Personality vs management style?

Most people don’t just wake up one morning and discover they were born a manager of people. Whether you are an employer or an employee who manages in someone else’s business, you will probably be aware that you need some nouse when it comes to managing people. You will probably also be aware that people in your business can be fabulous…and they can also be the most difficult tasks on your to-do list! Are you aware though, that your management style just might be an issue for some of your people?

Have you heard the quote, “You do you and I’ll do me”? It’s usually said as a brush off when someone doesn’t want to change, compromise etc. There is some truth buried in there, as we all have to be ourselves, whether at work or not. It is too stressful to try to be someone else even for a day, so I’m not about to tell you that you have to change your personality. What I will say, is that you need to be aware of the IMPACT of your behaviour on other people in the workplace and yes, at times, to modify your behaviour. If you are dealing with someone in your workplace right now that you are clashing with, honestly appraise yourself in the mix. Is the person being deliberately difficult or lacking in their performance – or – is there a clash between your management style and the way in which they receive your feedback, supervision, comments etc.?

two women and man standing in front of wall board

Let’s have a look at a scenario for some inspiration…with you as the manager.

Consider Betty…she’s an older woman who is comfortable with who she is. She is always friendly and chatty and she has loads of contacts and friends. She’d make a fantastic sales assistant, you think. The trouble is, you’ve employed her as your administration assistant and she keeps talking and visiting your office to ask questions. You, on the other hand, like to close your door over and “get to work”. You just wish she’d get on with it. On top of that, Betty has recently started making mistakes. You’ve noticed that she has started forgetting things and she is often flustered. You honestly think it’s all too hard and maybe she should go – after all, she’s experienced and you expect her to just do the work.

Why has Betty, a competent and compelling individual, suddenly dropped the ball?

When Betty comes to talk to you, she is usually chatting about her work and she is one of those people who verbalises to process information (Gosh, darn! Why didn’t I know this before I hired her?!) Over time, she has become quite put off by your closed demeanour (you want to get on with your work), your shortness towards her (you don’t want to talk and this is your way of hinting to her to go away) and your pickiness at her work (because you are actually now quite irritated with her and view her work through a negative lens). Can you see how your management style (hands-off and closed) is affecting Betty? Do you think that she is enjoying her work and enjoying being around you?

Betty has become flustered because she is now really nervous that you’ll find mistakes; after all, you do keep picking at her work. Because she feels like she is under your microscope, she has lost some of her confidence in her ability, although she knows logically that she is competent. The mistake cycle has become self-fulfilling – she makes a mistake, you pick at her and then she beats up on herself. She then gets nervous she’ll make another mistake and she has started to forget things because she’s worried. You on the other hand, are starting to expect mistakes…

What can you do to resolve this? (First question, are you willing to resolve this…?)

Betty is a valuable employee with years of experience. She is not incompetent. You are also a valued manager and you are not incompetent. What went wrong? As a manager, you have probably failed to recognise Betty’s way of working and her particular workplace needs. You also haven’t stopped to think that Betty is quite different to you in the way she works, so what works for you doesn’t work for Betty. Neither of you are wrong in the way you work – just different. Some good old fashioned conversation needs to happen!

Suggestion: There are probably many ways to support a “Betty”, but in this scenario, consider setting up periodic meetings with her (daily, weekly etc.) where she can have your time for the duration of the meeting to go over her work, ask questions and receive the information that she needs. This will avoid multiple interruptions daily AND give Betty a clear signal that she is important and you will invest time in her. Asking Betty to ‘batch’ her questions can be helpful, so that you are not being interrupted continually. Recognise her strengths, particularly that she is good with people, and help her to understand how she can work with you effectively. Finally, pick your battles. Do you really need to pick that she typed the letter that way? Is it really that important? Has she broken protocol – or, is it more your personal taste? As managers, we also need to choose when to leave something alone that doesn’t matter that much and keep our energy for the important things. Ask yourself, “Will this matter tomorrow”?

Also, consider how you respond – some self reflection is required! Rather than using “hints” like short and terse responses or closing over your door to keep her out, create clear boundaries – talk to her about your needs. You will probably find that she becomes a great ally, protecting you from other interruptions around the office. Find out what motivates your “Betty” and work on these aspects of her work-life.

Finally, get some feedback from those colleagues that you trust. Ask them the tough questions, like, “What am I really like to work with?” and “How can I improve?”. Be prepared to take on board what you hear back and to modify your management style to bring out the best in your team and others around you. Also understand that you’ll need to ask people who are different to you, because people like you will probably not see the blind spots either! As employers and managers we need to broaden our focus occasionally to make sure that we are not a problem in our own workplace!


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