The People Factor

Leadership and people cannot be separated. Our attitude towards people is a major component of our make-up and performance as leaders. A negative attitude towards people is an immense obstacle in the path of our leadership journey. No doubt most of us, if not all, battle constantly to master this aspect of our leadership profile.

Perhaps it is a very foolish person who believes that he or she is the complete master of people relationships in the workplace as well as at home. We can all learn to improve in this important element of our leadership roles.

Let’s look at some of the key factors determining our people relationships and our leadership ‘style’ and performance:

  1. Self awareness and self image. Our image of ‘Me’ is the foundation of our so-called leadership attitude and style. The clearer we feel about our self-image and potential, the more passionate we feel about life and serving others. When we struggle to come to terms with our own origin and destiny, we will tend to default to selfish behaviour and this will reflect in our leadership style.
  2. Our attitude towards the ‘big picture’. The greater our grasp of the ‘bigger picture’ of situations around us, the more likely we are to be able to share our self with others. The narrower our attitude is the less likely we are to respect and serve others. As our knowledge and insights grow, so the context expands in which we perceive people and situations.

We tend to develop along different lines in our leadership journey. Over the years leadership profiles or styles have been defined in many different ways. The following is one way to measure our own leadership path or style, specifically in respect of people relationship:

1.    A telling style.

In the past a ‘telling’ leadership style was probably more acceptable. It is still common practice to view people leadership as synonymous with ‘telling’ other people what to do. ‘Telling’ people what to do is obviously an important part of leadership and will generally always be. However, when we develop a ‘telling style’ in the workplace and at home we tend to lose the plot. In a modern democratic environment a ‘telling style’ falls short more often than not.

We can spot our telling style in our daily conversations with other people, whether they are our reports or not. When we tend to default to ‘telling people what we believe and make snap judgements of people and situations close and remote to us, we may well have slipped into a telling style of leadership. Do not be surprised if people around us are not edified or motivated by our presumptive style! 

2.    A contentious style

What we call a contentious style is the tendency by some of us to constantly be at war with situations and people around us. We invariably seem to find our self in a tense and crisis situation. We resent the universal nature of life as being constantly endowed with obstacles and resistance to change. We hate change and opposition and obstacles. We dream of a life style of comfort filled with harmony and ‘good things’ without the burden of pressures. Other people do not want to be around people who are contentious by nature. They certainly are not likely to be motivated to great heights of performance by them!    

3.    A sharing and ‘seamless’ style.

We see much evidence around us in our constant leadership research efforts of people who are well on their way to developing a sharing and seamless style of leadership. Often they are not necessarily in senior leadership positions and may even avoid such positions. In the view of people who predominately fall into the first two categories, a sharing style may be seen as a ‘weak’ leadership style. This is an inaccurate assessment!  It is worth our while to look at some of the attributes that ‘sharing’ leaders need to embrace in their leadership journey: 

  • Belief and healthy self image. A sharing attitude cannot manifest until a certain level of belief is achieved. To quote the words of Thomas S Monson: ‘Believe in self, believe in others around you and believe in universal principles’.
  • A sharing attitude in relationships is characterised by a strong sense of respect for others, for their royal potential and for the need to treat people fairly and positively. A person without a healthy sense of their own value and values will find it very difficult to consistently share and respect others. That is often the reason why they tend to default to a telling or contentious style in relationships.
  • Humility and being teachable. A major reason we tend to respond so well to a sharing and respectful leadership style is that such people tend to listen and appreciate the inputs of others. I like the feelings expressed by Greg Solomon, MD of McDonald’s South Africa about the relationship between respect and trust in people matters. Sechaba Motsieloa of McDonald’s then followed up with the statement: ‘We do not like to clone our self when training our people’. It is about developing a sharing and respecting leadership culture.
  • Boundaries. An effective sharing style of leadership needs to respect the role of boundaries. Boundaries in fact are a necessary element of respect. Such leaders instinctively know when to set their own boundaries in sharing relationships by honouring their own values and standards, and also sense when to respect the values and boundaries of others.
  • The warrior factor. Many of us tend to balk at the idea of going to war because war is so destructive of our society. Yet in every sharing and respecting leader’s make-up is the ability to stand up for what is right and if necessary ‘go to war’ for their people and values. Make no mistake, I am not speaking of violence as such, but the tenacity to fight for that which is right and for the protection of people around us that are wronged by others. Surely this is part of the make-up of a leader we can follow? In that sense a sharing leader is one committed to be an unselfish hero if required.

Leadership styles 1 and 2 are essentially ill equipped to build affinity with people and for that reason are often counter productive. 

People are like us. This may sound obvious, but the golden rule that is so often quoted: ‘Do unto others’ as we want done unto us’ is a powerful model that sharing and respecting leaders tend to grasp and live by. Sharing because we care and respect is the key to unlocking personal as well as people potential.   

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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