Have you noticed how your employees or colleagues have some remarkable strengths and some, well, unfortunate weaknesses? For instance, you notice that Alan is bright and productive, but doesn’t speak up or share his talents. Or you see Sally is seemingly a great team player, but always careful not to challenge the group even when she knows better?
All of us, especially those in higher levels of organizations, possess talents that others see as great strengths. The problem is that our strengths are our weaknesses. Seems so unfair, but it is a truth we cannot ignore. So Allen focuses his efforts, reaches deep within to solve a problem or accomplish his task. But he is also a loner, too focused on the tasks at the expense of helping others. And Sally likes to make the team harmonious and get along. She is the glue that keeps everyone together. But she is also afraid of the team coming unglued; she is unsure enough of herself or her place in the group that she cannot challenge, clarify, or correct. Darn.
Colleagues and employees are very uncomfortable about criticism. They experience it as harsh, corrective, and rejecting. But another way to bring out the best in your people is to recognize that there is a flip side to their strengths. When this becomes accepted – by you and by them – it is easier for people in the workplace to see and accept their downside. Only then can people hear the feedback, acknowledge the problem, and feel safe enough to mitigate their weakness.
This process of acknowledging strengths, and then finding the concomitant weak spot, can be done by managers and by colleagues. It is a common practice in my executive coaching. Acceptance of the self and others, especially that we all have strengths and weaknesses, makes it all possible.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
In our book, the People Side of Business, Lee Hersch and I outline the key need to support your employees. Support provides the critical foundation for people to function well in the work environment. Let me summarize the three principles I have covered and add the fourth.
First, since peoples’ brains work from the bottom up, we understand that our employees are not just rational beings. They have a need for safety in the work environment and they are emotionally vulnerable. Leaders and managers who forget this obvious fact expect rational problem-solving and get frustrated with the other baggage people bring to work. Great leaders accept the sometimes sloppy nature of how people operate. They embrace people and work with what they have.
Second, I discussed how people need nurturance from their managers and organization. Caring is not just a nice thing to do, it is a requirement for emotional safety and security. People have a dreadful fear of rejection and abandonment. They need to feel wanted and integral to the mission of the organization. Their passion can be an asset to the company if they are emotionally linked to its goals and values.
Third, people are naturally wired to function well in a family-like environment. They will see their supervisors as parent figures and respond accordingly. They will also operate naturally in a team context, which replicates the sense of family they bring and paste onto the organization. The wise manager will support and build healthy teams where individuals can both feel comfortable and be highly productive.
There is a fourth principle that rounds out the support component of taking care of people in business. People want to learn and grow in order to achieve mastery. People want to learn their jobs and perform them well. This drive, to learn new things and figure them out, is an essential component to humans surviving in a complex world.
Supporting employees requires implementing all four of these principles. More about this fourth principle in the coming posts.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Great managers and leaders understand that the brain works from the bottom up, and, consequently that people operate based on instinct and emotion, as well as rational thought. The only sensible leadership strategy is to accept how people actually are and design systems that support them and maximize their healthy production. So what do people actually need?
Acceptance, coupled with nurturance, allows people to feel emotionally safe and secure in the work environment. People have a dreadful fear of rejection and abandonment. It is simply instinctively wired into people that they are only okay when they are accepted and need not fear rejection. In the workplace this is only partly about the money; it is more about their personal feelings related to the organization as translated through their manager.
When there is safety and security, people have a chance to function at their best. Without it they are anxious, distracted, and not positively attached to the mission of the organization. Providing a nurturing environment is the second key tool for the people side of business.
More about the how and why later.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
As a psychologist and business management consultant I see the need for a framework, for a set of guiding principles to understand people and guide my work with them. Managers and leaders need the same thing, not just a list of tools, tactics, and programs.
I find that too many businessmen and women forget the simple notion that people are (don’t be shocked now) just people. They are instinctive, quirky, emotional beings, who show up for work to earn a living and do a job. They are not necessarily rational beings who want to figure out how to do the best job possible for their organization or business. At HerschDeMaio we like to say that there is a myth to the notion of rational process.
Sound pessimistic? Not from my point of view. People are just what they are; they have a brain designed by evolution and they have experience that forms a personality. If you want to work with them you must have a system that takes into account the way they actually operate… not the way you would like them to be. When we approach people within the framework of how they actually are, we ACCEPT them. We need to build systems that utilize the unique beings that people are, rather than fight human nature.
Acceptance is not rocket science, but designing those systems that maximize human performance just might be. For managers, it’s not just a question of compensating for messy instinctive reactions and emotions so people can think clearly and perform well. You don’t want to do that. What you want to do is align passion and personality with the goals of the organization. Then you will have a powerful engine for success.
Next time I’ll say more about why this is true.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
As a psychologist and business management consultant the questions that come my way from leaders and managers are usually about why people behave the way they do. The same questions come whether I am providing team-building services, executive coaching, or conflict resolution. They are often specific to an episode or an ongoing personnel problem.
Human behavior in organizations can be thought of as depending mainly on two factors: the nature of the work environment and the personality of the person. These two components do not operate separately; there is an interaction between the work environment and the worker’s personality.
The goal of any organization is to build a work environment that maximizes the productivity of all the diverse people involved. A key question is to determine what the fundamental principles are for building that work environment. I hear managers getting bits and pieces of advice to do this or that with their employees. Wouldn’t it be useful to have a coherent approach that has integrated principles? And wouldn’t it be necessary for these principles to stem from our latest science and business research? We think it would be a great benefit if business managers had such a framework for working with their employees.
This was the goal Lee Hersch and I set for ourselves when we began writing Six Psychological Principles. Understanding how to manage and lead requires a clear notion of what people are and what they need. People principles are not independent; they are an interwoven set of ideas that follow from the basic design of the human being.
So, I ask you to think about it. What do you consider to be the most foundational notion about people for managing and leading? I’ll tell you our formulation in my next blog.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
As a clinical psychologist turned business management consultant, taking the psychological vantage point into the workplace is a fun challenge. This is where the rubber meets the road; where I get to help leaders and business managers understand how their staff works, do team building and executive coaching.
One might think people are inscrutable, but they make lots of sense to me. Even their emotional states make sense. Through the years consulting I’ve been asked similar questions over and over again. Why do people act that way? Why don’t they just do what they’re asked? Do we need to be more supportive or do we need more rules?
These and other questions led me to believe that businessmen and women need a fundamental framework for understanding their people. Business leaders are trained in a technical field and/or in business management. They do not go to school for a degree in psychology.
But I did get the degree. That’s why my partner, Lee Hersch, and I set out to distill the key principles that every leader and manager should know. We came up with six principles. Now you can find them in our new book, The People Side of Business: Six Psychological Principles.
Given my training and because I hate boring lessons, we decided to write the book as a story that would help provide meaning and context for the six principles. So the book is written about a new CEO who has people problems in his business. He decides to understand the problems and learn the principles simultaneously. Creating the characters and storyline for the book was quite a challenge. I don’t write novels for a living. Interestingly, my joke for years has been that I have been watching/reading people novels 10 pages at a time through my clinical and consulting practice. Funny enough, they are quite realistic.
In my coming blogs, I’d like to share these key principles and the tips that derive from them. I will be interested in your reactions.
Tom DeMaio, PhD