As a senior in college and young worship leader, I faced a complex leadership challenge.

Tasked with assembling and shepherding several worship teams for a large Christian University in Southern California, my charge was to develop bands that represented our unique college context. Our university was situated in a diverse suburb of Los Angeles, and students heralded from all ethnicities, faith and non-faith backgrounds. How would I “aim for the middle” to best serve our community?

As a white male acoustic guitar player, not everyone related to my vanilla-flavored music leadership style. While I wanted heterogeneity, I couldn’t do it alone.

The risk I took brought an important innovative leadership lesson.

I chose an African-American bass player, highly influenced by gospel music. My electric guitar player was Hispanic, introducing Latin flavor into our band. Our drummer was professionally trained in jazz and pop, bringing a high standard of excellence. Others provided additional unique contributions. It seemed I was the weakest link.

Although it required hard work to clarify our musical and spiritual mission, a beautiful fusion of styles resulted, creating an innovative offering for chapel programs!

A former boss once said this, and I’ll never forget it: “Class A leaders hire Class A people. Class B leaders hire Class C people.” You see, leaders who lack confident humility feel the need to hire people who aren’t overly great, lest they feel threatened themselves. Ouch!

Yet, you ask, how can one distinguish between welcoming diversity, and inviting division to a team? Div-ersity and Div-ision both stem from the Latin root meaning “different.”

Students in a recent Innovation class uncovered the answer to this question quicker than I expected. Differences are acceptable, and in fact, desirable – if, and only if a shared mission exists.

John Kotter (Leading Change, 2012) suggests that an essential step for innovative leadership is creating what he calls a Guiding Coalition. Leaders do well to invite uniquely gifted members to their teams, while guarding against those who are unwilling to submit to a common vision for change. In Kotter’s words,

“…big egos and snakes are eliminated from promotion lists, no matter how smart, clever, hard working, or well educated they are. Such people kill teamwork” (p. 164).

What people do you need on your team in order to create new paradigms in leadership?

Daniel Gluck serves as Lead Faculty for Jessup’s B.A. in Christian Leadership program.