People are people – accepting this as a leader makes all the difference. People think like people, talk like people, behave like people and yes, they can change as people, but only when they have decided to change and see personal merit in doing so. The same holds true for the leaders who lead the people. Regularly I hear leaders talk about “changing the organization” and “implementing change”, without truly considering the people, who need to make it happen. I feel much of the misery in today’s workforce, is unnecessary and is often related to the fact that leadership fails to consider people as people.
Although many organizations will publicly declare people to be the cornerstone of the organization, leadership’s behavior is not necessarily people-focused. An organization is built upon its people. This is often quoted by leaders, yet what people working in the organization regularly experience, may leave them more with the impression that the organization is managed with the idea of engineering and mechanics in mind, i.e. with processes and procedures, Total Quality Management (TQM), Six Sigma, etc. I often hear people express a general ‘absence’ of people orientation in organizations.
When discussing this topic with leaders, they usually share that they “see no issue” with the way people are managed and approached within their organizations. However, after some conversation, they usually acknowledge there are times when they personally avoid to communicate, close their office doors, in stead of actively reaching out to the people. Leaders ought to welcome people interaction and certainly not to be afraid of it. At times when business results are frequently less than optimal and organizations and its people are stretched, leaders need to actively embrace every chance they have to be with their people and to communicate. Leaders who do this, who are not afraid and take action, actively build a much needed framework of trust in their organization and in the market.
Leaders often mistakenly interpret providing ‘messages’ to people, as being in communication with people. From the many practical examples I have seen in my work, there is not such a thing as an effective ‘one way communication’. Leaders need to be aware that so-called “one way communication” comes to abrupt endings. In your own experience, I am sure you have seen situations and leaders come to such abrupt endings, for no real ‘apparent cause’ at that particular time.
However, it seems clear that if leaders stop treating people as people and loose perspective of the balance between advocacy and inquiry in communication, leaders loose perspective of the fact that they are indeed communicating with people.
Leaders must face the people challenge. What people most like about true leaders, is their relentless desire for people development and engaging every one in the process. Healthy leaders want to grow, they want to develop. This is equally true for the people they lead. Personal growth, recognition and rewards, are as important as having a fair pay. Attrition is not only driven by sub-optimal leadership, it becomes ‘a given’ in scenario’s where people feel they can “no longer develop and grow”.
Leaders can strengthen their ability to deal with their people, by developing and or improving their introspective ability. It is perhaps a challenging thought, but the sequence for most leaders is to start managing other people before they develop an introspective ability and have a level of self-awareness. This often results in situations where leaders question behavior of other people and do not understand how they have personally been at the basis of the unfolding scenario. Fortunately, leaders who have developed an introspective ability and have become self-aware, push themselves to objectively review a situation and their involvement in what happened. These leaders consider this part of their active personal development. I feel it is wise for leaders to want to improve their introspective ability and to learn about themselves and thereby becoming increasingly self-aware.
Leaders need to learn about and acknowledge what may be referred to as the inverted self-awareness iceberg theory. People usually know the tip of the iceberg about themselves, what they think, what they say, what they do and why etc., the ‘20%’. However, they present themselves in such a way, for you to believe, they know ’80% and for the iceberg to be ‘inverted’.
It is my experience that evolved leaders, leaders with a high level of self-awareness, have indeed created an ‘inverted iceberg’, know ‘80%’, are not pushing their presentation when dealing with other people and are eagerly discovering the remaining ‘20%’ about themselves. Behavior equals results. Results change, when behavior changes. Leaders who seriously want to improve, target self-awareness and make it a part of their personal development plan, using a healthy response mechanism with their people.
They avoid a journey with the potential for ‘Titanic like’ people collisions, all along having the illusion they’re doing fine.
If you go about your business as a leader, observe and truly let people experience that you notice them. Listen to people and talk with them and in this order. People are people, deal with them as people. As a leader, a remarkable effect will occur in your environment. You will soon be seen as a connected person, not infallible, a person connected to its surroundings. Leaders who treat people as people create collaborative successes; they build successful teams; they act with integrity; they build innovative platforms in their organizations, and they are ‘we’ focused versus ‘I’ focused. Simply put, they value human contribution.
I hope that an increasing number of leaders will choose to develop their introspective ability and in the process become more self-aware. Also, for leaders to actively put business metrics valuation on the way people are being treated in their organizations. In my view these activities will have a positive and tangible return on investment. People (employees, contractors, suppliers, customers, etc.) are really smart and resourceful. They know when leadership is truly serious about the people in the organization. In those environments people take responsibility and like to be held accountable, they carry success.
To me it is not just essential for leaders to treat people as people, it is the right and ethical thing to do. How much more productive and fun will it be for the leader and for the people to work in such a healthy people-led environment?
This article was originally published in Leadership Matters on 18 September, 2009.