Press Article

Leadership Stereotypes

Posted on: October 9th, 2014 by Staffan Engstrom

A favourite pastime of most workers is to complain about the inadequacies of their boss. This is because the art of leadership and management is actually very difficult to do consistently well. The stereotypes below typify some of the most common pitfalls for managers and what they can do to improve. If you are like me, you will be guilty of several of them.

The Champion – the leader who needs followers

The Champion is usually talented and suffers from the delusion that he/she needs to be central to everything. Champions surround themselves with people who appreciate how fantastic they are and follow their leadership. This in turn creates dependency, with subordinates either ‘delegating upwards’ the problems that they should really be dealing with themselves, or giving up trying to solve them because the Champion always gets involved, both of which prevent the development of independent-minded subordinates who act on their own. When the Champion is not there, performance can be lacklustre, reinforcing the Champion’s view of how critical they are.

The Champion needs to recognise that success is in what their people get done not in what they do directly themselves. Their craving for recognition actually diminishes the respect that a good team has for them. A great leader recognises the latent talents of subordinates, pushes them to do more and then basks in the reflected glory of their success.

The Olympic Flame – that never goes out

The Olympic Flame shares one important characteristic with the sacred flame of the ancient Greeks: they never go out. Olympic Flame managers are often quite senior and feel that they have so many things to do that they must stay in the office rather than venturing out onto the shop floor, site, or open-plan office. They adeptly practice ‘MBNWA’ – Management By Never Walking Around. Sure, the big meetings happen in the office, but big meetings with people that are divorced from the action can never be as effective as those where the manager is connected to it. And their people miss out on the sense of value and motivation that they get when the boss takes time with them.

If you are an Olympic Flame, then plan ‘being out there’ into your regular schedule, and don’t reschedule unless there is a real crisis. Take an interest, engaging people at a personal level.

The ‘Goldfish’ – the visual manager

Scientists claim that goldfish have a 1 second memory, forgetting what they were looking at as soon as they turn away. Goldfish managers are not usually quite that bad, but they essentially manage what they can see as they go about their core job. If the issue to be managed regularly comes across their desk, is raised at the meetings they attend, or can be seen from their office window, then it will be ok… otherwise it will be forgotten, ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

A Goldfish who wants to improve needs to adopt some simple systems to keep focussed on their main tasks and actions, normally involving running and prioritising lists and schedules. As a bit of a Goldfish myself, I get frustrated at minutes of meetings which record actions for one meeting but after the next meeting are effectively replaced by the minutes of the new meeting, so that the key actions are soon forgotten. A separate rolling actions schedule, where previous actions are only removed once done, ensures that I don’t need to rely too much on my Goldfish memory.

The Bulldozer – rolls over everything

A Bulldozer is good at getting things done because he/she only sees the task ahead, but doesn’t really notice who gets run over in the process. Classic Bulldozer statements are: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” and “No gain without pain”. A Bulldozer is great when you need relentless focus on the job, but you’d better have your clean-up squad ready to repair the collateral damage afterwards!

Bulldozers are either unaware of the wider implications of their task-focused actions or simply don’t care. If the collateral damage is getting out of hand, then the latter can be more problematic than the former. The best kinds of Bulldozer are aware of their impact on people, and can turn empathy with others on at will, but knowing that there are times when pushing hard is the best thing to do. If you are a Bulldozer, then investing the time in this way to be more aware of people issues will make you ever more effective.

The Pressure Cooker – constantly stressed

The Pressure Cooker is burdened by the weight of his/her responsibilities. They are often very competent managers but have a distorted perception of the scale of the problems that they are faced with. The angst generated focuses them on the woes of carrying the problems (i.e. fighting their demons), rather than solving them.

Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Most things that we worry about in life are an invention, with the real pressures that we face coming from fear of failure, social acceptance, loss of self-esteem etc. rather than the actual event. Stepping away from these fears allows you to look objectively at the problems to move them forward. For this reason, when the pressure is at its greatest is the very time that you need most to: stop; take a break; go for a walk; think about something else. When you return you will be in better shape to address the problem at hand.

