Knowing Your People Enables Leadership

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Part 2 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

Shortly after his New York Giants defeated the heavily favored Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, NFL coaching legend Bill Parcells was asked, “How did you do that?” Indeed, not many people had given the Giants a chance. “I have to be a master motivator,” he responded. “I treat everyone fairly; I don’t treat them the same.” Parcells understood that a team is made up of individuals of differing personalities and talents and that a one-size-fits-all management style isn’t the way to build a championship team. The coach’s secret: Knowing your people is the heart of leadership.

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Learn What They Can Do and What They Can’t

During countless hours of game time, practices, team meetings, and frequent travel, the great coach had gotten to know his personnel in a meaningful way, their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and fears.

Think about it. Many coworkers spend as much time – if not more – with one another than with their families. This is not an insignificant thing. To inspire good relationships and morale that will carry over to performance, managers must take the time to learn about their people, and that’s a continual face-to-face process.

Getting to Know Your People Takes Calculated Effort

Accumulating hours in a shared workspace doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to know your people. Exposure does, however, school everyone on personalities, with your personality setting the tone for the overall disposition of your team.

Getting to know one another takes more than simple proximity. True familiarity is a product of conscious effort, and good managers take the lead in making personal interactions happen:

  • When appropriate, initiate conversations that display interest in your employees as people.
  • Every once in a while, take the work relationships beyond the confines of the workplace. Take your team to lunch or catch a ballgame, and steer the vibe away from business concerns.

I’m also a big believer in applying the golden rule at work. As a principle, it seems to have come into question in recent times, but the simple maxim continues to guide my relationships in and out of work.

I aim to behave and treat people in a way that I’d like to have reciprocated. In doing so, I obligate myself to extend the best of my character and capacity in a way that reflects fairness specific to the situations.

A manager getting to know his team better.

Understanding Your People Isn’t in the Job Description, But It’s Job One

Not so long ago, taking enough time to establish relationships with your people would have been seen as outside the job description. Even now, taking the time to get to know your people probably isn’t one of your official duties.

Even if it’s not in the employee handbook, connecting personally with your team is worth your effort on both personal and professional levels. If you know your people, you can engage them in a way that will bring forth their best. The result: Goodwill, trust, creativity, and productivity can be part of your company’s culture.

Managing People – It’s Academic

There are instinctive people skills that are hard to teach, and there are people skills and management techniques that can be boiled down for consumption in a classroom. The latter range from communication strategies to conflict resolution.

Under the heading of continuing education, USF offers professional development programs for everyone from new managers to seasoned supervisors.

To learn more about USF’s dedication to interacting with professionals and advancing careers, explore the university’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education. Visit the CTPE website or contact us.

Mark Koulianos is director of USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education and a 20-plus-year veteran of the corporate world. Read Koulianos’ full bio.