Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Behaviors Don’t Represent a Person’s Nature

Smoking Jack SparrowYou can’t trust the outwardly presented behaviors of people to accurately represent their real personality or nature. Often behaviors that look “bad” are driven by something outside of the individual’s control. Look at the scenario below as I reveal more information in “The reality”.

The natural assumption

I was walking out of an attractive office building and saw two people about to enter the entrance to the foyer. The guy flicked a cigarette out onto the large outdoor brick and concrete entryway surface. Wow, I can’t believe that guy just did that. A still smoldering cigarette littering the clean decorative sidewalk. What would this tell you about his character?

The reality

When the man and woman first came into my view, the woman was gazing about as if she was looking for something. The man appeared to be looking at the outdoor trashcan with a puzzled look on his face. Just before flicking the cigarette, he shrugged his shoulders out of what looked like frustration. Neither of them noticed me until they were already inside the building.

The office complex was a smoke free campus, but it was not very well marked on the property. There was no cigarette butt receptacle near the entrance. Clearly the man didn’t want to put his butt in the trash can and risk starting a fire. Both of the them were looking for a safe place to dispose of the cigarette - they were conscientious people wanting to do the right thing.

In business, how we treat people and and their ideas are often influenced by our impression of their personalities as perceived through their behaviors. We can be dismissive, judgmental, and exclusive. None of those are conducive to getting the most creative ideas for improvement and support for change.

When you see “bad” behavior at work, instead try assuming there is an underlying issue driving that behavior and let them prove you wrong. If you are a leader, try to find out the root cause and drive it to resolution. Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Personality Strengths and the Pinky Swear

gymnastics vaultThis is a true story about two talented High School gymnasts, Pam and Lisa, and their challenges overcoming  pre-event nerves.


The event is the Vault. What differentiates this event from the others, is the gymnast is scored on two vault runs. They have the option of bailing out at the last minute and not performing on a run if it doesn’t feel right. This obviously can have a negative affect on their score, so it is not desirable, unless there is a safety concern.


Both gymnasts have complicated routines that despite repeated practice, they don’t feel 100% confident in their ability to execute them perfectly. That is where Molly “The Motivator” comes in. Molly is a fellow gymnast, but wasn’t competing because of an injury. Pam and Lisa have grown accustom to relying on Molly, above all the others, to motivate them to victory. I say motivate because each of the two gymnasts responds to completely different stimuli.

Pinky Swear

Molly recognizes the strengths of their personalities and what drives them to perform at their best and she emphasizes those strengths when she cheers them on.

Lisa always repeatedly performs better when Molly psyches her up before the event and cheers loudly and enthusiastically for her through the duration of her routine.

Pam is perfectly capable of a near perfect Suke, but her tall height creates an additional challenge for her that impacts her confidence. She routinely walks off after a run before hitting the springboard. However, unlike Lisa, Pam doesn’t respond to positive reinforcement and cheering. During competition, Molly knows she can leverage Pam’s sense of responsibility by having Pam “pinky swear” that she will complete the run and finish her routine. With their pinky swear in play, Pam consistently performs and scores high as a result.

Leadership Lesson

Molly looks at the strengths of each of the gymnasts and individualizes the treatment to what they personally want and need to succeed. It’s for that reason Molly is considered the “go to” person for getting the most out of the team.

It doesn’t matter whether the subject is sports or business, individualizing communication based on the strengths and personality of the individuals generally delivers positive rewards for all of the parties involved.

*The names have been changed to protect the identities of the people in this story.