There is no doubt we all prefer dealing with certain types of people and not dealing with other types. I have a clear profile in my mind right now, as I am writing this, as to the type I do not like dealing with. Stop for a second. Identify yours. There is no doubt that we favor certain types of behavior and communication styles. I mean, I have a list of styles and behaviors that really bother me a lot!
And this is precisely the point at which good management and leadership goes bad. It’s when a manager or leader starts to bias his or her decisions and guidance towards those people and styles that he or she prefers instead of doing the right thing.
It happens all the time. And it’s probably happening in your organization right now. Here’s a composite example I have constructed using several situations I have been involved with in the last couple of years.
A manager has five direct reports. She gets along well with four of them, but one of them is very direct, speaks his mind, is rather aggressive in championing his agenda and his staff’s needs, and sometimes goes off the rails with defensive statements when challenged. Let’s call him John. Privately, this manager tells me that dealing with John is tiring and challenging.
So, she is now not only selectively ignoring John but also marginalizing him with the other direct reports by (a) talking openly with them about how irritating he is, and (b) having private meetings with them where he is excluded.
Now, all of this is done in what I would call a socially acceptable way. It is not as stark as what I have written above. The ignoring bit takes the form of scheduling fewer meetings with John than with the other direct reports, or cancelling her meetings with John, so that the net effect is less face time between the manager and John.
And the comment to the other direct reports sounds like this: “You know, I have been talking with John about his fundraising plan for the coming year, and I am thinking he is too focused on his own goals and not thinking about how what he wants fits into the bigger thing we are all trying to do here.” Something like that. It’s a nice “objective” diminishing statement about John that is subtle but effective. And it plays right into the “concerns” of the other managers who already feel threatened and put off by John and his “maneuverings.”
The result is that the other managers are favored and resourced, and John and his program are negatively affected with reduced standing, reduced involvement, and reduced budget. The result: John and his program start to face headwinds and failure. This then proves the point the leader was making in the first place – that John is a problem: “See, everything I have said about John is coming true.”
And John is discouraged and leaves. And the organization has lost one of its best employees who was making a tremendous difference in raising the needed funds (total raised up from last year by 14%) for the organization.
Jeff and I have seen some form of this composite example in so many situations. And it devastates fundraising.
What’s the real situation here? Well, it’s not John and his behavior and style. Nope. It’s an ineffective leader. Let me clarify. In my composite example above, we have a leader who has all the attributes and skills to be effective.
But there is one aspect of her personality that works against her being effective. She has a very difficult time managing a person like John who is direct, aggressive, opinionated, and impatient. John demands action now. And this leader likes to lead by consensus versus going solo with decision making at times. So, her management preferences and style are constantly triggering John. In turn, this makes for a very uncomfortable situation that she actively avoids.
This all brings up the bigger point I want to make here. It’s something I have learned over the years:
If you want to be a successful leader and manager, you must attract and hire people with different skill sets, different communication styles, and different approaches and opinions. Many of those styles, approaches, and opinions will be different and may make you or others uncomfortable. But the fact is that their input will fill in what is missing in your style, approach, and opinions. And by filling in the gaps, you will be made whole, which then will drive you towards success.
When it finally dawns on you that having people different from you sitting at your decision-making table is good – that is when you will experience the beauty of how all the different parts work together to make up the effective whole.
Effective leadership and management are about getting results through others. And that group of “others” need to bring all of who they are (skills, abilities, and styles) to the group to round it out and make it effective.
This does not mean all your decisions will be by consensus. No. In fact, I do not think consensus management, where everyone gets to vote, is effective because the result of a consensus decision is often the wrong decision.
It does mean that you, as the leader, are encouraging diversity of opinion and style. You’re not allowing yourself to be aligned to any power person or group. You are leading – taking in all the opinions, styles, and contributions and then making the decision that seems right.
Try it. It does work. And it fits into how the entire planet works. Every little bit is making a positive contribution to the whole.