“In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons”
James MacGregor Burns
In my opinion, leaders have one main role, and that is to bring out the best in their people in order to achieve organisational outcomes.
Right, so, how do we do that?
There are many different ways of working to get what we want as leaders, and many different methodologies, techniques and systems to help us to succeed. However, to bring the best out in people, I have one rule that I refuse to break: Treat the people like people.
This may seem obvious to you and, if it does, then that is great. However, believe me when I say that the obvious isn’t always obvious to everyone.
I once worked in an organisation where the entire senior leadership team believed that it was appropriate to thump fists on desks, yell and swear at people, and over-rule people constantly. Professional opinions were ignored rather than valued, people were expected to work incredibly long hours, and were not trusted to organise their own time. The leadership team was totally perplexed when they did not get the results from the teams that they required. No, really, they were perplexed. I, however, still cannot reconcile how bullying and blaming people could ever be considered as treating people like people.
Ok, so how do we treat people like people?
My way of figuring out how to treat people like people is to ask myself how I would like to be treated. After all, I am a “people”, so there must be something useful in that, right? For example, I don’t like my professional opinion to be ignored; I don’t like feeling disrespected; and I don’t like people making assumptions about me without first asking for my version of events. I can use all of this to shape how I engage other people – that is, I can aim to respect them, value their opinions, and always remember to ask them for their take on events before I make an assumption about their behaviour.
It might well be that the details of how I show respect are slightly different for each individual in my team. That is where my knowledge of each individual, and my awareness of my own behaviours, come into play. But understanding how people generally like to be treated is a good place to start. If the leaders in my example above had understood that, they could have made use of some exceptional skills and knowledge to achieve some amazing results. Instead, they created poor morale, broken people, and huge staff attrition rates.
So ask yourself how you would like to be treated, and treat people like people.