Leadership Tips: Managing the Human Element in Business

You can read the previous post in my series here.

Of all the mysteries and questions presented to us during the course of starting and running a business, there are none greater than the people whom we find in our orbit. “Hell is other people,” Proust wrote, and while most wouldn’t subscribe to a view so nakedly cynical, it’s undoubtedly true that the inscrutability of those around us provide cause to pull our hair out on plenty of occasions. Even the notion of a company staffed by a dozen clones of ourselves is sounds like a nightmare, as we’d be compounding our own personal faults and mistakes twelve times over.

So how then to handle the conundrum of other people when running your own business? People throw around the terms “leadership” and “personnel management” as if they are self-explanatory, but leadership can be anything other than evident. There are no shortage of people willing to set a direction for a team and tell others what to do, but managing people isn’t driving a dogsled team in the Iditarod; people are going to need wisdom and guidance and occasionally a firm hand along the way. Being a true manager of people requires a few different skills in order to get a team operating to its full potential. 

Perhaps the most glaringly obvious trick to leadership is finding the right people to fill out your team. But who are the right people? Every venture is different, and each position in a team may demand different qualities. And our own ideas of the “right people” might not be calibrated to the tasks at hand; a hard-charging, “type A” personality might be your ideal for building out a team, but will they listen to direction, or bristle at not being in charge and decide to follow their own plan? Or we can find people who are brilliant at one particular skill, but terribly deficient if asked to step outside that role even briefly. This isn’t to say that you should skip either example as a potential hire; they might be perfect for the job. The key is knowing what you need and knowing the shortcomings of each person you bring on. 

Along those lines, a successful manager needs to be able to mitigate their team’s weaknesses while taking advantage of its strengths. That might mean strategically assigning work and forming teams that will hopefully match weaknesses with offsetting strengths, in addition to aggregating the necessary skills to complete the task. Pairing self-starters with those who require direction can help keep a project on target, and surrounding your leaders with requisite followers puts everyone in the role that ensures their comfort and ultimate success. It might not even be weaknesses that you’re trying to manage; different personality types can produce different dynamics when paired with others, not all of them positive, and finding the right mix to ensure something like harmony exists along with productivity requires a bit of trial and error.

Once your team is in the right configuration, it’s on to the task at hand, onward until the work is done with nary an issue. Or at least it might be, in an ideal world. But ours is clearly far from a perfect one, and motivation flags on the part of all, ourselves included. As a manager, we have to try and pick up and reenergize those who have lost some of their earlier zeal and enthusiasm. Successfully motivating others is an exercise in both empathy and understanding of those around us; we have to understand what drives them, and what stirs their passion for the work they do. Some people just require time off to recharge the batteries, while others need a new challenge after they’ve grown tired of what they’re currently doing. Certain people react more to a pat on the back, while others need a kick in the rear. Some need to be handed more responsibility to rise to the fullest extent of their abilities, while others have to be freed of the added pressure to perform. Whatever is required, it’s expected of you as a manager to figure it out and apply those tools to get the best of everyone on your team.

Management isn’t easy by any stretch; if it was, everyone would want to be in charge. As it is, there are already enough people who are looking to be in that position; some are in it for the right reasons, confident in their abilities and looking to make a positive impact for the team, while others are drawn by the power and how they could wield it, without consideration for the responsibilities that come with that authority. Finding the right way to manage the personalities on your team, with all of the loves and hates and ambitions and fears and everything that people port with them into their jobs, is the most important thing you can do in your job, the one that enables the talent under your care to use their skills to get the necessary work done. #onwards.

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I am the founder and CEO of Traklight, the only self-guided software platform that creates your custom intellectual property (IP) strategy and assesses business risk. I ...