It was my freshman year in college, about an hour before one of my first collegiate cross-country competitions. A runner from another school introduced himself and then proceeded to engage in a conversation as if we had all day to talk.
Apparently, I was fairly terse, because he later told one of my teammates, “That Bonem kid isn’t very friendly.”
In my defense, the other runner was the chattiest athlete I had ever met. And I was always a bundle of nerves before a race, totally focused on my mental preparation for the challenge ahead.
We are quick to label people based on our own personality and standards, and one of the big divides is between those who are people-oriented versus those who are much more task-oriented.
I would never describe myself as “unfriendly.” I greet people when I see them, try to be pleasant and respectful, generally stay engaged in conversations and genuinely care about the well-being of others.
But when a task is at hand—and there always seems to be some task at hand—I will grow impatient with long, wandering conversation and will try to keep moving toward the “important” matters.
I would use terms such as “efficient” and “keeping first things first” for myself. However, others might say, “Unfriendly.” Similarly, people like my fellow athlete might describe themselves as “warm” and “engaging,” while I might quietly think they are “unproductive” or “inefficient.”
You will rarely lead a group of people who all have similar personalities. (In fact, if that ever happens, you’re headed toward a different kind of problem.) So as a leader, it is your job to flex your style and relate to others in ways that recognize those differences.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
This starts with knowing yourself. Even though I think I’m friendly, I need to be aware that my default tendencies cause others to perceive me very differently. That awareness, plus paying attention to how others are wired, can help me adjust how I treat each person that I’m leading.
The alternative is to say, “I am who I am, so get used to it.” Some leaders seem to get away with this, but they rarely achieve long-term success. Along the way, they might get labeled as “unfriendly” or something worse.