Building leadership skills from home: using an understanding of interpersonal skills to develop your leadership capabilities

Posted 24 April 2023 by
Marta Koonz

5 min read

Working from home presents both opportunities and challenges. A basic understanding of interpersonal needs from the perspective of the FIRO-B® assessment can provide insights that can lead to a deeper understanding of your own interpersonal needs and those of your team.

Let’s start with a foundational review of these needs, and then move to how interpersonal needs can enhance both leadership and team effectiveness.

Basis of the FIRO-B need areas

The letters FIRO-B stand for Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation Behavior. These words provide an apt description of the FIRO-B assessment, which focuses on the needs we display towards others and the needs we would like others to meet for us. These needs are divided into three categories: Inclusion, Control, and Affection. Scores for Inclusion describe our needs for association and interaction with groups of people, scores for Control describe our needs regarding influence and responsibility, and scores for Affection describe our needs for openness and warmth in one-on-one relationships.

Needs in each of these areas are considered from the perspective of both what a person Wants to receive from others and how a person Expresses this need area or attempts to provide to others. Because of this unique duality, the FIRO-B assessment has the potential to provide insights on both an individual’s leadership style, and on how to best lead a specific group of individuals.

The FIRO-B assessment provides scores in these three need areas in the low, medium, and high ranges. For simplicity, let’s consider only low and high scores and some potential strategies for meeting needs in these areas when working from home. Both Expressed and Wanted scores are considerations for leadership style and team leadership, again for simplicity we’ll focus only on Wanted scores and their possible personal implications and then Expressed scores and the potential impacts on leading a team.

Wanted Scores

High Wanted Inclusion
Let’s start with Wanted scores and their impact on the individual leader. Leaders with High Wanted Inclusion scores will likely want to find ways for their team members, colleagues and other leaders to connect with them. Working from home can make this challenging, so monthly or weekly group check-ins – either virtual or face-to-face – can help meet this need.

Low Wanted Inclusion
Leaders with Low Wanted Inclusion may find that working from home provides an opposite challenge: it can be all too easy to stay disconnected from others. Too much disconnect can have a negative impact by reducing peer feedback opportunities, so intentional scheduling of regular connection points with team members, colleagues and other leaders will be essential for maintaining a leadership edge.

High Wanted Control
Leaders with High Wanted Control may find that working from home doesn’t provide enough external structure and guidance. Finding ways to connect with your leader to clarify work-from-home expectations can be helpful. If you are the top leader, then connecting with a peer leader or a coach to review your plan may provide the desired external accountability.

Low Wanted Control
Leaders with Low Wanted Control may find that working from home provides an ideal environment, offering the flexibility to work when you want and how you want. One caution would be to monitor work/life balance to ensure that the flexibility offered doesn’t lead to overwork.

High Wanted Affection
Leaders with High Wanted Affection may miss the daily opportunities for one-on-one connection that a face-to-face work environment provides. Making time to build individual relations with colleagues and team members either virtually or face-to-face may help satisfy this need.

Low Wanted Affection
Leaders with Low Wanted Affection may enjoy the absence of daily personal interactions with others but will need to remember that some opportunities to receive warmth and affection from others are critical. It’s important to remember that not all of our needs have to be met from those we work with, so this need may well be met from others, either those you live with or friends.

Expressed Scores

Let’s move to a consideration of Expressed scores and the potential impact on leadership. When considering Expressed scores it’s important to consider the Wanted needs of the other person or persons. We can think of Expressed needs as a watering can and Wanted needs as a bucket: how much water are we putting in (Expressed) the person’s bucket (Wanted)?

High Expressed Inclusion
Leaders with High Expressed Inclusion may find that working from home doesn’t provide enough opportunities for engagement with their team, with impromptu meetings with groups of individuals more challenging to fit in. Leaders will need to reach out and intentionally schedule opportunities for group meetings, being aware that not every team member will have the same need level for Inclusion and that your High Wanted Inclusion may match or not match every individual you lead.

Low Expressed Inclusion
Leaders with Low Expressed Inclusion may relish the solitude of working from home but need to be cognizant that effective teams need opportunities to interact, even teams with Low Wanted Inclusion needs. Remember, when it comes to effective leadership, Expressed needs are about the leader meeting the Wanted needs of the individual team members.

High Expressed Control
Leaders with High Expressed Control may find that working from home limits their perceived ability to provide direction to their direct reports. Team members with High Wanted Control may want daily direction, while team members with low Wanted Control may feel micro-managed. Finding out the need levels of individual team members allows a leader to provide each person with the amount of direction that best meets their needs, facilitating engagement and productivity.

Low Expressed Control
Leaders with Low Expressed Control may find that working from home encourages a hands-off approach to leadership, an approach that may not always match the needs of their team. Effective leadership requires us to flex, and the needs of the team may require finding ways to provide clarity and direction even in a working situation that makes this challenging.

High Expressed Affection
Leaders with High Expressed Affection often find ways to check-in with individual team members. Doing so while working from home may require a more intentional approach, as the office that was once down the hall is now across town. Weekly individual virtual check-ins or monthly face-to-face lunches may satisfy the need for one-on-connection.

Low Expressed Affection
Leaders with Low Expressed Affection may find that working from home gives them an easy out from the individual check-ins that they may not enjoy but are essential for building relationships. Leaders with Low Expressed Affection will often need to flex into a more open and warm approach, while at the same time maintaining awareness of the Wanted Affection needs of their individual team members.


An awareness of interpersonal needs is critical for leaders. Working from home highlights the importance of understanding both our own needs and the needs of others we engage with in our work environment. As demonstrated in the examples above, the FIRO-B assessment is an effective tool for creating this awareness, providing an opportunity to develop leadership skills and improve team effectiveness.

Learn more about the FIRO-B assessment.

Find out about the FIRO Certification Program.

Download Psychology of Change in the Hybrid Workplace to see how interpersonal needs affect people’s approach to change.

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