Lately, I have been reading a lot of posts on leadership with senior executives either writing or commenting on what makes a leader successful. The common attributes are the following:

  • A good leader Is a good listener
  • Is a good motivator
  • Has an eye for identifying performers and laggards and coach them
  • Rewards appropriately in terms of incentives, promotions, training and learning opportunities and much more….

I agree with all the above but the big question “Do you as a leader really understand your team?” – Which is very important in building a solid relationship because if the relationship is weak all the above mentioned won’t work either.

During a recent coaching session with a sales leader, he mentioned that he is struggling with two of his team members and fails to understand why they don’t work/perform as compared to the other two. The work, opportunity at hand, the reward, everything is the same but still the performance is way below par. I asked him a couple of questions

Q Do you get along with them?

A: Yes

Q Do you understand them?

A: Yes, he continued, isn’t this same question and my answer to him was No.

Every person has a unique way of perceiving the world, which drives the way he works, his beliefs, values, and motivation. ‘Meta Programs’ are the keys which enable a person to form his representations which in turn drive his behavior.

Types of Meta Programs

1) Towards or Away – What drives motivation – Moving towards gain or away from pain or in other words, by a carrot or a stick. Have you ever heard this? “I will complete this assignment because it will add to my learning” – Moving towards gain. “I will have to complete this assignment otherwise my incentives will get impacted” – Moving away from pain

2) Being same or being different – Does your team member love doing the same job over and over and performs well, but is uncomfortable working out of his comfort zone or he gets excited by a new work responsibility and feels monotonous when things become repetitive. Some people like to play safe, always look for sameness. An example of being same – I like my job because:

–         It is stable and gives me security

–         I know what needs to be done. I have been doing it for many years

–         I am familiar with the processes and people

The different ‘person’ looks for change, is always on a look out for new assignments, with new people, and will get bored by doing repetitive jobs. Observe cues like

–         We need to adopt a different approach

–         If we don’t try we will not know

3) Internal and External Reference – People with internal reference will work on their gut without giving much adherence to what others say. They are also judgmental about how others work and seek advice from people they think are competent. As a leader/manager when you interact with team members with internal reference use sentences like

–         Only you can decide what is best for you

–         What do you think should be our approach?

–         I think this is what you should do but it is for you to decide

People with external reference always look outside for opinion and feedback for taking decisions. Their motivation is driven by what people around them say. They might do a great job but are always looking for external stimuli. When interacting with team members who fall in this category use phrases like:

–          I also got feedback from X that you did a great job

–         You are doing well but if you do this as well you will achieve better results

4) The ‘Big Picture’ people and ‘The ‘Detail’ people – The “Big Picture” people love the crux. If you elaborate and go into detail they lose interest. The Detail people are exactly the opposite – they want to know everything. If he is your boss he will get involved in every assignment to the core or if he is a subordinate then he would need last minute detailing for execution.

Start observing your team members and superiors little more closely, listen carefully, how they react, words they use and you will be able to slot them in any one or multiple meta programs

 Key Takeaways

– People use multiple Meta Programs and not necessarily one. Factors such as stress and external environment can influence them

– Meta Programs can be inherited deep inside but can be changed to benefit

– Meta Programs can be a great tool to understand people and thus improve relationship and work output

– As a leader, you are able to communicate better, understand better and model your behavior to bridge gaps, if you understand Meta Programs and adapt accordingly.

To conclude, it is not only important to understand your colleagues but your own self as well. Identify your Meta programs which are limiting your success and work on them to become a better leader and most importantly a better person.

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