If you are regularly waking up in the middle of the night over the issues, then that is a warning of real stress. It is time to get some professional help or change your life.

The Atlas – carrying everything alone

Atlas was the mythological Greek god who was given the task of holding up the celestial spheres, carrying the world on his shoulders. Atlas managers act as if that task had been given to them as well. They believe that they do things better than their subordinates, and so struggle to share the load by delegating to others. The classic quote of an Atlas is of course: ”If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”.

If the leader/manager of a team has to do everything they become a bottleneck to action. If you are an Atlas manager, you need to recognise that your task is to manage, setting aside time for releasing others to do things even if you currently do them better. That is not the same as abdicating responsibility for the work that they are doing but means taking the time to coach them, working with them so that they learn. Yes, it might take longer to teach them than to do it yourself, but what about the next time it must be done? Invest time today to make your life easier tomorrow.

The Dreamer – bursting with ideas

The Dreamer is the manager who has amazing ideas but struggles to get them grounded, because they: 1) don’t have the tools or pragmatism to convert them into practical solutions; 2) are actually more interested in the intellectual glint of the ideas but find implementation dull; or 3) can’t tell a good idea from a bad one.

Dreamers are usually seen as either an invaluable resource or a complete waste of time, but the difference between the two is normally more about who they have in their team and how it is managed rather than whether they are actually ‘any good’. If you are a Dreamer who is expected to deliver things, then don’t surround yourself only with other Dreamers. Get grounded people into the team who can help adopt a systematic approach to sifting out the time-wasting ideas quickly, and creating and evaluating the necessary practical and economic choices.

The Prince – count your fingers…

Niccollo Machiavelli’s book, ‘The Prince’, was published in the 16th century, first putting forward the idea that a prince’s ends justifies his means. Prince managers can appear to be absolutely charming socially but are entirely unscrupulous in their behaviour, undermining the trust and confidence of others and so the effectiveness of both themselves and their team.

Many Prince managers are as they are because they believe that most people are out to get them and therefore that the best thing is to ‘get your retaliation in first’ (not true, most people work to add value and be part of something). The Prince’s cynical worldview makes him/her cautious and calculating. Other people can read the signs and so treat the Prince with suspicion.

The cure for a Prince is not easy, because the best way to make a difference is to get more positive about other people’s motives! Start by going out of your way to be 100% straight in the small things and people will learn to trust you with the bigger things.

The ‘Jack-in-the-Box’ – interfering then disappearing

The Jack-in-the-Box manager is struggling with delegation. They are like an over-promoted Atlas, but with far more to do and with a larger team. The manager tries to compensate by popping out of the blue into the things that subordinates are trying to do, interfering by setting relatively uninformed goals and actions, then disappearing onto the next thing, leaving the subordinates confused.

The Jack-in-the-Box manager desperately needs to master the art of delegation and control. If you are a Jack-in-the-Box, the key is to stop trying to do everything and starting to delegate everything. Change your internal thought process from ‘what must I do?’ to ‘what is the maximum that each team member can do with my help?’ This empowering approach allows the reformed Jack the time to find out what is happening properly on the priority projects and to coach their team to better effectiveness, job satisfaction and success.

The Entertainer – great crack no action

The Entertainer is a wonderful and warm person who is focused on the needs of the team and is well liked as a genuine human being. The Entertainer’s boss is not usually quite as positive, however, because this manager does not always deliver.

An awful lot of managers suffer to some extent from the Entertainer’s malaise, in that they hate to tackle difficult people issues, subliminally equating good people management with ‘being nice’. The fact is that when ‘being nice’ to people means not facing the truth about performance issues, then one way or another it will inevitably bring consequences that really aren’t very nice. Good people management involves being sensitive to people’s feelings whilst at the same time never ever compromising on the performance issues. The Entertainer that learns this will transform the performance of the team, and at the same time move the team’s liking for them to genuine respect – and earning the same from the boss.

This article was written by Staffan Engstrom and originally published on 1 October 2014 by Construction Manager.