Have you noticed yet that people you work with are very different from one another? Every person approaches work in his or her unique way. The talkative person who is energized by people and likes to have fun doesn’t see a job in just the same way as the employee who takes charge and runs the show with tremendous efficiency. Your colleague who prefers working alone and likes to think things through carefully before proceeding may look like the associate who moves forward without complaining but they are often light years apart. For some leaders, the idea of fairness translates to a one-size-fits-all approach, and this is a mistake. We miss the point of the concept of leadership when we expect everyone to respond to us in precisely the same way.
How can we treat others with real respect, in ways that communicate that we truly see them? People want to be seen! When we view them through the lenses of their differences, we respect their strengths and help them maximize what they do well. We will create a team environment in which the best of what people do is elevated and weaknesses are made irrelevant.
We start with understanding the most basic component of personality: temperament. Nearly 2500 years ago, the physician Hippocrates put forth the idea that personality was created by varying amounts of fluids in the body. He ascribed differences to a particular balance (or imbalance) of these fluids. Today we know with certainty that we are born with a particular temperament. Researchers look at temperament in varying ways, but they all admit that we come out of the womb with it: a way of approaching life, an inborn way of seeing the world. Our experiences and influences build upon this foundation.
Even though we have discarded Hippocrates’ reasons for what makes us different, we acknowledge his contribution to the biological underpinnings of personality, using his ideas as the foundation of a number of modern personality theories. See if you recognize any of the following:
The Sanguine Personality. This is the easiest personality to spot because these folks are seen and heard! They like to laugh, they talk loudly, they are naturally optimistic and sunny, and their primary motivation is to have fun. Their deepest need is to be liked.
The Melancholy Personality. These folks tend toward being naturally pessimistic (I like to say “suspicious,” which is not a bad thing, because these people are frequently excellent judges of character). They are usually very detailed, more introverted and introspective than the Sanguine, and their deepest need is for solitude and sensitivity.
The Choleric Personality (pronounced like the word “cholera” with a “k” on the end of it). Choleric is the born leader, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, ordering others around and creating efficiencies wherever he or she goes. For Cholerics, the most important need in life is to be in control and be appreciated for their hard work.
The Phlegmatic Personality. This one is characterized by its easy-going, unexcitable approach to events. These folks are happily reconciled to life, will do what they are asked without complaint, and stay calm in tense situations. Because they are so likeable they are frequently ignored, so they have a deep-seated need to be respected. They want nothing more than peace and they want others to be at peace so everyone will get along.
Armed with only these brief descriptions, can you see how you bring your own personality to your leadership style? If you are a happy person who likes to have a good time and enjoy schmoozing, you are probably irritating your precise and thoughtful coworker who prefers silence and solitude! You may think you’re being personable and open; your colleague may see you as intrusive and time-consuming. The golden rule of leadership is not “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Instead, it is this: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Find out how people prefer to be treated, act accordingly, and you will find less resistance to your leadership!
The more we learn about each other, the more we can positively manage interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers. We’ll know how to channel people’s best attributes to doing what comes naturally and easiest for them. It’s not foolproof-dealing with people always entails encountering the unexpected. But a good portion of leadership is seeing the individuals you lead instead of viewing them as only a group of followers. You don’t need a degree in psychology to get the big picture of what makes people tick. You just need a little insight into how to approach relationships at work, at home, and in any situation you encounter.
©Sue Thompson 2008. All rights reserved.
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