One thing we all have to learn in business is how to work with and lead people that are not like you, and don’t think like you. In my experience as a business advisor, that’s probably the biggest hurdle to success encountered by every new business owner. Your biggest challenge may be members of your own family, some of your best customers, or a key business partner or investor.
For example, like me, you may be an aggressive, logical, and “get things done” type of person, who created a new product, but is easily frustrated by others around you who are committed, but tend to make decisions slowly, or rely more on emotions than the facts in any situation. For me, it was a session with Myers Briggs that finally opened my eyes on how to deal with different people.
Some notable business people never figured it out and allowed differences to lead to business or personal setbacks that probably didn’t need to happen. Examples include the Theranos failure brought about by Elizabeth Holmes’ inability to work with her team, the early Apple setback due to differences between Steve Jobs and John Sculley, and the travails of Uber under Travis Kalanick.
The reality is that the business world is becoming more a global space, so all of us have to learn to understand and capitalize on people of different generations, cultures, points of view, and priorities. You have to manage your business with more people not like you, as well as a more diverse set of customers. Here are some key principles that I have found to make this work:
- Build more relationships with people who are not like you. If you limit your relationships in business to people who are just like you, your business potential is severely limited. Get to know your business associates as people, to understand their personality, strengths, and motivation, before you deal with them on business issues.
Only by first understanding their differences can you fully appreciate that what others bring to the table, even if it is contrary to your view. Don’t let the current focus on emails, procedures, and message exchanges convince you that work is a mechanical process.
- Don’t assume others are intentionally being difficult. They are simply being who they are, and they are as frustrated with you as you are with them when things aren’t working. They are thinking and making decisions based on their unique personality, cultural background, and their previous experiences. Your challenge is to adapt to them.
For example, I have found that some people are most effective after talking you through a situation, while you may prefer to jump to action quickly. By better understanding each member of your team, you will know when to listen and when it’s time to push for action.
- Never try to change people – capitalize on their strengths. It’s easier to adapt your own style than to try to force others to be like you. People can change themselves, if they respect you as a role model, and feel your courtesy and respect for their position and ability. Always be civil and diplomatic, and don’t allow emotions to cloud the situation.
I often recommend to technical entrepreneurs (logical) that they team with a cofounder who has a business perspective (emotional customer appeal). One of these without the other is a recipe for disaster. At the same time, each can always learn from the other.
- Encourage business disagreements and healthy conflict. Real innovation can only come from people who think and see things differently. Disagreements should lead to constructive discussions, real learning, and better solutions. The challenge is to remain non-judgmental, non-defensive, and not feel the need to win every argument.
The best way to stay in control, and get maximum benefit, is by asking open-ended and relevant questions. This will allow constituents to feel that you respect them and are debating their ideas rather than judging them because of their views.
- Don’t generalize the discussion – stick to the problem at hand. Often it’s tempting to bring up prior issues to make a point, but this approach is fraught with the danger of escalating emotions and potential misunderstandings. Successful work relationships require focus, cooperation, and listening, and often benefit from different approaches.
Save the generalized discussions and feedback for scheduled mentoring and coaching sessions, rather than the daily impromptu strategy or problem-solving meetings. Demonstrate to your constituents that you can do both, and understand the difference.
All my experience tells me that diversity in business is a plus. People with different values and different perspectives from your own lead to better decisions and innovation – ultimately growing your business success and your satisfaction. The sooner you learn to deal with it, the quicker you and your business will benefit. Look around you and check your use of diversity in your business.