What Great Bosses Know about Personalities: From Hard Liners to Soft Touches

Imagine that two bosses are discussing their respective views on managing teams. Eavesdrop with me, and think about which boss sounds more like you:

Boss 1: “I don’t expect that people on staff have to like each other, but I want them to respect each other.”
Boss 2: “I’d be disappointed if we couldn’t achieve both.”

The conversation continues:

Boss 1: I’m tough but I’m fair with people.
Boss 2: I’m a people person but I can be tough when it matters.

Then they say:

Boss 1: People deserve recognition for exceptional performance, not for doing what’s expected of them.
Boss 2: I’m big on praising people, including for everyday work.

Which boss are you? If you picked 1, your personality preference probably leans toward what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator calls “Thinking.” If 2, your preference favors “Feeling.”

Here’s a good summary of both types from the book, “The Art of SpeedReading People“:

“For Thinkers, logic rules. When making a decision, it’s as if they take a step back and analyze the situation logically and impersonally, asking themselves ‘Does this make sense? What are the pros and cons? What are the ramifications of the decision?’ For Feelers, the process is just the opposite. They take a step forward, injecting themselves into the equation, and ask: “How do I feel about this? How will it affect me and others? Is this the right thing to do? What are my personal values telling me to do?’”

I like those descriptions because in reading them, you can see a pretty good argument for diversity. A management team with nothing but Thinkers could build an efficient but ice-cold workplace. A team with nothing but Feelers could sacrifice standards just to keep people smiling.

When I work with managers, I point out the strengths of their personality type as well as the blind spots.

Thinkers set up objective standards and measurements. They can set aside emotion to determine what’s best for the greatest number of people. They’re unafraid to point out problems and offer critiques. Staffers, even those who would prefer a warmer type of boss and more tactful feedback, say they appreciate knowing where they stand.

The challenge comes when Thinkers are too focused on the product and not the people, when their candor comes across as cruelty, and when they miss opportunities to build engagement and motivation because they see that as “touchy-feely stuff.” Thinkers often benefit from learning to be better coaches and studying up on emotional intelligence.

Feelers value relationships. They can help people deal with the emotion that comes with change, a constant these days. During planning and decision-making, they’re likely to send out early warnings to employees who will react especially positively or negatively. When giving feedback to staff, they’ll usually start with “what worked” then move to “what needs work,” believing praise tempers the pain of criticism.

The challenge for Feelers comes when they’re more focused on harmony than quality, when their efforts to please make them appear weak or wishy-washy, and when team members feel they don’t hold underperformers accountable. Feelers often benefit from learning how to deal with difficult people and tough conversations.

I tell bosses of all types that learning about your personality preferences helps explain you, but it doesn’t excuse you. You are capable of adapting. Just take the information and build on it; leverage your strengths and fill your gaps.

Know when the most logical thing a Thinker can do is to try a little tenderness, and the kindest thing a Feeler can do is to toughen up.

There’s a trend I’ve seen lately in our management programs when it comes to Thinking and Feeling, and how people see themselves. I’ll share that in today’s podcast: What Great Bosses Know about Personalities: From Hard Liners to Soft Touches:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

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