Multivocal Leadership

The best leaders of diverse teams can speak the multiple “languages” of their teammates, based on their own experience and learning. Diverse teams were more likely to be effective if guided by a multivocal leader.

Multivocal leadership is not about gaining technical proficiency in multiple areas. Instead, multivocal leaders identify directly or vicariously through others with the experiences, mentalities, and skills of a diverse set of people, and fluently broker communication among teammates to guide collaboration.

Remember that a three-person team has three dyadic relationships, a four-person team has six dyadic relationships, and a five-person team has 10 dyadic relationships, and so on exponentially growing — making fluency among team members important for efficient, respectful communication.

Effective leaders of diverse groups understand what they themselves bring to the table, as well as the potential limits of their capabilities. That helps them to defer to the expertise of their teammates, where needed.

This is especially critical in a relatively new domain: data science. Handling Big Data means dealing with unprecedented volumes of information — whether terabytes of retail customer data, hospital records, or financial transactions — and complex decisions regarding questions to ask, frameworks and tools to use, and insights to seek.

Success in this context requires integrating the efforts of computer scientists, physicists, computational biologists, social scientists, graphic design specialists, and others. It’s impossible for one person to hold deep expertise across all of these domains, and the individual players on data analytics teams will inevitably have divergent viewpoints, interpretations, and work styles.

A truly multivocal leader will be able to create order from this potential discord, aligning understanding and efforts into a high-value solution or product where the whole is much greater than the sum of individual contributions.

Summing-up: Multivocality is a somewhat complex term for a simple concept: To lead a diverse team most effectively, draw on your past roles, cross-disciplinary fluency, and self-awareness to build trust, shared understanding, and momentum.

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