines her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their social and personality-related affiliation with five different factions.

In this post-apocalyptic world, those who blamed aggression for the prior world’s undoing formed a faction called Amity.

Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite.

Those who blamed duplicity created Candor.

Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation.

And, those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless.

The trouble begins when not everyone fits neatly into one of these five factions, and when some realize that exhibiting a combination of qualities promoted by two or more of the five factions actually produces a better result for society.

In the book, it is the Divergent who have these multiple aspects of two or more of the factions.

This got me thinking more about the importance of divergence as it relates to leadership styles.

We often get used to labeling leaders as Extraverts or Introverts; or as Dominant or Conscientious; or as Competing or Collaborating.

In my experience, the ability of a leader to manifest multiple styles, dependent upon the situation, is a sign of strength and flexibility.

While each of us may be predisposed to show up more comfortably in one of several aspects on a personality scale, or with a preference for how we like to communicate with others or manage disagreements in conflict situations, it is often the leader that can show up differently, based on the needs of the relationship or issue at hand, that produces the best outcome.

When assessing a leader’s approach to managing conflict, it can be easy to pigeonhole that leader as either Competing, Accommodating, Avoiding, Compromising or Collaborating, when the most versatile leaders learn how to show up using all five of these conflict handling modes dependent upon the situation and the individual with whom they are in disagreement.

Similarly, leaders that know how to adapt their communication styles for the preferences of others are more masterful communicators.

Finally, leaders that can break out of their Introversion when necessary to inspire their teams to action, and leaders that can moderate their Extroversion to bring more deliberation and thoughtfulness to their decisions, often win the day.

Rather than using labels to define and potentially limit a leader’s impact, we might instead consider promoting greater divergence in a leader’s response set to encourage the full range of capabilities we all are capable of bringing to the table.

1 Comment

  1. Brad Zimmerman on April 16, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    David,

    I agree with your premise; when labels are seen as concrete; when they describe what we think the person IS, they are limiting, and from a developmental perspective counterproductive. However when these same labels are used to help a leader understand their unconscious “default strategy” which they will tend to automatically employ, and that this default strategy works for them in many situations and not in others, these same labels can open the possibility of consciously selecting or developing an alternative strategy. Thereby promoting greater divergence.



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