A Team Leader’s Guide to People …

It’s messy!

Moving a group of people to becoming a team requires some refined skills because people are not as easy to lead or manage as mechanical ‘things’. Things don’t resist, they don’t get their feelings hurt, they don’t show attitude – People do. And that’s the beauty and the challenge… Dealing with people who have their own minds, voices, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, understandings, memories and histories, imaginations and futures, objectives, hopes, dreams, visions, values and a whole lot more.

A great part of working with people lies in understanding them, adjusting to them, their wants and needs, communicating with them effectively, and relating to them personally, as a person. People always and inevitably live out of their own unique subjective reality. And if the people we seek to relate to and communicate with live in a different reality, then we have to seek to understand them. We have to develop an understanding of people—what they want, need, how they work, and how they function in relationship to others. Here’s a few pointers:

1) People live out of their own subjective experience

The internal world of any individual always and inevitably differs from your own and from everyone else.

The first step to sanity is to stop expecting others to operate by your values, beliefs, perceptions, understandings, history, values, visions, dreams or rules. Their reality has been years in the making. It is the result of all their experiences, learning and experience as well as their unique needs, temperamental disposition and emotions. Like you, they have constructed a reality with their own language and unique set of mental maps.

2) People need and want things

People experience emotional needs and drives—safety, recognition, love and affection, self-esteem, peace, adventure, self-actualization, power, service, sense of accomplishment – even at work! We have to take these into consideration to work effectively with people. 

These wants and needs create dynamic driving forces for each person. These explain feelings, responses, communications, games that they play, why certain approaches work and others do not. As dynamic beings who experience all kinds of inner forces striving to be fulfilled through work and social experiences, this means that when we meet, relate, communicate with people, their ‘reality’ always presents itself. We first need to notice it, recognize it, acknowledge it before we can figure out ways to address it for what it is.

3) People want to be valued, appreciated, and respected

Everybody you have ever met, or ever will meet, has a dignity drive. They want to be valued, appreciated, honored, recognized, and treated with the dignity that’s appropriate for a human being.

When people don’t feel that they count, they get angry, hurt, reactive, nasty, hurtful, revengeful, passive, uncooperative or behave in a host of other un-useful ways to let you know.

Give respect, recognition, and affirmation. It will evoke the kind of responses and communication that will be useful. These emotional wants are critical. Use the power of affirmation to build people up. Use it liberally. This skill will do more to enable people to develop and unleash their potentials than any other. It invites them to take pride in the quality of what they do and increase their effort to strive to become even more. Giving affirmation will go a long way towards generating higher motivation and more satisfaction.

The reverse is equally important. Never, never embarrass, criticize, humiliate or make someone look bad in front of others. If you cause someone to ‘lose face’, you will create a monster – don’t do it. Kittens backed into a corner can still become ferocious. Even if you REALLY feel like it, don’t do it. 

Find a more opportune time to offer individual feedback. Guard their sense of dignity and pride, find a way to help them ‘save face’ even when wrong. Confront in such a way that mistakes do not mean the person is flawed but it’s just a matter of correcting information.

4) People desire good communication with those who lead

People want to be informed. That’s why information plays such a critical role in all relationships. The word “communication” suggests communing with others. In communing people send messages back and forth to co-create shared meanings.

“Relationship” refers to relating back and forth until we understand. People want communication that is open and above-board. They want to be able to speak up, to be heard, to get their views and feelings on the table. This allows issues to be dealt with so that perceived hurts don’t fester and create larger problems.

People’s need for information is so essential that if they don’t have it, they will invent it!

They’ll get the information one way or the other. They will second-guess what’s going on. They will mind-read the intentions and motives of others and make assumptions of leaders. They will jump to conclusions, project motives and listen to their own stories. To avoid this – talk to people. Begin the conversation.

By keeping people updated you will effectively manage the flow of information about what’s happening. Bring people in to provide input on ideas and suggestions. If you can’t let people participate in your decisions, let them know about the decisions and how you came to them. All of this will alleviate fears. It lets them know where you are and what you’re attempting to accomplish.

5) People want and need to be heard

People want people to listen to them. However, few truly know how to do it very well. We do so by encouraging people to tell us what they truly think, feel, believe and want. We make it safe for them to talk with us. We genuinely ask about their problems and concerns. We accept their thinking and feeling as legitimate expressions of their reality (even if we disagree with it). Whatever exists as their reality, exists as their reality. Realize and appreciate this saves you having to try (and fail) to ‘change their mind’.

6) People want to be a part of things

People generally want to feel that they can contribute and that they can have a say in things. They want to maintain a sense of independence while being a part of the group. They want to feel needed. When we don’t meet these expectations, people feel  that their opinions don’t count and they feel powerless to influence things. They will then rebel, react, resist and basically do anything and everything to actively or passively sabotage. Empowering people allows them to become more cooperative and productive.

7) People need (and long for) direction

They want specific goals that let them know where to go and what counts as success. Having specific outcomes enables them to measure progress towards goals. We all need feedback to know how we’re doing. We also need to know the rules so that we can know our world. Definable purposes and methods of measurement satisfy these needs. People need requisite challenge – learning and growth do not exist in a comfort zone.

8) People want to see progress

We function best in an outcome oriented way that gives us a sense of direction and a sense of success. When we get a sense that we are moving forward, we will keep at it and keep improving. When we succeed and are rewarded or affirmed for it, success itself becomes a reinforcing dynamic process that sustains progress. Since not everybody has the same skill level in recognizing improvement, some may need to have specific ways identified so that they can recognize it.

9) People need to learn

We learn best experientially and experimentally. The key to learning involves trying something and stepping back to see how it worked. The more we can provide situations in which people can experience, ask questions, explore, reflect and then experiment again, the better the learning. Information alone isn’t enough. Most people already know far more than they don’t. They have more head knowledge than practical application know-how. That’s why experiential learning is critical for translating that knowledge into practice. That’s why coaching people through experiences brings about the most learning and transformation.

10) People need the freedom to fail

People need a safe environment wherein learning involves the privilege to make mistakes as they experiment. This means having to be patient while the learner muddles through what you could do in half the time (and much more effectively). If you are tempted to take over or do it yourself, it impoverishes both you and the other person. 

11) People need to be motivated

Since emotional needs tap energy reserves within, people respond best when someone communicates and touches their motivational system. They want to see the value and relevancy of things. They want to understand how things fit together into a meaningful pattern. They want to know the consequences if they don’t. Every person has their own brand of happiness, joy, and motivation. If we can glimpse their motivations and values then we can work with them in a way that respects their way of operating.

12) People do not stay the same, they are always changing

Just when you think you have someone figured out, they will change. The context changes. They adopt a new purpose. They change their mind. They enter another stage of their own personal development. Or they regress.

And there lies the true nature of working with and through others!

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