It’s the People, Stupid!

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Want to succeed as a leader? Pay attention to the people around you. Technical skill is important. So is strategy. But you can be the world’s greatest technical expert and have the biggest brain and still fail if you don’t pay attention to the people. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

People are Not Things

People are not parts. They are not machines. People show up with emotions that affect how they act. People have lives outside business that affect what they’re like when they show up. They have memories of how you and previous bosses treated them. They have their own brains and can think quite well on their own.

People are not good at doing the same thing over and over and over. They are superb at work that uses their brain. People are creative. They come up with good ideas. People are perceptive, too. They notice things.

Relationships Matter

People on your team will develop relationships with you and with each other. You’re all part of a complex human system, and what you and your teammates do affects the other parts of the system.

Trust is necessary for great performance. When people trust each other, the team can move quickly and surely. When people are wary of each other they move slowly and tentatively. Sometimes they don’t move at all.

Team members should trust each other to do the work they’re supposed to do. That’s operational trust. Team members should also trust each other to support them and work for the good of the team. And they feel safe speaking up when they disagree with other team members. That’s psychological safety.

Everyone Is Different

Forget all that talk about generations for a minute. Every teammate is a unique human being.

Some people are aggressive while others are shy. Some like to do things quickly, while others are more deliberate. Some people want you to check in on them often while others call that micromanagement.

Your challenge as a leader is to work out the best way to deal with every teammate. It’s your job to understand how their personalities can make them successful or not, and how they will work best with other teammates.

Everyone Is the Same

As different as they are, everyone you work with shares common human desires and drivers. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan have studied this for decades. Their Self-Determination Theory identifies three main drivers for most people: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Autonomy means that people want as much control as possible over their work. So, give it to them. Competent, committed people need little oversight. That makes the team more productive and your life easier.

Relatedness means that people want to be part of a team. That’s good news. Your challenge is to create a team environment that’s safe and rewarding.

Competence is about doing work that’s challenging. It’s about learning new things and improving. Your challenge is to help people grow and develop.


People are not interchangeable parts.

People have emotions.

Relationships matter.

Trust is necessary for great performance.

Everyone is different.

Everyone is the same.

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