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Do You Have People Problems?

5 Oct, 2015 By: Rich Sissen, Sissen & Associates

More time, effort and energy are spent on the “people problems” of an organization than are spent on its primary mission. They are rarely solved. Usually, they are just treated and endured.  In fact, they are often not clearly defined so they can be solved.

For example, if several different supervisors or managers were asked if there were problems in a particular unit or department, you could possibly get a different answer from each one. You would hear things like having problems in leadership, communication, personality, training, and/or motivation. Upon observing the same problem situation, different managers could give you very different answers depending on their background, training or responsibility. Regardless, these “people problems” occur continually and in every organization.

Let’s Consider a New Approach

The differences between each of these people problems are much less than what they have in common. The cause is our failure to recognize the natural differences between the thinking and working styles of the people involved. Some people naturally develop a preference to sequential analysis. Some have a natural bias for associating synthesis, and still others have a particular combination of the two. Of course, we all use some of each style at different times but it is also true that as skills develop, specialization increases. 

Typically, the best associates know very well how they do their best work and what conditions are necessary for them to function at their best. What most people don’t realize is that the “thinking styles” of people are functionally different.  When two people with opposite behavioral styles focus on the same problem, there will be an apparent conflict. Since each is looking for exact agreement, they don’t recognize the reciprocal relationship or agreement of their ideas.

Let’s take a look at something that you and I have day-to-day control over – our personal leadership. Leadership is a term that is suggestive of revolutions and lofty positions of power, but it is more than that. Leadership implies team work, recruiting and selecting the right people, and creating a culture so the team can achieve performance levels of excellence. It is well worth your time to think about leadership – what works and what does not.

Let’s examine the three recognized styles of leadership:

First, there is the Autocratic Leader.  This is the individual who rules with absolute power and unlimited authority. “There is only one way it is to be done – and that’s my way!”  This person is communicating a message of dominance.  There is usually no formal policy or decision-making procedure.  The person in command makes all the decisions and sets the policy as they go along.  There is a complete disregard for human needs and the lack of opportunity for individual expression.

Surprisingly, this brand of leadership is enormously effective in some situations. We see it, again and again, mostly in small businesses starting “bare-bones” with nothing going for them but the drive and tenacity of the founder. Through sheer determination, gutsy fortitude and lots of sweat, blood, and tears, they get it done. It is a Horatio Alger type of story; a person who grinds it out then sees a prosperous new company blossom.  But, the rugged individualism can not be shut-off. The trailblazer cannot let go.  The organization, fresh and eager as it is, is often smothered by the iron will of the autocratic leader.  Such a leader will often drain off the creative juices of challenge, the inspired efforts and the synergy of collective hopes and dreams.  When the leader is gone, where does a replacement come from?  All that is left are the battered ghosts of people existing in hopeless resignation and subdued depression with only the vision of making it to retirement.

The opposite of the autocratic leader is the Laissez-faire Leader.  Laissez-faire is a French expression which comes from “let alone.” Basically, that is what this style of leader does. There is an absence of leadership as it becomes more about proficient, self-sufficient job performance. Typically, the individual offers little help, guidance, or support to others, often thinking they, too, rely on self-sufficiency to effectively execute to their own job requirements. Often, the so-called leader is rarely seen and/or is not providing substantive leadership to build from as would a team environment would produce. However, this style can be effective under certain circumstances and/or type of work.  And there are people who work well under this type of direction.  They say “give me a job to do and then leave me alone to get the job done in my own way.”  One of the difficulties, depending on task or person, is that their way may not be the best way. These people are often loners and are not good team players so this type of leadership, though sometimes successful, is like the autocratic leader in that it can be limiting and does not begin to extract the full potential of the leadership position.

This leaves us with the third type of leader, the Democratic Leader.  This is a person who draws his people together, gaining their willing cooperation by enabling them to feel a part of what is being done.  If you are this type of leader, you are likely to be effective in motivating your staff to perform at optimal levels. However, your perception of another person’s work is filtered through your own style of behavior, which can be a challenge if the other person’s thinking is not the same; thus your evaluation can take on a negative bias.  When looking at different behavioral styles, be careful not to mistakenly interpret differences as stubbornness, stupidity, irresponsibility, empire building or other negative behaviors.

The dynamics of the primary components of any organization – Leaders, Associates, Tasks – can be analyzed along the dimensions of behavioral style.  Leaders have particular cognizant styles in the way they solve problems and give direction.  Associates also have particular styles in the way they understand directions and organize their work.  Specific tasks as well have an explicit organizational structure.  Interestingly, we have at this juncture a three-sided triangular relationship: Leaders, Associates, and Tasks.

When people problems are viewed from the prospective of behavioral styles, new insights are available and often solutions are apparent when you understand and use “behavioral style thinking.” You can shift the negative emphasis of conflict management to conflict prevention if you understand the patterns of behavior that cause these problems.


Research has identified two leadership dimensions: Tasks and people orientation.  Concern for tasks is a behavioral trait.  Concern for people is also a behavioral trait.  However, the behavioral style approach is more powerful than the traditional task and people concepts because it reveals the unique patterns of leadership thinking rather than just the attitudinal and decision-making preferences.  “Behavioral style thinking” reveals that exact structure necessary in a leader / associate relationship.


It is important to remember that if a leader and an associate have different behavioral styles, there is a great probability that there will be a misunderstanding when they communicate with each other.  Research in this area shows that each behavioral style has different priorities in the kind of information that is necessary, and the organization of that information.  These behavioral prerequisites must be met if a message is to be received, understood and acted upon. Some refer to this style of leadership as participatory management.  Studies indicate that it is as much as thirty percent more effective in terms of productivity as the other two styles.

Leading by the democratic process can be explained in this axiom: “To the degree you give others what they need, will they give you what you need.”

As you see, plain authority is a poor substitute for leadership. The most influential leader is the one who has willing followers...those who feel good about whom they are following.  Think about that.  Aren’t you attracted to others not for who they are but how they make you feel?  Leadership is an attitude that brings all sides and ideals of the group together in order to successfully complete an endeavor.

Rich Sissen is founder of Sissen and Associates which specializes in building management teams by training and developing their skills and knowledge in Recruiting, Selecting, Training & Development, Managing and Motivating team members. Sissen recently partnered with Avatara to bring to the dealer community a total IT and MS cloud program. Visit sissenandassociates.com for information or email richsissen@aol.com

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