The Keys to Managing People Better?

by  Peter Friedes  |  Leadership Development

I have a theory: all good managers have ready access to two fundamental skill sets—the ability to Relate and the ability to Require.

You may be a little skeptical about the simplicity of this theory, but play along for a little while and tell me what you think.

Define: Relating and Requiring

“Relating” encompasses relationship-building behaviors: asking, listening, including, coaching and encouraging. When managers relate well, their employees feel heard and cared for. Each employee understands he/she is an important player on the team. Employees bloom professionally and their contributions to the organization also grow.

“Requiring” refers to results-oriented activities: creating expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, setting appropriate controls, asserting your views and confronting problems. When managers require well, the group performs well—high quality, high productivity, new ideas being generated to solve existing problems. Employees see the results and appreciate the part they play in making things happen.

My theory states that all good managers have ready access to both skill sets, but my research shows that very few managers actually possess this versatility naturally.

Most managers find that only one of the skill sets feels natural, so they rely on a single skill set too much. Those who instinctively Relate are usually less effective at Requiring. Those who instinctively Require are generally weaker at Relating.

Extremes can damage business results and relationships

Sometimes, managers utilize their natural style way too much. Over-Relaters and Over-Requirers come in many varieties. For example, softies who do not confront poor performance, sacrificing business results in an effort to preserve relationships, have gone overboard in the Relating department. Micromanagers who request status reports every 30 minutes are taking Requiring too far.

To become more versatile, managers first need to evaluate how much they use each of these fundamental skill sets. Then, they need to begin practicing the skills they have been under-utilizing or avoiding and pulling back on skills they are overusing.

A simple checklist

Instead of dreading this as a change management task, managers can use the Relating and Requiring skill sets as a daily check list. They can think about upcoming employee interactions and ask themselves, “Which of these skills will help me most in this situation?” Or if an interaction goes poorly, a manager can ask, “Which skill, if I had used more of it, would have produced a better outcome?”

For example, you might need to ask more questions and listen fully to the employee’s responses. Or, you might need to confront a performance issue earlier next time and with more confidence. These steps feel like feasible to-do items, rather than impossible personality adjustments.

Looking at the list of skills, a manager might say, “I want to learn more about coaching. I don’t feel I know enough about how to do that.” And it becomes a voluntary quest for new knowledge instead of an external mandate for change.

There is not one “right” management style. Natural Relaters and natural Requirers can both be excellent managers. The key is versatility—knowing when and how to utilize each skill in each business circumstance and employee situation that arises.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this theory. Are there any additional categories you would include on the Relating or Requiring skill lists?

If you are a manager, you can find out where you score on the Relating and Requiring scales for free by visiting www.managingpeoplebetter.com (you will be helping us with a research study, too). All participants will get a free personal report with recommendations.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By pete-friedes
Peter Friedes, retired CEO of Hewitt Associates and co-founder of Managing People Better, LLC , writes about management best practices. Visit http://www.managingpeoplebetter.com/mpb/index.html for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mark A Sturgell  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Peter, I think you’re almost right on, and I especially like your simple checklist approach to development. However, I think the degree of access managers have to these skill sets depends on the culture in which they work. Why? Because entire management cultures – all of them – also have access to these two fundamental skills yet few are naturally versatile in the use of both.

Managers, and including top managers who set the context for culture, CAN access both Relating and Requiring skills each day. They CAN think about their daily interactions with these skill sets in mind. But the most “natural” thing managers will do is filter their interactions through their own current frame of reference, which may be self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating.

Outside perspective is needed for managers, and the collective cultures in which they work, to recognize their blind spots. Bringing in new managers from other cultures may help, but cultures tend to influence managers more than new managers influence cultures. Outside facilitation and coaching is necessary, to introduce new questions, recognize new interpretations of employee responses, explore new applications from the two skills sets and enhance versatility in the development and use of each of the two skill sets.

Peter Friedes  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

I think the degree of access managers have to the two skill sets (Relating and Requiring) is more a function of their upbringing, background and experiences, but the degree to which they use both skill sets will depend, as you state, on the culture of the organization. I completely agree with your comment that cultures influence managers more than new managers influence cultures. So, managers who might naturally have access to both skill sets might not use one of them in a culture that suppresses people or makes them conform to the Organizationally Dominant skill set.

Also, organizations who have a strong culture of, let’s say Over-requiring, will likely hire new managers who fit their profile of a “good” manager–one who is tough and demanding. So, strong cultures become self-sustaining and self-fulfilling.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Mark A Sturgell  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

And thank you for your thoughtful response. I appreciate the additional implications to hiring and retention to which you allude.

I am not sure what you are asking when you write, “Are there any additional categories you would include on the Relating or Requiring skill lists?” Would additional categories fall within these two dimensions, or are you asking for possible dimensions in addition to these two? The DISC (Hippocratic) model of behavior certainly offers a rich combination of dimensions along these very lines as well. But I like your simple two-set model for daily use by a manager.

I am further intrigued by your comments: “Looking at the list of skills, a manager might say, ‘I want to learn more about coaching. I don’t feel I know enough about how to do that.’ And it becomes a voluntary quest for new knowledge instead of an external mandate for change.”

The intriguing notion here is the degree to which the manager will voluntarily seek new knowledge – another skill set? Is the manager self-aware and socially aware of her/his opportunity to improve results by improving her/himself – without external prompting?

Perhaps there is another pair of skill sets involved here, ones that might be paired with Relating and Requiring skills? These two new dimensions would have to do with one’s ability or inclination for social-awareness or Reflection, which might be an apt label for one of the dimensions. I’m quite sure a mere antonym as a label for the other dimension is not fair, and I am afraid I haven’t conceived a good alternative.

Regardless of these additional thoughts, thank you for your thoughtful article.

Peter Friedes  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply


If you haven’t already done it, I would love it if you would take the questionnaire at http://www.managingpeoplebetter.com. You will get a fairly deep report back of how you manage people and I feel certain would have some interesting and constructive comments about the concepts involved.

Thanks for considering it.


Leigh Steere  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Mark and Peter, I am enjoying this thread.

A few years ago, I was consulting in an organization where some departments were overtly fighting with each other. This Relating and Requiring construct really gets at the root of what was happening in that company. One of the most financially successful departments was run by a High Requirer/Low Relater. Employees grumbled about this manager’s abrasiveness, but they took great pride in their unit’s performance, because it was so much better than the other departments’ results. The whole team started exuding a “we-are-the-best” attitude, which caused other departments to bristle.

The company president was a High Relater/Low Requirer who had established a culture of High Relating at the expense of business results. The High Requirer thought the High Relaters were ridiculously ineffective and made his views widely known, creating conflict and damaging relationships. Ultimately, the High Requirer was fired despite his unit’s business results. He was so counterculture that he was viewed as a poor fit and a troublemaker.

I wonder how many other organizational conflicts could be explained using this Relating/Requiring construct?

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