Different Is a Good Thing

Leading People Who Are Not Like You…

I just finished reading another book on how to manage Millennials. As the most studied generation in history, there’s no shortage of perspectives available on the best ways to engage this generation and help them achieve their full potential. Since I often use the tagline, “helping young leaders become wise before they grow old”, different-nationalities-1124478_640I appreciate gleaning from the wisdom and experience of others on this topic. However…

A book can’t tell you how to deal with any specific person. Stereotypes serve a useful purpose, but we all know that painting with that cheap, broad brush leaves a lot of bristles in the paint. A quote from any individual in a group also doesn’t accurately represent the full spectrum of everyone within that group. So I value the insights about Millennials but tightly prescribed methodologies should be held loosely. The secret sauce of leadership is knowing the right leadership style to use in any specific situation.

There are about as many ways to categorize leadership styles as there are consultants in that field. And most of those models can be useful in the hands of a wise leader.

For example, Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II[1] model describes Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating leadership styles. He maps their appropriate use to the development level of the person being led.

Daniel Goleman describes six leadership styles: Commanding, Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coaching. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses. Most leaders gravitate toward a specific style, but a great leader knows when and how to apply each style[2].

As a leader, I need to know my followers in order to lead them well. The stereotypes and leadership models can point me in the right direction, but each person needs to be treated as an individual, not as part of a group. This isn’t just a “generational” issue. It applies to leading across all kinds of differences – personalities, ethnicities, economics, occupations – you name it. It probably applies to how a cat gets along with a dog. The situation, the person, and your relationship with that person all combine to determine the right leadership style to apply. So learn the tools but also learn your people. Here’s how to start:

  1. Spend time together Sure, you’re busy and your time is valuable. But this is an investment. The more you invest in the right people the bigger the return.
  2. Learn from them – What inspires them? What will help them grow most? What do they see that you miss? Don’t assume you know how to lead them based on a book you read.
  3. Value the Differences – Get over your “I’m right, they’re wrong” reaction quickly. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Don’t just tolerate the differences, value them. Have the humility to recognize that they see things you miss.

[1] http://www.kenblanchard.com/Solutions/Situational-Leadership-Development/Situational-Leadership-II

[2] Goleman, Daniel, “Leadership that Gets Results” Harvard Business Review.  March-April 2000, p.82-83Print_Button

One thought on “Different Is a Good Thing”

  1. As always Alan, I am encouraged by what you write, I laugh, I think, I learn. God bless you brother. Thanks for the insights.

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