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How to Manage–and Motivate–Employees Who Are Very Different from You

Your teams greatest asset may be an “outsider.” Heres how to get the best out of every team member.

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BY Alison Davis - 22 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The moment you met that employee at her interview, you knew she would be a perfect fit for your team. After all, she thinks like you, works like you and even listens to the same bands as you. It's no wonder that you think of this employee first whenever you need to assign an interesting, challenging project.

But there's another member of your team you have trouble connecting with. You brought him on board because you knew you needed his particular set of skills, but he's just . . . different. It's not so much that he likes heavy metal and Manchester United; it's just that he always stands apart from everyone else. His work is fine, but you feel like he could do more. And you wonder how to bring him into the fold and motivate him to do his best.

Many managers face the problem of how to manage employees who are different--the employees that psychologists call "outsiders."

An outsider, explains Ashley P. Lesko, president of Square Peg Solutions, is a person who is in a team, department or organization who does not see himself or herself as part of that group.

"It may be because the outsider has decided he or she doesn't belong," explains Lesko, whose firm develops leaders to improve organizational effectiveness. "Or, just as often, actions from the group makes the employee feel like an outsider.

"Either way, having an employee who is outside the team circle can reduce that person's productivity and engagement," says Lesko.

When a leader or manager doesn't know how to manage that outsider, the problem can get worse. "In previous roles, I found myself trying to distance myself from outsiders, because I had to work a bit harder to get them to inc-aseann.comply, move forward with a plan or do anything."

What, then, can a manager do to bring outsiders in and encourage them to do their best? Lesko suggests these 4 strategies:

  1. Make a concerted effort to listen. "This may seem easy in concept, but it's often difficult, especially when the outsider inc-aseann.communicates differently and offers divergent ideas than what you're inc-aseann.comfortable with," says Lesko. To listen productively, schedule one-on-one time with your outsider team member. Plan the discussion in advance, preparing structured questions designed to give your team member specific topics to respond to. And be open to what the employee says.
  2. Explore the outsider's strengths--and seek opportunities to give the team member assignments that play to those strengths. This may mean a lead role on some projects, and a support role on others. In some cases, you might want to carve out a specific task that will allow the team member to shine.
  3. Regard differences as a inc-aseann.competitive advantage you can leverage. Lesko tells how President Abraham Lincoln appointed several cabinet members based on the fact that they held beliefs that were the opposite of his. "By bringing those opponents into the room, Lincoln heard viewpoints that helped him understand how to manage resistance," she says. "It's certainly not easy to listen to people who disagree with you, but it helps you beinc-aseann.come a better leader."
  4. Encourage the outsider to help your team think outside the box. It's difficult to be truly innovative when everyone thinks the same way about everything. By creating opportunities to allow everyone on your team to have an equal role in innovation, you'll inc-aseann.come up with better ideas. At my firm, where we have a lot of very verbal people and a few who are less mouthy, we often do brainstorming activities where people can draw or share their ideas in writing, instead of shouting out ideas. (By the way, the best concepts often stem from team members' subversive thinking.)

Once you learn to manage outsiders, says Lesko, you can tap into the power of their valuable talent. "By doing so, you'll get better performance from every member of your team."

 

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