People are Different

As I've taken on leadership roles in different organizations I've learned a lot about people.  When I was younger and much less wiser, I used to get frustrated when people wouldn't respond positively to the direction or support I was so cleverly providing.  Some of my team members would respond very
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well, others so-so, and then another group that didn't get it or passively resisted.  Little did I understand at the time that 'people are different'.  Fast forward to my wiser self (from many schools of hard knocks along the way), and I believe I get it now.  I appreciate the differences I see in my team members.  People complement each other's performance with their differences when they understand each other better.

This year I am focusing on helping my team do some self-discovery.  I started with a simple activity at our last all team meeting in September.  The activity was drawn from Bruce Wellman's book Groups at Work on page 42 - it is called Compass Points (also see this resource) and is a great way for people to quickly recognize and appreciate their diverse personal working styles.  It is designed to help people understand their own preferred way of thinking and working and appreciate people (their team mates) that are different from themselves.  The activity was a hit and the team members got right into it.  The way it works is like this:

  • put up chart paper on the wall in four corners of a large room (2 or more sheets depending on the size of your team and how they cluster into the four choices)
  • provide color markers
  • describe the four working and thinking styles which are
    • North: Just get it done
    • West: Pay attention to detail
    • South: Caring about people's feelings
    • East: Think about the big picture
  • write the label of the working style on the top of the chart paper
  • ask your team members to contemplate which style they identify with the most and ask them to go to that corner
  • ask them to discuss these questions among their group members and to respond with 3 or four adjectives for each question using the chart paper
    • What are the strengths of your working style?
    • What are the limitations of your working style?
    • What style do you find the most difficult to work with and why?
    • List examples that people from the other styles need to know about you so you can work well / successfully together?
    • Bonus question: What do you appreciate about the other styles?
  • when they are done, ask them to nominate a spokesperson and then go around the room and ask the groups to report out on their discovery
My team clustered heavily on the 'Pay attention to detail' style, next the 'Just get it done', then 'Big picture', and finally 'Caring about people's feelings'.  This is probably not that surprising for a group of IT professionals.  I then asked them 'where do you think I would best fit?'.  First I said how about the 'Caring about people's feelings' and only a few hands went up - I said I was surprised and asked if anyone had a Kleenex :-)  Then I asked about the other styles and when I reached the 'Big picture' style, nearly all hands went up.  For me this was quite revealing as that is how I view myself as well so in a sense, my authenticity is showing through to my team which is a good thing.  I was actually surprised more didn't see me as caring about people's feelings because I do but it's probably how I come across - calm, listening, and advising, not emotional.

People have talked about this off and on after the meeting.  When in business meetings, often people will pipe up and say 'it's because I'm a get it done person, or I'm a detailed person', etc.  It's interesting to see them using the language of the working styles activity and seemingly appreciating their differences - this is a great outcome.

I introduced my team to the next initiative along this line.  I am going to have them go through the Insight and DISC profiling system.  We will use the Excel Group and a principal from a local school district that is certified in the technique to facilitate the process and follow up workshops.  Each individual will receive a personal report (example) after completing a confidential questionnaire online that is designed to capture personality traits sufficient to robo-produce a report about them.

I completed this back in 2010 in a different role and organization.  My report begins with "Brian displays a high energy factor and is optimistic about the results he can achieve. The word can't is not in his vocabulary".  Sure sounds like me...  There are other attributes and traits that the report claims about me, mostly true at the time, that I can see have dramatically been adapted over the past 5 years and more significantly with my newest role as CIO.  My DISC profile from 2010 is shown here.  When I undertake this again this year, I expect my adapted (the star) to move more to the 'promoter and relater area' given how I believe I had adapted.  A key insight from this process is that people have a natural profile and an adapted one that is based on their role and context.  This means we are quite elastic and capable of changing our default selves to better fit our circumstances - this is good news for many I'm sure.

We will receive an integrated Insights Wheel indicating where each individual lands on a spectrum in terms of their natural and adapted communications style.  This will give my team and myself great insight into people's communication styles and together as we learn more about this through workshops, we can improve our communication skills with one another and with our clients and other colleagues.

As leaders one of our number one responsibilities is to invest in our people.  By growing our people we multiply our capacity, happiness levels, quality, and productivity.  If you think to yourself, 'I don't have time for this', you are wrong.  We need to remove impediments for our teams so that they can flourish in your organization.  That is a gift we can give them and our organizations! 


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