Differences needed and wanted

You are different than me.  Do we need each other?

Our differences are often seen in terms of ‘other’– that which is different from us. There are many ways we sort ourselves. Sometimes it is by physical characteristics, gender, ethnicity, or national/regional differences. There are other ways, too: she is like me or she is different to me; he loves me or he hates me; they are for me or they are against me; they are liberal and I am conservative; or I am right and they are wrong. It would almost seem that we spend more time and effort on noting our differences than on our similarities. We might ask what effect this has on us as individuals and as a working group or team?

Myers-Briggs. There are a number of ways in which we can better understand our differences. One way is through the Myers-Briggs personality inventory (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Through this test our differences are measured by our preferences: Extroversion or Introversion (outer world/inner world focus); Sensing or Intuition (focus on receiving/ interpreting information); Thinking or Feeling (logical analysis of situation/first impression of people/circumstances); and Judging or Perceiving (getting things decided/staying open to new information/options). We could simply say these differences separate us. But on careful examination we discover that there is value in all the differences and combinations of differences. Rather than saying one is good or bad, it is important that understanding the differences should lead us to “understand and appreciate differences between people.”

Gregorc.  Another way of looking at differences is through the Gregorc Mind-Styles Delineator. Through the use of this instrument, we can better understand our differences and explain what we see in ourselves and in others. It is built around two measures; how we perceive and how we order our world. On the continuum of perception, we fall somewhere between concrete (relating to real things and objects) and abstract (dealing with ideas and concepts). The other continuum, how we order our world, ranges from sequential (logical progression, step-wise fashion) to random (moving in other progressions, multitasking). When the two measures are crossed, four quadrants appear (‘random’ might be better understood by the word ‘web-like’):
Concrete-sequential – doers who enjoy details and like to organize
Abstract-sequential – thinkers who appreciate theories and want to make sure all angles are covered
Abstract-random – relators who are aware of the emotions of individuals and groups and desire that everyone is happy and getting along well
Concrete-random – creative visionaries who are able to see things that do not yet exist

Different, not wrong.  Since we see our world differently and attempt to order it in various ways, we can, if not careful and intentional, conclude that if the other person is different they are also wrong. The fact is that there is no right or wrong mind-style, only different. By understanding this, we begin to see that not only are there differences but that the differences bring something that we don’t have. If we are all alike we see only part of the picture, hear only one side of the story and approach projects in only one way. But if we can bring together individuals of different mind-styles we will have a complete mind, so to speak.

We need each other.  In any working group or team, we need people who can get us organized and care for the details (concrete-sequential), others who can ask good questions and keep our options open (abstract-sequential), individuals who sense our emotions and make sure we are working in harmony (abstract-random), and those who can inspire us and help a future that does not yet exist (concrete-random).

Especially for leadership.  For leadership, this has immense consequences. It changes the very way we look at leadership. It cannot reside in one person. We must not only recognize and understand our differences but also reach out to embrace those who are different from us. Only together can we develop a complete mind. And that is how we make the combination we call leadership. We need one another. Differences are not an option. They are a requirement. In this sense, differences are needed and wanted.


David S Penner, PhD.  Loma Linda University