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Understanding your subordinates - Part 1

Do you understand your subordinates?

A successful leader must understand his/her subordinates’ motivations and must also seek to achieve buy-in and employee participation in a way that combines their individual needs and interests with the organization’s mission. Employees must be given opportunities to learn and to grow without creating anarchy.

Successful are the leaders who can marshal human resources to achieve a common set of goals. Success of this fete can be measured by the leader’s ability to achieve this type of desired outcome routinely in a wide variety of circumstances, excluding the usual methods of recognition and reward and fears about various kinds of insecurity. Tasks using the former methods may be adhered to because following orders will lead to a paycheck, and deviation will lead to unemployment.

Such motivational forms may be effective within its constructs and limitations; however, in a mechanical way, these methods attach employees’ self-interests to the interest(s) of the employer, which offers its own set of weaknesses. Human resources are beings, not machines with a single set of push buttons. When their complex responses to accolades, prestige, independence, and membership in certain affiliations are unrecognized on the job, they perform, at best, as robots who bring far less than their maximum efficiency to the task. At worst, they consciously or unconsciously sabotage the activities they should be advancing.

For followers to recognize her leader as she really is may be as difficult as it is for her to understand them completely. Some of the worst difficulties in relationships between superiors and subordinates come from misperceiving reality. So much of what we understand in the world around us is colored by our own conceptions and prejudices. One employee’s view of her employer or superior may be so colored by expectations based on previous experience that facts may not appear in the same way to her and to me. Many failures of leadership can be traced to oversimplified misperceptions on the part of the employee or to failures of the leader to recognize the context or frame of reference within which his actions will be understood by the subordinate.

Understanding and frames of reference lead to greater understanding and frames of reference. For example, if I describe an individual as warm, astute, ambitious, and thoughtful, one will carve out an image of this person. If I describe another individual as cold, ambitious, astute, and thoughtful, the image of this person will likely be very different, even though only one adjective, and the word order was changed. Additionally, the type of preparedness one adjective gives for those that follow is tremendously effective in determining what meaning will be given to them. The term “thoughtful” may relate to others but can also allude to rationale when it is applied to a warm person toward whom we have already accepted a positive orientation. However, when we apply it to a cold individual, the same term may mean cunning or calculating. As leaders, we must learn to be aware of the degree to which one set of observations about an employee may lead us to erroneous conclusions about her behavior.

I will share Part 2 of this topic next week. I also discuss this topic in Chapter 4 (Mindset) of my book, Navigating the Entrepreneurial Journey. Click on the link here to purchase your personalized copy.

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