Successful leaders are changing the way they engage with employees. Successful leadership means being able to adapt your own personality to work with different employee types and deliver change management in new ways. Successful leadership means developing a deeper understanding of how your own personality impacts employee engagement and motivation.
The groups you lead are composed of diverse personalities. Your success as a leader is largely dependent on your ability to apply different leadership techniques to different personality types at different times in different contexts in your group. Few would agree that one size fits all. Leadership styles that excel with some personalities take off like a lead balloon with others.
Consider a morning staff meeting. The personality characteristics you observe as you scan around the conference table are self-motivated, ambitious, lazy, bitter, “all talk and no action,” introspective, procrastinating, under-performing, over-performing, indifferent, domineering, comedic, dependable, loyal, and unpredictable. This cast of characters looks to you for “leadership”—but that “leadership” means something different to each of them, and it is your job to deliver.
If you attempt to squeeze the maximum productivity out of your “lazy” employee by treating him the same as your self-motivated employee, you will likely demotivate both. Further, telling a bitter employee to “stop being bitter” or a procrastinating employee to “stop procrastinating,” will work as well as telling your dog to “stop being a dog.”
Shifting gears, how do we lead yourselves? Is that the worst segue ever written? Maybe, but can I request your benefit of the doubt for a moment?
We each suffer from multiple personality disorder (MPD). “Disorder” joins “diverse” as a relative term. There are people in the world whose MPD prevents them from functioning in our society. There are others whose MPD stymies them from sticking to a diet, excelling professionally, writing their book, or maintaining healthy relationships. That last sentence applies to you and me—unless you are an 80-year-old Buddhist Monk who has learned to live in a perpetual state of Nirvana.
Need proof? Remember the person who committed to launching a new healthy lifestyle on Monday? Who is the creature lying on the couch with a bag of Doritos on his chest watching Seinfeld reruns during designated “gym time” on Wednesday? Is this the same personality? What about the person who committed to ending her procrastination tendency? Who is the person working until 3:00 a.m. on a project due in the morning? Is this the same personality?
Our most common tool to deal with this challenge is the same tool that we earlier agreed would never work. We tell our lazy personality, “Don’t be lazy.” We tell our pessimistic personality, “Don’t be pessimistic.” When dealing with others, we have the option of terminating their employment. Do we have that option within ourselves? Can we fire our lazy personality? Maybe. But if you are like me, after decades of trying, Human Resources is not having it.
Let’s revisit leading your staff. We often find success in identifying what motivates those that are leading. The lazy staff member is probably motivated by leaving the office at exactly 4:00 p.m. Therefore, there are incentives that you can present to make this happen. If you do this, I’ll do this for you. The bitter person might crave more recognition. The over-achiever may need more challenging assignments. You embrace this process and you do it well—even if it means you are single-handedly keeping Tylenol profitable.
Leading your many “selves” is much trickier because we have less control of what personality we will have to deal with at any given time. When lazy shows up, he takes over. You may have learned techniques to minimize the length of his stay, but he remains part of the team.
At the risk of you concluding that I should be spending my days in a rubber room, is it unreasonable to call your internal cast of characters into the office of your mind for counselling sessions? A calm and professional discussion that is proactive, compassionate, and strategic is always more fruitful than discussions that are reactive, emotional, and off-the-cuff with your employees. Why would this be any different with your personalities? What if you spent some time discussing your expectations with each of your personalities proactively?
Imagine calling them individually into your mind’s office and having a “heart to heart” discussion with them. You could express your expectations and your empathy. You could express to Ms. Lazy that vegging on the couch and binge-watching House of Cards on Netflix for hours on end is damaging the “company” while also expressing your assumed understanding of why she does it. Perhaps, if you put your heads together (even though you share one), you could identify a solution that allows her Netflix time, but without the havoc that she is currently wrecking on your productivity. Imagine repeating this process with each of your personalities. We’ve beat up on Ms. Lazy, but you know there are plenty of others. Also, let’s not forget the positive personalities. Express your gratitude and then brainstorm on how to see more of them consistently. Sometimes, these personalities will be the best to brainstorm with about your “company’s” goals and how best to achieve them, especially considering the existence and presence of some of the negative personalities.
Crazy? Maybe. But you did admit, just a few paragraphs ago, to having multiple personalities. Maybe fighting crazy with crazy is worth some of your meditation time? Leading “yourself” may fly in the face of each conventionally accepted definition of “leadership,” but not many of those definitions consider or recognize the battle that each of us has brewing within.
Matt DiGeronimo is currently the Vice President of Operations at Veolia North America. He is also a Retired Naval Officer (Fast Attack Submarines), Nuclear Engineer / MBA, Entrepreneur (Launched/Divested an M&A company), Professional Public Speaker, Vice President of Operations for Veolia North America. Author of Amazon Best-Seller: “Extreme Operational Excellence“.
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