Dealing with Difficult Managers: Applying the 4 Employee Types to Managers
Yesterday I did a webcast about my new book, Lessons Unlearned. In the book I talk about the four personality types common in support, and how to manage and motivate each type. When I covered this material in the webcast, someone in the audience asked this question: do you have advice about working with different manager personalities? What a great question!
I’ve had some amazing managers over the years. Judy Walden, who believed in me more than I believed in myself, and Dean Wortham, who paid me a huge compliment by saying I had one of the biggest funnels (ability to process multiple streams of content and tasks) he had ever seen. But I’ve also had my fair share of horrible managers. Nitpicking, condescending, mean spirited, hysterical…I’ve worked for some real jerks.
Let’s take the 4 personalities from the book, and see how they would apply to managers.
- The Slammer. This manager seeks results, and sometimes cuts corners to get there. With his eye on the prize, he tends to minimize the effort involved in some tasks, and overlook details along the way. On the positive side, this type of manager should have an open communication style (some may say blunt), so you always know where you stand, and have very clear goals and directives. Under pressure, this manager will tend to steamroll to get the results he wants. If you have a Slammer for a manager, look to him or her for priorities, and if you happen to be a very analytic person, you may bump heads when you want to analyze more details before acting. Learn to commit, make a decision and go for it, and if you are wrong, the good news is The Slammer tends to view failure as a learning step along the way, not a career ender.
- The Geek. This manager loves technology, is enamored by complexity, and in extreme cases, can get stuck in analysis paralysis before making a decision. The Geek is a great management type in technology companies because they are eager to share their learnings and expertise. However, they may not be incredibly patient with people who take longer to process new information than they do, and they may clash with “Slammers” who value results over process. If you work for a Geek, take the opportunity to hone your technical skills, but try to find an area to specialize in that isn’t a pet area of your manager–you may end up in competition to show who is smarter.
- The Socialite. Socialite managers are fun, as they are great communicators, treat employees as people first, and work at having positive team dynamics. But just like support tech Socialites who may spend too much time on the phone with customers, Socialite managers may over communicate, sometimes wasting employee’s time…especially extreme Socialites who over-share personal details and spend too much time gossiping (a fun manager to have, but not so great for getting the job done). The Socialite manager may value satisfaction way more than productivity, which can be irritating for Slammer employees. With their strong interpersonal skills, your Socialite manager probably has a wide circle of friends or acquaintances across the company, so look at this as an opportunity to meet lots of people outside of your own organization and begin to raise your own visibility across the enterprise.
- The Creative. Let’s be clear–with the Creative’s pushback on policy and questioning of every procedure, you don’t see a lot of Creatives move into management roles, they typically pursue a technical path. However, if you work at an early stage startup, you are likely to have a group of Creatives running things–they tend to be innovative founders of cool technology companies. Working for a creative has pros and cons. On the positive side, every day is adventure, if you are able to roll with the punches and you thrive on change, having a Creative for a boss is terrific. However, if you are a Geek or Slammer and like clear direction and defined processes, the “seat of your pants” approach may make you insane. If your Creative boss makes you crazy, establish a special project or topic area that you have full ownership for, so at least one area of your job has consistency and measurable results.
The key here is that all of us–employees and managers–need to become comfortable working with different personality types. There will always be co-workers and managers who push your buttons, but if you try to understand the cause of the conflict, you can learn to live with the discomfort. As a self-professed Slammer (you have to read the book to find out how I was diagnosed as a Slammer), I have been driven nuts over the years by managers with analysis paralysis who couldn’t make a decision, and by creative types who want to discuss options instead of take action. Both types taught me more self-control and patience, and projects tended to flow more easily when I put a bit more thought up front instead of plowing ahead. The sad truth is, the person at work who frustrates you the most is probably the person from whom you can learn the most.
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