What If You’re Not That Interested in People?
post # 256 — December 7, 2006 — a Managing post
In yesterday’s blogpost on leadership the central points, which all the subsequent commenters seemed to endorse vigorously, were that the key to being an effective manager was to be interested in people, and… and… and… (drumroll, please) you can’t fake that stuff! It’s either genuine or you’re not going to be an effective manager.
In my experience, there’s too little reflection and examination on the consequences of those points, and too much glib advice (including by me) that you “should” get interested in people.
I think that misses the whole point about not being able to fake it. People array along a continuous spectrum of how genuinely interested they are in other people, and how comfortable they are in relating to other people on an intimate one-to-one (“drop the mask, be human”) basis. Given different underlying characters and personality tyupes, maybe we need to stop pretending that everyone CAN become ‘interested in other people.’ If you really can’t fake it, then what use is the advice that you should “get interested?”
Very frequently when I am doing a seminar or consulting about effective management, people look at the list of what effective managers do and they say things like “That’s not too hard – why doesn’t everyone do that?” And the answer is that it’s not too hard if you are genuinely interested in other people. But it is my experience that, in real life, only a minority really are. That’s not a moral failing, or a lack of skills – it’s about relatively fixed personality traits, in my view.
For example, some people have high social needs – they revel in being part of a lively, active circle. Others, just aren’t wired that way. They’d prefer to cuddle up with a good book rather than go to the bar or the pub with the ‘gang.’ Some people REALLY enjoy listening to the details of other people’s lives. Others, meaning no disrespect, just don’t want or need to know.
So, here’s the point for discussion. If you can’t fake a sincere interest in people, what’s the point of advising people to do it? Should we shut down all the management training programs or restrict them only for people who first pass an attitude test?
Rick Turoczy said:
David, I can definitely see your position, as easily as I can see the holes in my reckless optimism about the desire to change. And the potential for an underlying respect for individuals, no matter their calling.
There are any number of leaders out there “succeeding despite themselves.” Based on their own definition of success, they don’t have to change to achieve their goals. These people will be good enough without the desire to become great. And that will leave them perfectly happy.
I would hope that if someone truly wanted to emulate a great leader that they would have the desire to embrace some of these qualitities. But that naive position may be my undoing.
That said, I’m starting to fall into the-chicken-or-the-egg argument here, aren’t I? Do the people who have the desire to become leaders change to become leaders or do the people who have the innate ability capitalize on that ability and become great leaders?
Thanks for getting me thinking.
posted on December 7, 2006