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Leadership Thought #197 – You Have To Know Your People

August 17, 2011

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Business is primarily about people (and math).  Leadership can be a delicate balancing act.  You want to push your people to achieve high performance and exceed what they thought was possible.  However, you must also appreciate that when you hire employees, human beings show up with all their individual needs for understanding and support.  If you push too hard, they resent you and find you harsh and uncaring.  If you don’t push hard enough, then you enable mediocrity and stunt their growth.  It is not always easy to know where the line exists.

I advise my clients to focus their people development efforts on their direct reports.  When you get this right, it can’t help but set an example that will trickle down throughout the organization.  To do this well, a leader needs to know the following things individuals on his/her management team:


You cannot manage everyone the same way.  For example, some people want feedback in a direct manner.  They excel when challenged and pushed.  Confrontation is easy for them.  Other people wither under too much direct pressure and scrutiny. They require more subtle means to get your point across.  Most people will shy away from conflict and must be taught how to have constructive professional disagreements.   Some people are self-motivated while others need some level of peer pressure and to feel part or a team.   The list gets exceedingly long when you are dealing with the differences between people.

Leadership is both an art and a science.  You need to know the right things to do but also figure out the best way to get them done given your specific circumstances.  Unless you are a solo practitioner you need to achieve success with and through other people.    There is no magic formula on how to do this except to understand that people are individuals, and it is best to meet them where they are rather than try and turn them into what they are not.  Sometimes this does mean recognizing that you have someone who has needs you can’t meet or is a bad fit with your style or personality.  However, if you invest the time and do the work, people will usually respond well to your customized efforts and surprise you with their capabilities.