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True A-ha's: Not Like Me

By Jan Hamik

Through the True Colors program we discover something we already knew if we were paying attention. That is, that people don’t react to situations the same way we do. Even though I have taught the True Colors concepts for more than ten years, I’m often surprised by that fact. How many times do we go through our days assuming that people will be motivated by the same things we are? Or will respond to communications the same way we do? Or will approach a situation as we would?

I have managed staff and operations for more than 25 years. Looking back, I’ve realized that I have made numerous blunders as a supervisor that I could have avoided by employing True Colors principles. Here’s a case in point.

I managed a statewide program that had an appeal process. I had three managers who reported to me who in turn managed sections within our program bureau. One of the managers was new and he was WONDERFUL!! He was smart, an excellent writer, great with staff, great with our customers – a manager’s dream middle manager. Early in his employment we got an appeal from a constituent in his area. (This was a routine occurrence, not because mistakes had been made but because the appeal process existed.) I snagged him in the hall and gave him the appeal letter. In the space of about 20 seconds I told him that the person raised several concerns and asked him to take a crack at a response, being sure to address each concern. Then I dashed off to handle whatever pressing issue I had at the time.

A couple of hours later he knocked on my door and asked if he could have a minute. I said sure – as I continued to fiddle with things on my desk. He asked if I had a sample appeal response that he could review. I was in a hurry and said I didn’t have one handy – but to just take a crack at it. I assured him he’d do great and that we’d walk through it together after he prepared a draft. Looking back he left rather dejected – but I didn’t notice that at the time.

The next day he presented me with a draft and as I expected, it was PERFECT! I told him it was spot on and said I knew it would be and told him, as I often did, what a great job he was doing. He replied that when he got those assignments it would be helpful for him to be able to get more direction. I told him he didn’t need that – he did a GREAT job. Then I dashed off to whatever meeting was on my calendar.

Now I realize he was a Gold. I’m a high Blue/Orange. The high Orange in me means that I like to fly by the seat of my pants. I like the challenge of having something thrown at me. I don’t like a lot of direction. I want to find my own way – the pressure of that makes me perform better. But as a Gold, he was looking for information and direction. It’s not that he couldn’t figure it out on his own, it’s that he wanted to ensure he was on the right path and he didn’t want to waste time with do-overs. As a Gold he also wanted to focus on the task at hand. Getting an assignment in the hall when he was on his way to a meeting, was distracting. Having to complete the assignment without the opportunity to discuss it was stressful. And I can’t believe my arrogance in telling him that he didn’t need what he asked for. While it’s true that the result was good, the opposite could have been true. But the real issue was that I made his job difficult when it didn’t have to be that way.

How many times do supervisors make mistakes like I did? We supervise as we’d like to be supervised rather than understanding and addressing the needs of our staff. Our people are our most valuable resource. It takes very little energy or effort to consider their needs and the payoff is higher motivation and success in their jobs. Satisfied employees represent our organization better, resulting in better client services. They also tend to stick around.

My wonderful Gold manager put up with me for quite awhile. His dedication and loyalty (other Gold traits) were in high gear and he generally hid his frustrations (he was also a high Blue). Eventually he went on to greener pastures. I hope that his new manager treated him better. This is one example of when applying the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) was actually a mistake.

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