Who People Are

“But, I think understanding motivation is important for a manager,” Bailey protested.

“And so, when did you become a mind reader?” I asked.

“You know very well, I don’t pretend to be a mind reader,” Bailey continued to push back.

“Yet, there you go, looking for something inside a person that you cannot see.”

“Then, just exactly what are we supposed to do?”

“Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads. If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. If you want to play the motivation game, you will find a ton of popular psychology, pop psychology, answers. There are books and assessments that propose to teach you the insights we should all have, as leaders, about those on our teams. But, if you want to be an effective manager, you have to think differently. And you cannot think differently if you continue your search in this invisible stuff. You will confuse yourself and those around you.

“If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, watch what they do.”*
These were the watchwords of the late Charles Krauthammer observing the behavior of presidents and presidential candidates. “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”

8 thoughts on “Who People Are

  1. Bruce Peters

    I get what your saying. Or, at least I think I do.
    Pat Murray would say if you want to know what people actually care about
    “watch where they spend their time and where they spend their money”
    That said I opened my inbox this morning to several posts and articles impelling readers to learn their personal “Why”.
    What relevance, if any, does the whole why discussion have on the necessity of performance.

  2. Manu

    One problem is even watching what people do has a lot of interpretation and filtering involved. Like we see what we want to see. We see what we believe in.
    So, if a manager is biased, he will continue to see a biased view.

  3. Bill Kent

    Great one! I’ve never been concerned with the “WHY” of anyone’s performance but rather the “WHAT”. We are all motivated by our conscious and subconscious thoughts. But never forget that Discipline is more important than motivation for each of us individually.

  4. Keith Corbin

    The way I read this is that to gauge performance look at what people are doing. You can learn a lot about people by what they do, but you won’t get to their identity. Part of the challenge is that we love to tell stories and with the actions we observe, we will prescribe intents and based on those intents people often make judgments. If you are not willing to talk about the intent then you are very likely to be trapped and limited by your own biases. If your goal is to sort humans into buckets than watching behaviors may be enough, but if you want to lead, you need to do more.

    If you want to get people to change and grow you do need to talk to them, you do need to understand their needs and intents and understand what is preventing them from taking the actions that they need to. To understand their progress you need to look at the actions.

    1. Gail Boenning

      Bruce Peters–That is a great question! Does our why matter if we are competent for a job?

      Keith Corbin–I appreciate “You need to understand what is preventing them from taking the actions that they need to.”

      Manu–Nice to see you here. Is is possible to live without any bias?

      1. Bruce Peters

        Speaking of Lee Thayer. He posits that people don’t perform in their role because they are either incompetent, unwilling or both. It seems there may be external obstacles or constraints to the performance as well. Should the declaration include these as part of its context setting? Just musing here and I may merely being restating the obvious “the best indicator or predictor of performance is prior performance”.


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