I touched off a heated conversation one time when I said to a friend, “I don’t treat my children equally.” My friend was troubled by my statement, so I tried to explain. Each of my children is a unique person. Each has been gifted by God in a special way. Their placement in sequence of birth assured that there would be a difference in the environment in which each of them grew up—whether you are first, second, or third in birth order does make a difference. I do want to treat my children fairly and I have attempted to do so, but I don’t have one standard approach in the way that I deal with them individually.
This concept also applies in the area of leadership. Each person on your staff or in your church or organization is a unique individual. If you come up with a policy that you will treat everyone of them in exactly the same way, you show a lack of awareness for their abilities, circumstances, and needs. You are not being fair to them and you may be wasting their abilities.
Showing appreciation is one example of meeting the person’s unique needs in different ways. In 5Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman and Paul White explain that individuals respond positively to different types of encouragement. Some are motivated by words of affirmation, others like tangible gifts, some welcome assistance in doing their work, and others just want quality time with supervisor or co-workers. Chapman and White point out that to give appreciation in a way that the person does not welcome it can even hinder a person’s motivation. For example, a leader may think that he or she is doing the right thing by giving a team member a nice plaque in front of everyone on the team when that person would be more encouraged by a little one-on-one time with the supervisor.
The key is, “Do we offer help in a way that the person can actually use it?” This applies to a number of leadership tasks. When the leader delegates a responsibility to a team member, he or she must understand the person’s work style. Does this person need a checklist on what is to be done? Would this person work best if simply given the parameters in which to work, the resources available, and then allowed to do the task?
When a leader communicates with a team member, does the person want to “just get down to the facts” or should the leader spend a few minutes building rapport by asking about family or personal interests? This even applies to compensation. Although most of us appreciate a little extra in the check at the end of the month, others are motivated by opportunities for continuing education, extra time off for family or personal pursuits, or freedom to pursue a pet project using the organization’s resources.
You might respond, “Well, this takes a lot of time.” Yes, it does. We only find out what our children need by spending time with them and getting to know them. The same is true with those we lead. If we don’t know them, then we cannot provide what they need to be effective. Otherwise, we will treat them equally but not fairly.