All three of these statements are false.
Stay with me for a moment, now. You probably don’t believe me, and I understand why. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have believed myself until just recently. But grant me a moment to explain the reasoning behind my conclusion, and let me begin that explanation by asking you a question: have you ever deeply considered what these three statements imply? Let’s examine the first statement for a second: “managers should treat everyone equally.” By saying that managers should treat everyone equally, we are assuming that everyone is equal. Now, of course, we know that the worth of all people is equal, but we walk a fine line with these statements as they can often lead us to the false determination that all people are the same. Should managers treat every employee the same, when each individual is just that: an individual? Each person brings different motivations, strengths, weaknesses, goals, experiences, aspirations, knowledge – the list goes on and on. If a manager speaks to 18-year-old college freshmen the same way that she speaks to a 70-year-old senior, her communication may not be as effective as possible. Instead, having the flexibility to adapt in the way we interact and treat people can make a huge difference in the motivation and productivity of our employees. Since we can now see how treating employees differently can be good, let’s examine the wording of our next two conventional wisdom statements.
People (can’t) accomplish anything they set their minds to.
Can a sailfish fly? And can a peregrine falcon swim? No. But in their own specialty, each of these animals is amazing at what they do. The sailfish is the fastest fish in the ocean, and the peregrine falcon the fastest bird in the air. Their strengths and weaknesses are different from each other, but each of them can still be a champion in their own way. And you see, people are the same way. There are some people who cannot complete a complex math problem for the life of them. Yet tell them that they can do “anything” and they might just try to become someone that they are not. They might, like an unsatisfied falcon, try their hand at swimming. But this can lead to frustration and poor results when their struggle continues because of their weakness. Eventually, they begin questioning their abilities with thoughts that go along the lines of “why can’t I do this? Everyone said I could if I really wanted to, but I still can’t.” You can see how frustrating this could be, and maybe you’ve even been in a similar situation yourself where something was unreasonably expected of you. But now here’s the silver lining. Our friend in this example might be terrible at math, but excellent at, say, design. This is because we all have strengths and weaknesses, and instead of beating ourselves up to change our weaknesses, it’s usually a better option to focus on developing our strengths.
It’s all backed up with Gallup research.
In the book First, Break All The Rules, Gallup authors will tell you the very same things. Research shows that the best managers in the world do things differently and don’t listen to conventional wisdom like the statements at the beginning of this article. To put the moral of the story in a nutshell, the authors say that tens of thousands of the best managers all echo the following statement:
“People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”
Clifton, Don. (2010). First, Break All The Rules. New York, NY: Gallup Press.