Number One Leadership Task: Understand Your People!

I hope you don’t mind that I keep writing about The Walking Dead. Obviously sitting here on a Wednesday morning my brain is still processing what I have watched from the previous episode on Sunday evening.  In all my years as a management consultant I don’t think I have ever seen a more intense example of the necessity of teamwork as I have from this series. Those of us who watch this drama are drawn to it because the conflict and tension with both humans and zombies strikes a familiar chord inside of us and we cannot wait to see how it is resolved.

My favorite character in The Dead is Daryl.  I list him as a strong C style personality.  As with most C styles, Daryl can be aloof and somewhat formal until he gains familiarity with those around him.  He has laser-beam concentration and demonstrates incredible discipline around those things and people for whom he holds an interest.  He does not share his feelings readily and needs his leader to demonstrate consistency in thought and actions.  An atmosphere of Chaos is stressful for C styles like Daryl and, under long-term duress they can express “trigger” reactions in the form of anger.  Such reactions are an attempt to regain stability and will appear if logical approaches have not worked.  C Styles are often not the best verbal leaders and prefer to lead by example instead.

Smart, successful leaders have an in-depth understanding of their team members,   right?

Unfortunately this is often not the case.  In my consulting work when I asked leaders to list the characteristics of their employees they often list surface characteristics like “willing to work,” “stubborn,” good-natured,” “driven,” or “holds herself back.”  When I ask them what methods they use to motivate and encourage they say things like “I use humor” or “I stay out of the way and let people do things their own way.”  Not very helpful in terms of knowing how to best communicate or which job assignments make for the best fit for successful outcomes.

It is important for all leaders to understand that each individual has a unique stress source and shows stress idiosyncratically, listens differently and to different things, makes decisions differently based on unique criteria, possesses a particular social fear, and relates to authority uniquely.

We all know how crucial Daryl is to Rick, and yet I am not certain that Rick fully understands him, maybe even worries that he might lose him. This individual is critical to the survival of this group, and yet Rick may not always trust that he has what it takes to keep Daryl.  After all, Daryl left once, only to return later.

If I had one moment with Rick I would love to tell him about the strength of Daryl, and the challenges. We all see Daryl as somewhat dark, sullen, moody, and yet I cannot help but believe that he would prefer to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, because of tremendous stress, we see Daryl revert to his adapted style.

You see, we all have a natural personality style; the manner in which our personality is manifested.  It is largely genetic and determines the way we perceive the world, what we need from others, what we value in others, what we tend to fear and avoid, and what our strengths are.  Our personality is how other people see us and how they know us.  But we also have an adapted style that is not natural.  This adapted style is composed of traits and skills that are only used under certain situations, perhaps pressure situations.  It is neither natural nor permanent, but is helpful in the short run in order to achieve a particular goal or get past a stressful situation.  For example, a rather shy individual can temporarily embody more extroverted traits in order to make a good impression on the boss, or a normally passive individual can be assertive when necessary.   It is important to know however that not all adapted styles are helpful.  It can also be detrimental.  An extroverted individual who cannot focus on mundane details may be accused of turning in inferior work.  Most of us have the ability to adapt our style when necessary but it does not come without a cost.

The use of our adapted style takes energy and is never permanent.  It’s like resting after running a marathon.  You have to rest!  You have to regroup!  The same holds true for Daryl following the battles he must fight.  We certainly observe that it is difficult for him to verbalize his feelings. He probably needs clear cut boundaries in order to feel comfortable at work, in relationships, or to take action. Sometimes the C can be bound by procedures and methods and find it difficult to stray from order. Sometimes they can get too bogged down in the small details, making it difficult to see the next steps or big picture.  It is true that Daryl is a warrior, but that is because he is temporarily adapting to the environment that demands it.  When he finally finds refuge, he will go back to his natural state that will likely include introversion and the avoidance of conflict.

I present Daryl to you because I think he is a good example of the complexity of your employees.  Right now you may be thinking about someone you know, someone  that people are sometimes confusing.  And sometimes the adapted style

What does this mean for you?

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