Why We Should Be Leading 'Persons'

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 09-21-2017
Leading People

A number of years ago, I was interviewed by a major trade journal and was asked about my leadership style. One question the interviewer specifically asked me was, “How do you lead people?”

I answered him in a grammatically incorrect way (I'm having flashbacks to the nuns smacking my knuckles with a ruler!). I stated emphatically that I don’t lead people, I lead persons!

While this may be grammatically incorrect, I feel strongly that it makes a critically important point. You see, each of us is wired differently. Each person is a unique combination of talents, competencies, attitudes, preferences, etc. What matters deeply to me may not mean a hill of beans to you. What motivates you may be of no consequence to me.

Leading persons is about understanding what makes them tick as individuals and then tailoring a personalized value proposition that resonates with each of them.

In my role as CIO, I was able to retain a very talented and outstanding team for 15 years. All of those people could most likely have made more money working for one of the Fortune 500 companies that were so close that I could have hit them with a rock thrown from my office window.

While I wasn't able to compete on dollars alone, we were able to make our organization a place where people's needs were met.

For instance, some people who worked for me had children playing on soccer teams, and I made sure that they could leave early to attend their kids' games. Other people had children with special educational needs, and I made sure they were able to participate in their children’s therapy sessions. What motivates each of us is very personal and unique.

I always laugh when I hear leaders say that you shouldn’t get too close to your people. I’m not suggesting going out with your team and singing "Sweet Caroline" at Thursday night Karaoke. I am suggesting that you get to know what makes each individual on your team tick and then find a way to support his or her goals, needs and requirements.

There’s an old expression that I truly believe in. It states that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Do your people believe that you truly care about them—not as cogs in your machine, but as human beings with hopes, dreams and challenges? Are you authentically human and available to them, or are you aloof and only viewed as “The Boss”—a title I reserve for Bruce Springsteen!

Taking shortcuts never works with people. Neither does treating people like interchangeable parts. Each of us has had the experience of working for someone who made us feel like a droid, and it wasn’t very inspiring or motivating. In contrast, some of you may have had the good fortune to work for a manager who made you feel like a valued member of their extended family. There's a world of difference!

Perhaps the greatest professional compliment I've ever received was a number of years ago when the company I worked for administered a 360-degree evaluation for all their senior leaders. Part of the feedback I received stated, “Larry's people would kick down the gates of hell for him!” To this day, those words mean the world to me and inspire me to be an even better leader.

Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at Larry@ciobenchcoach.com and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.