In a general sense there are three major categories of personalities in the work environment. (While the right number of categories can be endlessly argued, this article is intended to describe these three types that have been identified through experience, and talk about why it is important to understand them.)
The three categories are Visionaries, Talent Manager and Achievers. Let’s look at them a little more closely, based upon important characteristics of their thinking and behavior.
Visionaries: They focus on achieving the mission/vision of the organization, business or group. They care about ideas, and becoming the ‘biggest’ or ‘best’. If their mission cannot be achieved with the current team…they’ll simply say, ‘then get me another team; one that can achieve our mission!’
Talent Managers: They are focused on the team, and helping each member of the team be personally successful. They work to understand each member of the team, their strengths, and work to position them so they can leverage their strengths. In contrast to the visionary, if a talent manager determines the current team cannot achieve the current mission they will work to ‘get another mission; one the current team can achieve.’
Achievers: These are the people who think/say, ‘just let me know what you want me to do, what my goals are, and leave me alone and let me do it (my way).’ It’s not that they don’t want the team to succeed, it’s just that they are simply focused on their portion of the work. They do their part.
Why is it important to recognize these differences?
Well, first of all…the whole deal about our personalities, and our thinking, not changing over time. For the most part, our thinking becomes ‘hard-wired’ rather early in our life/career. So rather than fighting it…leverage it. (The importance of this becomes apparent in the ‘obstacle course’ game discussed below.) Second, think about how these personalities behave, and misbehave, in different levels of an organization.
For example, the Visionaries are focused on the ‘achievement of the mission’, and they’ll burn through as many people as it takes until it is achieved. Don’t waste time expecting them to care much about the people, because that’s not their focus. It’s not that they want to burnout people, they simply don’t care one way of the other. When they communicate to the team, they emphasize the importance of the mission, and speak about the aspects of the mission that is common to everyone.
The Talent Managers, who are focused on the team, won’t be as concerned if it’s taking a lot longer to complete the mission, as long as the team members are growing and personally succeeding. (By the way, both visionaries and talent managers are often considered ‘leaders’, just with different leadership ‘styles’.) They will also focus more on helping others grow and achieve than hitting their own goals and objectives. They focus on what’s unique about each member of the team.
The Achiever on the other hand is mostly focused on their individual goals and responsibilities. Their energy is invested in what they can control and achieve personally. They don’t want to be bothered by policies, procedures much less the problems or challenges of other members of the team.
(This is probably a good time to emphasize that each of these personality types are needed for a successful organization; and there is a wide range of performance within each category. Often times high performing ‘visionaries’ are held up as wonderful leaders, when contrasted against low performing ‘talent managers’. This is usually the case that made for ‘leaders’ being wonderful, and ‘managers’ being of little value or an outdated administrative approach. This actually isn’t a true statement. Just a convenient argument.)
Okay, so now let’s look at how this plays out within an organization.
First, it’s amazing how many businesses have career paths that assume each of us goes through some type of ‘mental metamorphosis’ as we move through our career. While pretty much every study shows that as we get older, we become ‘more of who we are’, it seems like every career path assumes we [can] change dramatically at a moment’s notice, and any time we want to. Most career paths assume we initially care primarily (and almost exclusively) about our work and our accomplishments. Then, magically, when we get offered a ‘supervisory or management’ position, that we [can] instantly transform our thinking to care only about the success of those around us. Finally, when offered a ‘senior leadership’ position, we suddenly drop any concern for those around us and care only about ‘hitting the numbers’ and ‘achieving that BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal’.
How ridiculous…and against almost every principle of human behavior! But, that’s how the system is set-up. It’s as if the objective of those building the ‘game’ of career management, is to build a performance obstacle course as difficult as possible so as few people as possible survive. They seem to make ‘success’ a losing game of attrition. Even though it is terribly harmful to both the culture and performance the organization!
So how do these personality types behave when miscast to/in their role?
Let’s look at a few situations, and take as ‘homework’ thinking about how the other scenarios would play out.
Visionaries as Achievers: Here the individual gets frustrated with the focus being so small and mundane as their individual performance. If they aren’t put on ‘big important’ projects quickly, they simply leave in pursuit of doing something truly ‘meaningful’. These folks tend to launch businesses that are about ‘the next Google’ and require venture capital. (After all, why wouldn’t someone else invest money if their wonderful ‘big idea’?)
Visionaries as Talent Managers: In two words – heartless boss! Here, they don’t care about the people on the team. They think of the people are replaceable, but the mission as sacred. Don’t expect these folks to ‘waste time developing their people; they might just leave anyway’. And besides, there’s work that must be done.
Achievers as Talent Managers: Here, too, the focus is on results. But in this case, the manager will often compete with/against their team members. They often think that ‘it’s just easier if I do it myself.’ As a sales manager, they take the biggest accounts for themselves, because they only trust themselves to perform. They enjoy being the ‘answer man or woman’. They expect to be rewarded for their performance regardless of how the overall team, or company, performed.
Talent Managers as Achievers (or Visionaries): ‘You know, it’s not all about the numbers.’ Don’t expect them to ‘take the hill at all costs’, or get the project done as soon as possible. When it’s just about getting the, or their, work done they get bored and easily distracted looking for opportunities to grow those around them. They don’t want to just get the project across the finish line. They want to get the whole team across the finish line, each receiving recognition in the manner that best suits them. They often don’t get their work done on time, or as needed, because they’ve been running around helping everyone else with their work.
By the way, you’ll notice that when these personalities leave your organization and start their own businesses, their personalities shine through there, too.
Visionaries are entrepreneurial in nature and shoot for big ideas, require venture capital, and plan to transform an industry – or at least prove that their idea is right. While talent managers tend to buy franchises. They want to have a system that they know will work, and will focus their time on building a great team of people.
Achievers on the other hand, tend to become solo-preneurs or independent (often affiliated) business professionals, such as realtors, insurance agents, or financial planners/ advisors, where they get paid based upon their efforts, but the work is well-defined and structured. They can certainly be innovative and build effective teams (becoming, for example, real estate brokers), they just aren’t interested in changing the world or the market. They want to make sure they are getting their slice of the pie. They compete in the market, and don’t spent as much time thinking about how to transform it into something else.
Now go ahead and think about the other mismatches of personality to role. What would you expect the behavior and outcomes to be?
But Really Why Does this Matter, and What Can You Do About it?
Don’t fall prey to the false assumptions embedded with the ‘standard model’ of people management followed in most organizations.
Position people to match their strengths, giftedness, and way of thinking. Don’t create an obstacle course to personal, therefore organizational, success. Make it easy for your people to succeed.
Hire the type of person who need/want. Position them to their strengths. Don’t waste time trying to make managers ‘earn’ a management position. Put them there quickly. (They’ll grow better/faster in a management positon, then they will in an ‘achiever’ role.)
Oddly, achievers are often ‘climbers’, who climb right out of their strengths zone, into a place they are completely uncomfortable and ineffective. They commit what I’ve heard described as ‘manager assisted career suicide’. And are often forced to move to another company and ‘start over again’ in a position that is actually well-matched to their personality.
So these are certainly sweeping generalities, but they are often a great place to start to dramatically improve the performance of your organization. Stop fight the uniqueness of your people, and instead embrace it and leverage it for your, and their, success!