13. Deal With People Differently – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Thirteen

Deal With People Differently

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.


Henry David Thoreau

Ken Blanchard emphasized different strokes for different folks in his famous book, One Minute Manager (1986). People have different needs, emotions and feelings, and there is no quick fix formula to adopt while leading people. The leaders must be in a position to read the aspirations and needs of the people, and must mould themselves to get things done smoothly. Ken Blanchard also spoke of situational leadership, which works in different situations to handle people.

No Quick Fix Formula

There are several definitions of leadership and management. However, I would define management as ‘managing human egos, emotions and feelings effectively’. We find different employees at the workplace with different needs, aspirations and expectations. Hence, leaders cannot afford to use one single style for all people. Some employees are motivated by money, some by power, some by non-financial incentives, some by appreciation and some by recognition. Hence, different employees have different expectations, and to become successful, leaders must adopt different strokes for different folks.

People are Different

You will find people with different temperaments and tastes at the workplace. Some are extroverts, some introverts, some are straightforward and some manipulative, and so on. Handling them is not an easy task. You must lead in such a way that the work is done effectively, and you don’t incur any illwill among your employees. You must know the art of getting the work done without hurting others, and leaving a good impression. It all looks easier on paper, but when put in practice, you will find several unwritten challenges that you need to handle as per the situation. However, knowledge from various sources such as books, personal experiences, and others’ experiences will help you to evolve as a successful leader.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Leaders must know the different motivational needs of their people. People will have different needs and according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy theory, there are various levels of needs, such as physiological needs, security needs, social needs, self-esteem needs, and, at the top of the pyramid, self-actualization needs. Every person looks for the accomplishment of certain needs on each hierarchy, and once the needs are fulfilled, the person looks for the next higher order needs. Knowing Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps leaders to realize the level of hierarchy of each employee, and enables them to tailor their leadership styles accordingly to meet the employees’ motivational needs. In addition, it is a known fact that man basically looks for money and only later craves other needs, as man does not live by bread alone. The employees’ age also matters while handling them; as employees grow older, they crave more interesting work rather than merely looking for monetary gains.

Stephen’s Challenge

Stephen hailed from a military background. He took over as the director of an academic institution. The institution had seven Heads of Departments reporting to him. Often, the heads would bring in several complaints from other departments and also against some employees within their own departments. Sometimes the employees would also report their grievances against their heads to the director. Stephen realized the egos of academicians. In his defence, his previous role had been to manage disciplined soldiers who would obey as they had been trained to do from a young age, and managing them was much easier. However, Stephen faced the heat while managing civilians with different mindsets, egos, emotions and feelings, with most crises arising out of perceptions and personality clashes.

Whenever there was a conference held for all Heads of Departments, it would get very heated as people often complained against each other, as well as against a few of their subordinates who did not fall in line and did not perform well. Stephen realized that these people needed different strokes unlike in the military, where soldiers obeyed and followed instructions blindly. He also felt that managing disciplined soldiers was easier than managing academicians. Gradually he shed some of his military practices and habits and adopted more flexibility and listened to all; finally, he made his own decisions. He called the people who often complained about others and counselled them on the need to maintain discipline for the progress of the educational institution. The employees liked this opendoor policy of Stephen’s and most of them fell in line. A few who did not do so were warned privately not to vitiate the peaceful academic ambience. And finally, a few non-performers and troublemakers were shown the door.

People understood Stephen’s passion towards the academic institution and his dedication towards making a difference. They appreciated his genuine efforts and finally, the problems were solved and things settled down to a great extent. While in the initial period Stephen faced several challenges in managing the egos of academicians, he gradually made the institution more accountable and responsible. Hence, leaders must demonstrate their passion towards their profession and commitment towards their people by managing the latter’s egos and emotions, and channelling them towards organizational prosperity.

There is no magic wand for effective leadership. Leaders must realize that people have different egos, emotions and feelings. People are so different from each other that even twins are not alike in personality, attitude, aptitude or behaviour. They need to be handled properly, unlike machines, which work at the touch of buttons.

You cannot adopt a cookie cutter approach with every employee while leading. You must have a lot of patience while handling people. You must remember that you are not handling machines, but people with different egos and emotions.