There’s an old axiom I used to hear often in the US Army: “Life would be easy if it wasn’t for people.” This statement always made me laugh because it was leaders who generally made that statement. Leaders are in the people business. Therefore, the greatest challenge in leadership is always going to be people. The idea of being a leader without anyone following you, by necessity, means you’re not a leader.
At the most basic level, leadership is about motivating and inspiring people. Great leaders motivate someone to move from where they are to where they can be. Leaders help people or teams go from being good to being great. And this is where the rub comes… the thing that motivates one person often does not motivate the next person. People are individuals. They must be led individually. What works for one person might not work on the next.
People move through relationships
Leaders try many incentives to motivate people. A lot of those incentives just don’t work. Money can motivate people for a brief period of time, but it usually doesn’t motivate forever (unless they’re really shallow). There’s no amount of fame, accolades, or incentives that will ultimately bring the best out of someone. People follow people.
Some people are motivated temporarily by incentives, but all people are inspired by relationships. It’s usually not a catchy business phrase that’s going to excite people at work. It is generally not a great product that is going to get people passionate about coming to work in the morning. People follow people! If you want people to get excited about coming to work for you, become the kind of leader for which people are excited to work. This means you can never stop working at relationships.
Relationships are tricky
I’m going to make this even more challenging for you. There is an inherent problem built into leading groups of people…no two people are the same! Now, you probably understand why people use the phrase, “Life would be easy if it wasn’t for people.” Since no two people are the same, no leader can use the exact same approach to motivate two different people. You have to think of people as individuals.
Just when you thought you figured out how to treat people as individuals, it gets even harder, because people are always changing. That means the thing that motivated someone today might not motivate him or her tomorrow. Relationships are tricky. People will make you pull your hair out! Great leaders tend to be experts in the personalities and lives of the people they lead. Great leaders invest immense amounts of personal energy in their relationships with the people they lead.
People will hurt you
Relationships are often problematic and painful. This will cause many people to avoid entering into any deep, meaningful relationships. These folks keep everything at the surface level to avoid being hurt. However, the only way to avoid being hurt by people is to avoid people altogether. By the way, because you’re a person, you will hurt a lot of people also. So, welcome to club. If you’ve hurt someone in a relationship lately, go to them and ask for forgiveness. If you’ve been hurt by someone in a relationship recently, go to them and try to work it out. All relationships have their problems. The only way to avoid problems in relationships is to avoid people altogether.
I want to ask you to flip the script when it comes to relationships. Instead of avoiding relationships because they are problematic and painful, try looking at challenging relationships as an opportunity. Consider challenges in relationships as an opportunity for you to grow as a person or a leader. Any relationship, even the difficult relationships, can shape and sharpen you to be a better person. If you’re in a challenging relationship right now, ask yourself what you can learn from this relationship. Set healthy boundaries in relationships, but don’t let those boundaries become so narrow that you have no real, deep relationships at all. Perhaps God wants to use this challenging relationship to change you. Maybe God has put some difficult people in your life so you become a better person by being around them.