Treating your people like individuals makes them feel seen and improves their performance. Learn how to develop a maxim for treating your team members as individuals.
No one wants to be treated like a faceless cog in the machine. We all want to be known as individuals. We want to feel like our wants and needs are important, especially to our leaders. The members of your team expect the same of you. We all need maxims to remind us to stop treating our people as a functional roles, like my analyst, my project manager, or my team member. We need to think of them as Joe and Susan and Bill.
When I was in the army, I had a soldier who was a problem child. He would show up late, he wouldn’t do his job, he would look all disheveled, and sometimes he would talk back. He caused us a lot of problems. We were out at Tank Gunnery at one point and it was hot. It was a summer day and I gave my driver five bucks and a list of stuff to go get at the little snack tent down the way. When my driver came back, he started handing out the sodas to the members of my platoon. He handed the problem child a can of 7UP. The problem child looked at him and he said, “You know I drink 7UP?” And my driver said, “No, Lieutenant Fig told me to get if for you.” The problem child looked at me and he said, “Sir, you know I drink 7UP?” And I said, “Yeah, I know a lot of things about you.” And he said, “Huh, you’re all right.”
The next day, it was weird. Problem child showed up on time, dressed properly, and had the right equipment. He did his job all day, which was not normal by any stretch of the imagination. At the end of the work day, I pulled him aside and I said, “I just wanna thank you for your performance today. You did a great job.” He said, “Thanks, sir.” I looked at him and I said, “We both know this isn’t normal, right?” And he said, “Yeah, I know.” I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Well, remember yesterday, when you got me that can on 7UP?” Well yeah. “Well, when you did that, you kind of said that you care about me as an individual, so I figured I should probably care about the job I do for you.” I was in shock that a simple can of soda turned around this guy’s performance when for so long we just hadn’t been able to figure out how to get him to perform.
So that’s my reminder: He drinks 7UP. That can of soda changed my relationship with that individual. As you think about your maxim for treating your people as individuals, I’d like you to stop and think about a time where you had a leader who knew something important about you. They knew your kid had a basketball game or they knew when your birthday was. Or your favorite sports team. I want you to think about how that made you feel. Perhaps think of a situation where you knew something about a member of your team and it built a very strong relationship between you and them.
Your maxim resides within those stories. Come up with a trigger that reminds you of that story, that takes you back to that time. Come up with something that helps you feel those great feelings again. That trigger will become your maxim for how you’re going to remind yourself to treat your people as individuals. To make them feel important because they are. That maxim will then drive your behavior going forward. Anytime you get a little too caught up in the reports or the project plan, that maxim will get you to stop and look at the faces of the people working with you and remember that this is important to them. I need to treat them like individuals because it’s going to get me better performance out of them in the end.
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