Need over want

Steps in management theory

It is so easy in management to fall into the pit fall of seeking to be the friend or colleague over being the manager.

Many new-be managers are so focused on being “liked” (or avoiding being disliked) that they forget that the job of a manager is ultimately to lead a team of people towards a goal. Indeed many managers seeking to be “liked” are doing so not in the interest of the team or overall objectives but rather to cover up their own insecurities they have about their ability to lead. Leaders who seek “being liked” often become side-tracked onto making decisions not in the interest of the team (group) of people but rather into feeding their own need to feel accepted by outspoken individuals on that team.

Most significantly of all is the managers who most seek to be liked are rarely the ones who actually end up in a longer term sense being the “most liked”. The reason for this is that to feel happy with our relationships we need to feel the people in our lives live up to the roles and responsibilities of the relationship that we have with them. Our boss, like our parents, fulfill a different relationship to that of our friends. We want our friends to be understanding of our emotional frailties and to comfort us when we feel low but most of us don’t actually want this in a boss. Rather a boss for most must fulfill a mentoring role as we want them to help inspire and support us so we are capable of getting beyond our own weaknesses that hold us back. We also want a boss to think of the team and not just of the individual.

Leaders, like in a parent-child relationship, should aim to bring out the best in their staff and doing this requires telling staff the things they don’t want to hear as well as the things they do. It requires making decisions that at first may not be liked but in a longer term is something that makes a difference in achieving the group’s goals. An interesting point is the people we often respect the most are the ones who have been in some sort of leadership or influence role over us at some point in our life: parents, teachers, mentors etc… They are the ones who brought out the best in us even when we were resistant to making sacrifices needed to achieve our best.

To achieve inspirational leadership where you get a team of people to interact and focus on goals you must provide everything needed to keep the team focused on the combined goal which in their work at least is bigger than their own want. I have found over many years of leading large teams that reminding myself of the phrase: “seek to give staff what they need and not what they want” has helped me again and again to lead fairly and to keep focused on my role as leader of that group of people. I remind my teams again and again that i will do my utmost to give them what they “need”: to achieve a target, to feel motivated but I won’t seek to just give in to “want” as if i do, I won’t bring out the best in individuals and won’t look after the whole team. Giving into focusing on “wants” will all end up sidetracking the team from our combined goals.

Judging what is “want” and what is a “need” is complicated but step one in learning (see my latter post on the learning pyramid) is to at least force oneself to think: is this something this staff member needs or something they want? With time you’ll fine tune making the decision but generally i have learned to mentally ask myself the following questions when i try to judge what is “want” and what is “need”:

  • What does it contribute to a specific goal?
  • If not given, what effect would it have on a goal?
  • Is it feasible to give what is being asked for?
  • How does granting them it (or not) effect others on the team?

And finally but perhaps most importantly, if it doesn’t quite fit into the above, I still do ask myself: does the individual deserve to be given this thing? If so, and feasible to grant, I will usually do my utmost to give it but when i do i will say i’m doing it because they have been performing great, have been very motivated and have gone above and beyond, I will never miss that chance to point out the why they are getting it even though it isn’t a team or goal need. As by doing so not only do i motivate as the person sees it as a reward but i also gain emotional bank to ask for that same commitment again that earned the exception in the first place.

So from now on when you have a request from staff or a difficult team decision to make and you don’t know what decision you should take, ask yourself is this “need” or “want”? If it is “need” do your utmost to provide it right away. However also work out why your day to day support and logistical structure isn’t by default providing this “need” as your standard set up should seek to provide consistently for “needs”. On the other side, if it is “want”, first ask yourself do you have the time and focus to spare to still give it and then if (only if) you deem you do, then ask yourself do they deserve it and if so (only if) aim to turn that “want” you can give and then deserve into a “need” by using it to keep them motivated and to gain leadership influence via working it out for them.

Check out my next post on great leadership on the importance of always taking a percentage of the blame.


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