I was a witness to the skillful execution of a project start-up this week. The team was just coming together, in the formation stage of team development. It was a well planned meeting, with an agenda, using a virtual presentation tool and video so that people with the technology could see each other. The project manager started the meeting on time, recognized everyone and facilitated at a nice pace. After presenting the high-level plan, he asked for volunteers to take on a task. He was blind to the capabilities of these individuals, they had just recently met.
I was impressed with his patience, the tone he set. He did not pass judgment. He was the opposite of stereotyping. Instead of reading their silence as reluctance to volunteer, he acknowledged that some people may need more time to think. He suggested that extraverts may be most likely to speak up but that he expected to hear from the introverts. He was setting a tone of accountability, but was he stereotyping? No, he was using a generalization that people are different and that it was ok; but not contributing was not ok.
Could this have turned into a stereotype? Of course. Let’s just say for demonstration purposes he believes introverts do not volunteer because they are afraid of leading (stereotype) and later observes enthusiastic participation and quiet leadership (contradictory information) but ignores this new input; then stereotyping is taking place. When we stereotype, we judge people based on our preconceived notions and reject new information. We stifle a person’s ability to reach their full potential by setting unnecessary constraints on them.
Sometimes being blind to the background of team members enables a leader to tap potential instead of settling for current capabilities.