Do Not Treat Everyone Equally

Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers football team to five NFL championships and two Super Bowl victories in the 1960s. By anyone’s measure, he was an extraordinarily successful football coach. He gained the respect of his opponents as well the football players he coached.

Defensive tackle Henry Jordan, one of Lombardi’s star players on the defensive side of the ball, and an outspoken leader of the team once said, “Lombardi is fair. He treats us all equally. He treats everyone like dogs.”

A Master Psychologist

Jordan may have felt he was treated like a dog, but I think Jordan’s assessment of Lombardi was dead wrong. From my research of Lombardi, I think he was a master psychologist and a leader who had the unique ability to get every ounce of performance out of every member of the team by treating his players individually rather than equally.

Lombardi was wise enough to realize that most people do not want to be treated the same way. Most people want to be treated as individuals. I think this was the beauty of Lombardi. He realized that, and he related to the 40 men who played on his football team differently.

Lombardi used varied motivational techniques to get the most out of everyone. He also was able to account for the nuanced strengths and weaknesses of each player to mold them into an effective team.

A few decades later, Jimmy Johnson, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, realized the same thing Lombardi had known. People need to be treated as individuals if the team is going to gain success. One day a reporter asked Jimmy Johnson if he would treat his star quarterback, Troy Aikman, the same way as a third-string lineman if he caught them both dozing off in a team meeting.

Johnson answered, “Absolutely not. If I found a third-string lineman sleeping in a team meeting I would cut him immediately. If I found Troy Aikman sleeping in a meeting, I would gently wake him and ask him if I could bring him a cup of coffee.”

Get To Know Those You Lead

Leaders must get to know their people and get to know what makes them tick. They must understand what motivates and inspires them. Leaders must use situational leadership techniques. To effectively use situational leadership, a leader must be aware of which follower needs heavy coaching, which follower needs to be supported, which follower responds best to praise, who needs to be pushed more forcefully, and who will perform well with minimal guidance or oversight.

The same philosophy of treating followers individually rather than equally applies to customers too. Customers all have different personalities. Some are needier than others. Some may have less familiarity with a product they are purchasing than others, so they require a bit more attention in terms of explaining how something works. It is important to recognize that and relate to customers accordingly.

Treat Individuals Individually 

There are a few examples I would like to cite that suggest treating people individually rather than equally makes sense. I was at a YMCA camp recently conducting leadership training for the staff there. During the training, one of the staff members reminded the other counselors that kids on the autistic spectrum must be handled differently than boys and girls who are not. That was a good reminder that a counselor cannot use a cookie-cutter approach when relating to all young campers.

In Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages”, the author explained the five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Spouses and partners do not respond to the same love language. Gary also wrote the book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace”. In this book, he explains how employees receive appreciation differently and if you want to motivate employees you have to understand how they respond to different forms of praise and criticism.

The DISC Assessment is an assessment of the behavior and communications preferences people have. There are four general quadrants that include the dominant style, influencing style, steady style, and conscientious style. DISC has something called the “platinum rule” which means we should treat people the way they want to be treated. You can gain more information about DISC at https://johngronski.com/ or purchase a DISC Assessment at https://store.leadergrove.com

The Personal Touch

Leaders lead most effectively when they guard against treating all followers equally. Do not treat people equally. Treat people individually. That personal touch goes a long way in cultivating relationships and building cohesive teams that are effective and successful.

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