How to Deal With People Differently?

People have different needs, emotions, and feelings, and there is no quick-fix formula to adopt while leading people.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away.” ―Henry David Thoreau

In his famous book, One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard emphasized different strokes for different folks. People have different needs, emotions, and feelings, and there is no quick-fix formula to adopt while leading people. The leaders must be able to read the aspirations and needs of the people and mold themselves to get things done smoothly. Ken Blanchard also spoke of situational leadership, which works in different situations to handle people.

No Quick Fix Formula

There are several definitions of leadership and management. However, I would define management as ‘managing human egos, emotions, and feelings effectively.’ We find different employees at the workplace with different needs, aspirations, and expectations. Hence, leaders cannot afford to use one style for everyone. Some employees are motivated by money, some by power, some by non-financial incentives, some by appreciation, and some by recognition. Hence, different employees have different expectations, and to become successful, leaders must adopt different strokes for different folks.

People are Different

You will find people with different temperaments and tastes in the workplace. Some are extroverts, some are introverts, some are straightforward, some are manipulative, and so on. Handling them is not an easy task. You must lead in such a way that the work is done effectively and you don’t incur any ill will among your employees. You must know the art of getting the work done without hurting others and leaving a good impression. It all looks easier on paper, but when put into practice, you will find several unwritten challenges that you need to handle as per the situation. However, knowledge from various sources such as books, personal experiences, and others’ experiences will help you to evolve as a successful leader.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Leaders must know the different motivational needs of their people. People will have different needs, and according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy theory, there are various levels of needs, such as physiological, security, social, self-esteem, and, at the top of the pyramid, self-actualization needs. Every person looks for the accomplishment of certain needs on each hierarchy, and once the needs are fulfilled, the person looks for the next higher-order needs. Knowing Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps leaders realize the level of hierarchy of each employee and enables them to tailor their leadership styles accordingly to meet the employees’ motivational needs. In addition, it is a known fact that man basically looks for money and only later craves other needs, as man does not live by bread alone. The employees’ age also matters while handling them; as employees grow older, they crave more exciting work rather than merely looking for monetary gains.

Stephen’s Challenge

Stephen hailed from a military background. He took over as the director of an academic institution. The institution had seven heads of departments reporting to him. Often, the heads would bring in several complaints from other departments and also against some employees within their own departments. Sometimes the employees would also report their grievances against their heads to the director. Stephen realized the egos of academicians. In his defense, his previous role had been to manage disciplined soldiers who would obey as they had been trained to do from a young age, and managing them was much easier. However, Stephen faced the heat while managing civilians with different mindsets, egos, emotions, and feelings, with most crises arising out of perceptions and personality clashes.

Whenever there was a conference held for all Heads of Departments, it would get very heated as people often complained against each other, as well as against a few of their subordinates who did not fall in line and did not perform well. Stephen realized that these people needed different strokes, unlike in the military, where soldiers obeyed and followed instructions blindly. He also felt that managing disciplined soldiers was easier than managing academicians. Gradually, he shed some of his military practices and habits, adopted more flexibility, and listened to all; finally, he made his own decisions. He called the people who often complained about others and counseled them on the need to maintain discipline for the progress of the educational institution. The employees liked Stephen’s open-door policy, and most of them fell in line. A few who did not do so were warned privately not to vitiate the peaceful academic ambiance. And finally, a few non-performers and troublemakers were shown the door.

People understood Stephen’s passion for the academic institution and his dedication to making a difference. They appreciated his genuine efforts, and finally, the problems were solved, and things settled down to a great extent. While in the initial period, Stephen faced several challenges in managing the egos of academicians, he gradually made the institution more accountable and responsible. Hence, leaders must demonstrate their passion for their profession and commitment towards their people by managing the latter’s egos and emotions and channeling them towards organizational prosperity.

There is no magic wand for effective leadership. Leaders must realize that people have different egos, emotions, and feelings. People are so different from each other that even twins are not alike in personality, attitude, aptitude, or behavior. Unlike machines, which work at the touch of buttons, they need to be appropriately handled.

You cannot adopt a cookie-cutter approach with every employee while leading. You must have a lot of patience while handling people. You must remember that you are not handling machines but people with different egos and emotions.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" ( He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 ( He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at