Recently my eldest son has started a new school.
As a shy and often hesitant to mingle four year old, my wife and I had been worried about how he would adapt in such a new environment.
Would he get pushed around by the other kids? Would he be too nervous to eat his lunch? Would he even be confident enough to ask to go to the toilet?
But to our surprise, barring an initial couple of days of tears and lip wobbles, he settled in OK. Not plain sailing, but definitely better than expected. And so, like most parents we proudly accepted that it must have been purely down to our superior parenting skills…
Last week, we had a progress meeting to discuss our Son’s progress. Within minutes, it was clear to both my wife and I that the biggest reason for our son settling in so well was his amazing teacher. She was the most positive, caring and understanding person you could ever imagine. And what stuck out most was how she kept consistently mentioning how important it was for us all – teachers, class mates and parents – to accept each other for our own unique individuality. To embrace each other for who we really are.
Because she knew our son was hesitant to play with other children, she’d not forced him to socialise and let him hang out with his one or two trusted friends. Rather than asking him to finish his lunch, she praised him for even trying. And since she could see he was hesitant to ask, she’d ensured to regularly ask him whether he’d like to go to the toilet. Consistently she was letting him know that rather than conform to an expected stereotype, our son was his own little person and would be accepted for who he was.
Amazingly, someone who had only known our child for 3 weeks was teaching us vital things about how to develop his little character that we’d not even been aware of.
Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that in ten years as a recruiter, the same is often true in business. Like great teachers, the best executives never try and force others to behave out of character. Whether it’s accepting that one person gets nervous when negotiating, or understanding that some people prefer working late rather than starting early, embracing others individuality can often be the key to successful performance.
Here are some reasons why great leaders embrace others for who they really are.
It’s more productive
Anyone who has hired someone to work for them knows what a difficult task it can be.
Typically, most of us try and visualise the “ideal” type of person. AKA the perfect candidate. So we spend ages coming up with accurate job specs, scrutinising CV’s and coming up with specific questions to find the people who fit our exact requirements. So we can create an army of employees that are predictable and cut from the same cloth.
Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that.
Us humans are the most complicated things designed by nature. So this idealistic approach results in endless frustration and search for a magic formula that simply doesn’t exist.
But great leaders are different. They understand that it’s rare for even two siblings that are raised in the same environment to be alike – let alone for this to exist in the diversity of people that come in the workplace. So rather than wasting time and energy trying to find people who meet unrealistic ideologies, it’s more productive to embrace individuals for who they are.
To focus on their unique strengths and then to evaluate as to whether they could be an asset to the team.
It’s a much easier and more efficient way to think.
Great leaders think efficiently.
Working in a leadership role can be difficult.
Partly because everyone’s expectation of the leader can be different.
Some might want a leader that’s more formal, others might want someone who is constantly joking around in the office. Some might prefer a boss who discusses issues in team meetings, others may like someone who does so one-to-one.
And in such cases where team member expectations are directly conflicting, making sure that everyone is happy can be difficult.
But that’s where embracing individuality of team members can be invaluable.
You see, great leaders understand that if they respect members of the team for who they are, it’s likely that they’ll reciprocate and adapt a similar approach towards the boss themselves. They’ll appreciate that the boss doesn’t expect them to act out of character and so will adapt a more open approach to their leaders behaviour.
Rather than have pre-conceived expectations of exactly what the perfect leader looks like, they’ll embrace them for who they are too.
Great leaders build reciprocation.
It builds team-work
One of the biggest barriers to successful leadership is getting team members to co-operate whole heartedly.
Sometimes even the most talented and intelligent teams fail miserably simply because of internal politics and unnecessary over competitiveness.
In the developed world, the biggest reason for this is the universal obsession of needing to be the best. Whether it’s our classroom rankings, employee-of-the-year award or even most liked Instagram pic, everything we seem to do is about being compared to others and outdoing as many people as possible.
It’s something that’s almost ingrained into our living and a mindset that’s difficult to shift.
But that’s where embracing individuality is most powerful.
Great leaders understand that by creating a culture where members are embraced for being who they are, the focus shifts from being the “ideal” employee to mastering your own unique talents and strengths.
Team members develop their own special identity and find a sense of purpose. They also begin to respect and recognise the value in others. Hence collaboration increases and everyone sees the qualities in others.
Great leaders create collaboration.
When managing large organisations, structure and standards are obviously necessary.
But going too far and preventing others to express their own individuality and personality can be equally destructive.
Great leaders understand that the only way to build trust and complete commitment from others is to embrace them for who they are.
Relaxed or intense, shy or loud, giggly or stern – to embrace them whole heartedly.
Besides, it makes life more fun too.
Does your boss embrace you for who you are?
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