Houston, we have a problem!
We err gravely when we think we would think, speak, and act differently at work because we are at work. But my favorite book says, “as a [person] thinks, so are they [in word and deed], and, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
We are human and our relationships are human.
No matter where we go, we are there in the totality of who we are as impressionable human beings with preferences and biases.
And, no matter how we may try to mask it, what we think and feel about another, will show in the way we speak and behave towards them, whether they are physically present or not.
And they and or, others will pick it up.
So what do you do when you don’t get along with everyone you lead?
Whether you just find them annoying, and can’t get yourself to be as amiable towards them as you are with others, or they seem to be out to make your leadership a living pit of molten lava, here are 3 things you can do to foster greater relations and results between you, and those you lead but may not readily get along with:
1. Discover The Power in Your Differences Through Assessments
Michael Jackson was not the only person that needed to start with “the man in the mirror”, we all do.
Invest in a 360 Leadership Assessment, preferably one that you can be coached through the meaning and significance of the results to learn about how you truly are, how you portray yourself, how others (managers, peers, reportees, and sometimes even customers) perceive you, and how this impacts your thoughts, relationships, communication, work, and leadership effectiveness.
Do the same with team assessments to learn about individual and team diversity and dynamics. This will equip you to understand the psychological foundation of the way you each show up, and how that affects individuals and the whole team.
We tend to have a bias towards our own worldview and way of doing things. As such, we gravitate towards those that affirm our beliefs, and behaviors, and instinctively react to reject and label those that don’t as being “difficult”. This is especially so when we feel our leadership authority is being questioned.
Personality and ability assessments serve to open our minds to the existence of different types and styles of being, thinking, communicating, and working - none being any better than the other.
Through assessments, you may see the logical and emotional frameworks you and those you may not readily get along with are structured in, to help you to adjust your approach to effectively lead them individually, and collectively.
As a leader of leaders, personality, and leadership 360 assessments have helped me transition from thinking, “There is something seriously wrong with me” to “Oh! Is that why I think and prefer to relate and work this way”, and "Now I get them!"
More importantly, the epiphany I have received, with each assessment I have taken, about what I used to see as deliberately “difficult” and “disruptive” colleagues has been nothing short of earth-shattering.
Assessments will help you understand what is different, why it is so, and how to harness, rather than be harangued by its power.
Insights gained help you work with the diversity in your team to pull together towards greater results than any of you would have been able to achieve on your own, or only with those that are like you.
2. Equip & Empower Your Working Relationship
In his book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, John C. Maxwell spoke of the fact that the more you make an effort to spend time with and get to know someone, the more difficult it becomes to distance yourself and label them as unreachable or difficult.
As always, it is on you, the leader, and dare I say, Servant Leader, to initiate the connection.
Set your intention on getting to know, and “seek first to understand” (Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) your colleague. Taking this empathetic step towards seeing another as a person with desires, contributions, possible insecurities, and weaknesses they need help with, postures you to want to do what you can to help them succeed.
Like you would your sibling, or best friend, when your heart and mind are set to listen to learn about another, you will see the scales come off, shields lowered, and real meaningful forward-moving conversations embraced.
You become more open to help and tailor that help to the individual.
You may even notice gaps in your leadership towards them that you need to fortify to equip and empower them to succeed in their career and under your leadership.
When you find it difficult to get along with someone you lead, make time to look inward and ask yourself:
What do I think is missing in our relationship?
How can I be the source of providing the missing link?
Have I given them the personal time, attention, direction, structure, guidance, and support they need from their leader?
You might want to explore whether you, their leader, may not have sufficiently equipped and empowered them to succeed in their role, and what you are now dealing with is symptomatic of that oversight on your part.
For example, ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least, and 10 being the most, how effectively have you:
Shared the vision and values
Set clear goals and equipped them to stretch to reach them
Provided the coaching and mentoring support they need to thrive
Managed their delivery, giving them scheduled and impromptu, formal and informal appraisal, correction, recognition, and reward as they grow
If you have scored anything less than a 10 on any of these questions, there is room for improvement.
Rather than ask yourself and assume what you need to do to improve in that area, do something different, something more courageous, and that may lead to greater effectiveness and impact for you both - go ask them.
What do you need?
What can I do to help you today/succeed/deliver/win?
These are two humbling and powerful questions that admit, “I may not see things from your vantage but, want to learn” and show your genuine willingness to invest yourself to help them succeed.
Just this effort to move from your viewpoint to see things from theirs alone could drastically change your work relationship.
People blossom and can completely change once they know you see them, genuinely care for them, and want them to win, for them first, then for you and the wider organizational benefit.
3. Have Difficult, Constructive Conversations
As the leader, you show and go the way but you do not drag people along with you.
John C. Maxwell reminds us that,
“Leadership is Influence, nothing more, nothing less.”
If after all the efforts you have made to understand your different personalities, and styles; to seek first to understand and relate with your colleague; and to invest in a tailored approach to equipping and empowering them to succeed, yet they don’t change their behavior towards you, others or their work to the extent that it creates strain and compromises delivery, it is time for you to initiate difficult constructive conversations that will have them take ownership of the outcomes of this working relationship.
In his book EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey tells us that these difficult conversations are meant to be uncomfortable (so don't squirm away from them), and focus on:
highlighting specific, observable behavior and its effects (e.g. diminishes relationships and results)
availing opportunity for them to share their views
offering support for improvement
empowering their ownership for their behavioral change
assigning evaluation criteria and timeline to the desired behavioral change
making clear the consequences for continued undesired behavior
The ball is now in their court. They either cooperate to build together or compromise to break the relationship and possibly the opportunity to remain on the team and organization.
As much as you are a leader that leads by example, like any relationship, it takes two to make it work. Your colleague must own their role, rights, and responsibilities in the relationship, or there isn’t one.
Can two walk together unless they are agreed? Certainly not.
As a leader, what have you found to be most effective in leading those you find difficult to get along with on your team?