People or Objects? - - You Decide

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"How you think determines how you act. How you act, in turn, determines how others react to you."

- David J. Schwartz ? The Magic of Thinking Big

"?no matter what we're doing on the outside, people respond primarily to how we're feeling about them on the inside."

- The Arbinger Institute ? Leadership and Self-Deception

Becoming a great leader requires people to behave in rather unnatural ways. Most people will focus on their personal needs ahead of the needs of others. One of the paradoxes of leadership states that we get our personal needs met by first considering the interests of the people we lead.

Virtually anyone who has ever heard me speak has heard me use the following quote from John Maxwell ? "Leadership is influence. That's it. Nothing more; nothing less." Using this quotation as the starting point for discussions on leadership naturally forces the discussion away from questions of control and towards questions of influence. The American Heritage Dictionary defines control and influence as:

Control ? to exercise authority or dominating influence over; direct; regulate

Influence ? a power indirectly or intangibly affecting a person or course of events

Based on the Maxwell definition of leadership, great leaders rely on indirect and intangible methods rather than on direct and dominating behaviors to move their organizations forward. The desire to learn these "indirect" and "intangible" methods often leads people to study "people skills" and "influence strategies" in their efforts to grow as leaders. While I fully support the development and understanding of these skills and strategies, I also recommend that we take it one step further. I recommend that we go beyond the external behaviors and address the foundational thinking that supports them.

When I work with another person and I try to "get them to do things" or to "motivate them to work harder", I have slipped into thinking of the person as an object. They have ceased to be a person with wants, needs, and desires. They have become something to move to my will rather than someone to understand.

If I view them as an object, they will probably pick-up on my thinking and react accordingly. They will most likely view my efforts to "influence" them as manipulative. If they see me as trying to manipulate them, they will probably resist ? even if only subtly. If they resist, I will probably try some other "influence tactic" to "get them to do things." Thus the cycle repeats.

If I see them as a person, and then work to understand their perspective before acting; I stand a better chance of positively influencing their behavior. When they sense that I understand them, they are less likely to resist and more likely to cooperate. Now we have an upward, cooperative cycle in our relationship.

Can I guarantee cooperative effort from every person when I use this approach to leadership? No. But I can guarantee that people will eventually see my "influence tactics" as manipulative if I don't first try to understand them and their needs.

I can't control how another person will react to me. I can only control me. I can work to put the relationship odds in my favor by forcing myself to view them as a person, not as an object. Rather than trying to "get them to do things", I can work to "help them see the value in this activity". The shift in thinking is small, but the impact on results is huge. Just as a small part like a rudder can steer a large ship, a small thing like a thought can steer a relationship.

Decide to be a person among people, not the person among objects.

You may use this article for electronic distribution if you will include all contact information with live links back to the author. Notification of use is not required, but I would appreciate it. Please contact the author prior to use in printed media.

Copyright 2005, Guy Harris

Guy Harris is a Relationship Repairman and People-Process Integrator. His background includes service as a US Navy Submarine Officer, functional management with major multi-national corporations, and senior management in an international chemical business. As the owner of Principle Driven Consulting, he helps entrepreneurs, business managers, and other organizational leaders improve team performance by applying the principles of human behavior.

Guy co-authored "The Behavior Bucks System(tm)" to help parents reduce stress and conflict with their children by effectively applying behavioral principles in the home. Learn more about this book at

Learn more about Guy at

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