Risks and Rewards of Being a People Person
Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are concerned about making others feel good about you.— Dan Reiland
The above quote defines the basic characteristic of a people person, according to John Maxwell, popular author and speaker on the topic of leadership.
Maxwell cites John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, as a success at being a people person.
- "He knew how to give others a feeling of hope. He exuded boundless energy and made many Americans feel important and needed."1
However, of this same Kennedy, Richard Reeves in his Character Above All essays writes:
- "Kennedy controlled every person who came in contact with him. . . He was at the center of all he surveyed. He enjoyed using people, and setting them against each other for his own amusement. He lived life as a race against boredom."2
Behaviorists contend that all leaders, in any area, have some personality risks built into their leadership capabilities. This is not to suggest that anyone should avoid leadership based on their character disposition; but that it helps to know these traits and to learn to manage them.
Most of us assume leadership positions at some time--in the home, in church and civic organizations, and very often in the business world. We benefit by developing people person traits which, according to Maxwell are “attainable by anyone who cares about other people and wants to develop his or her relational skills.”
In the table below, we view a brief summary of some traits, spelled out by Maxwell's C H A R I S M A acrostic. We also observe the flip side of these people person attributes which pose risks not only to the leaders, but also to their followers.
Rewards and Risks Built Into the People Person Capabilities
C - concern
Followers improve their sense of significance when the people person observes their needs and interests, and shows that he cares.
It is easy for needy people to become clingy and to feel neglected when their leader cannot attend to every detail of their lives.
H - help
The more energy he exerts in reaching out to others, the more his energy for helping increases.
He may feel obligated to satisfy the people's expectation and keep going although he needs a change of pace.
A - action
He makes huge things happen - more like having individuals learn to fish, than simply having them take the fish from his hand.
Some followers need more help than others, yet some will expect that what he does for one, he can do for all. He may be accused of favoritism.
R - results
The people person creates the environment and provides the impetus that makes his followers throw out their excuses and produce.
Followers who are results driven often sacrifice their beliefs and values to keep following. For them, the end results justify the means.
I - influence
People’s lives change for the better through his words of encouragement and hope, and through their imitation of his positive attitude.
“Charismatic leaders influence by charm rather than reason and when they run out of charm they tend to revert to force.” 3
Because he identifies with other people’s fears, hurts, disappointments and so on, they open up their hearts to him.
The people person has made a habit of showing empathy. It can become an act, disguising his real level of interest.
He can fire up his followers with little effort. He gets them moving towards goals they once thought were impossible.
The ease with which he succeeds at selling his vision can lead him to develop a sense of self-importance.
A - affirmation
People thrive on his commendation that they mean the world to him; they begin to feel that his personality and leadership are responsible for their personal development.
Both he and his followers may become addicted to his charisma. His charm may distract them from the purpose of his leadership and the goal of the organization. 4
Some Successful Leaders and Their Risk Tendencies
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was distracted from his goal by his desire for high approval ratings.5
Bill Clinton, former President of the United States lied easily in his effort to please, saying what he thought people wanted to hear.6
Jim Jones, sect leader and community organizer reverted to force when his charm ran out.7
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom bullied and stepped on people.8
Donald Trump, businessman and investor got caught up in his own ego and needs.9
Why Mention the Risks?
By now it is clear that there are two sides to every character or personality trait. Whether individuals are born with people skills or they develop them, the excitement of the rewards may cause them to overlook the risks. A brief mention now and then can help to keep them focused and accountable.
- The people person needs to understand that no matter the present success of leadership, he or she is only human and can stumble because of human imperfections.
- Being aware of personal risk tendencies is the first step to managing them and avoiding personal sabotage.
- People with similar leadership styles can learn to manage their own risk factors by observing how risk factors affect their counterparts.
- Looking at their risk tendencies may cause them to commit to the promotion of the organization rather than the promotion of themselves.
The world will never outgrow its need for the people person. Visionary leadership and the gift to enlist followers will always be appreciated. Brian Evje states very concisely what we hope for in the people person: "Wear your charisma gently. Have the courage to see charisma as an attribute, one of many, and strive for more graceful leadership that requires you to attend to the higher needs of the organization, and not just you."10
1. Maxwell, John: Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships, David Cook Publishing, Colorado Springs, CO (2007)
2. Reeves, Richard: PBS Home, excerpt from Character Above All Essays, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY (1995)
3, 5, 7, 8. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas: Harvard Business Review, The Dark Side of Charisma, (November 16, 2012)
4, 10. Evje, Brian: Inc. Leadership Forum, 3 Dangers of Charismatic Leadership, (April 25, 2012)
6. McIntosh, Gary L. et al: excerpt from Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI (1998)
9. Holmes, Shelley: Make a Dent Leadership, Charismatic Leadership, (Copyright 2013)
© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers
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