By: Eric Betts
Leadership expert, famous author, and trainer John Maxwell cited a humorous statement by the comic-strip character Linus in Charles Shultz’s Charlie Brown series, which reflects a mindset that is perhaps relatable to most. In the 1959 comic-strip statement, Linus retorts to Lucy who doesn’t believe he can be a doctor because of his disdain for mankind, “I love mankind – it’s people I can’t stand.”
Maxwell further analyzes the serious lessons that society can learn from the comic-strip statement. Maxwell says the following which speaks to the problems of conflict management: The lesson is that relationships with other human beings are wonderful – in theory. In reality, they can be difficult and messy. But nothing determines our success in life as much as our ability to work with other people.
Author and Christian counselor June Hunt says, “Consider the undesirable behavior/habit as the problem, not the person engaging in the behavior, and say, ‘I’m not looking at this as your problem, but our problem, because it is affecting our relationship. I want us to have the best relationship possible.’” Loving humanity is an indispensable concept from a broad theoretical position, but becomes extremely difficult when relating at individual human levels. June Hunt’s advice is instructive when managing individual relationships. Her suggestion that leaders learn how to separate people from the behaviors by prioritizing the need to maintain relationships is valuable.
Marcus Buckingham, author, motivational speaker, and business consultant, suggests that oftentimes leaders are unsuccessful in managing relationships because they fail to understand their own triggers and that of others. He suggests probing two areas in workplace relationships. First, find out what was the best relationship with a manager the person ever had, and what made it work so well. Second, one must probe what was the best praise or recognition the person ever received and what made it so good. This will help the leader or team member appreciate what they previously failed to understand about the peculiarities of the person.
The reason why so many fall into the mindset of the comic-strip character Linus is that they do not probe further into what makes people tick, but simply give up due to what they observe on the surface level. Buckingham suggests that there is no substitute for observation. He encourages leaders to spend time watching each person’s reactions, listening, taking mental notes about what each person is drawn to and what each person struggles with.
In the sports world, it is impossible to succeed without maintaining relationships. Coaches must understand what makes each person tick and learn how to be appreciative and respectful of what they learn. Legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells learned how to manage two quarterbacks and their personalities within one football season. Those quarterbacks were Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler. Phil Sims, according to Parcells, needed “in his face” confrontation all the time in order to be pushed to reach his peak performance, but Hostetler would shut down if the same method was used. Hostetler needed “a quiet word in his ear.” The key to leadership, according to Buckingham’s observation, is to understand what triggers will turn a person off, and which ones will motivate them. One person may work better when the leader consistently interacts with them while completing an assignment, and another will lose motivation because it comes across as micromanagement. This is insightful in all relationships beyond leaders and their associates.
Another key to loving both humanity and embracing people is self-awareness. Too many leaders do not recognize their own triggers, and what aspects of their own personality cause others to lose motivation. They cluelessly assume that they are even-tempered, emotionally balanced, amazingly mellow, and easy to work with. This is oftentimes based on a few key relationships where chemistry is strong, but it ignores all the other relationships where people are not honest with them about their observations. What are the traits of your own style that some people love which others at the same time “can’t stand?” Maxwell expands on this concept when he says, “I’ve often said that to handle yourself, you should use your head. But to handle others, you should use your heart. It’s natural to do the opposite: To let ourselves off the hook while we demand perfection from others. Assume right motives from the person you’re in conflict with. This defuses defensiveness and allows you both to focus on solving the problem at hand.”
For someone to move beyond the “It’s people I can’t stand” posture, they should be aware of their own triggers and offer others as much grace that they would want for themselves. One colloquialism that has been popular in houses of prayer across generations is “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.” It must also be understood that human beings are always construction zones and are a work in progress, which are equally worthy of such patience. In this vein, it is possible to both love humanity and love people.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religion Leadership and Culture at Athens State University