The data is clear; the experts have written volumes of books and endless articles on the topic: Having diversity on teams, in leadership, and on boards is a strength.
Progress has not been easy. There have been great battles fought—especially in the past few decades—to get more women and people of color onto teams and into more significant leadership positions. But those struggles have yielded great results across industries, in education, and in health care. It has been shown that broadening your team is essential to both short- and long-term outcomes, and the benefits don’t stop there.
When it comes to new opportunities, employees are often excluded from consideration because they don’t look exactly like us, because they are not as young or as old as us, or they have a set of abilities and struggles different than our own. This makes as much sense as picking a spouse based on superficial criteria, such as how tall they are, how strong they are, or the color of their hair. Clearly, there is a deeper set of fundamental characteristics and traits that will determine long-term success when choosing your team members.
When we talk about an ideal team member or leader, those superficial characteristics I just named don’t make the list. Rather, the characteristics you should be looking for are more likely to include: reliable, action-oriented, intelligent, ambitious, upbeat, and confident—the ideal traits.
None of those are defined by age or perceived disabilities.
In a 2015 article, it is made clear that traits such as being humble, reliable, eager, hard-working, and motivated can be found in someone regardless of their age or abilities.
One item listed in that article—“marketable”—can sometimes be construed to mean aesthetically appealing, but keep in mind that what really matters is someone’s character and skill set.
The data is compelling—so much so that Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School, gave a very strong suggestion in his Harvard Business Review article. But we have so much data on some topics, we don’t need yet another analysis, or yet another study. What we need is more action.
What all these studies and lists show is that the characteristics that add up to higher functioning and more successful teams do not include age, physical traits, or physical capabilities. We don’t need more information. What we do need is a more consistent change in selection, development, and promotion.
We need to have the courage to act on the clarity of this, the discipline to follow through consistently, and the durability to see past short-term outcomes and complaints to long-term success. The bigger the tent, the better your chances for competitive success.
First published on Forbes.com/JeffThompsonMD