Being A Doer

 Last week I said I should title this “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but decided that this would not do justice to the strengths of the Doer.   I did, however, want to pay homage to the nick name (Taz) that my daughter gave me many years ago.  After yet another stress filled morning getting three teenagers off to school, did I say they were all girls? My daughter started calling me Taz. This was probably due to my frenzied flinging of school books, lunch bags, cans of hair spray, and various articles of unmentionable clothing that were strewn about the house. All of this as I had to fight for the bathroom to get ready for work and eat my breakfast on the run. You can easily see how I earned my name and of course why my pants were often on backwards.

 I would like to say that I am different in my work life than I am at home, but when the pressure of work projects looms out comes the Taz in me.   As you know from my earlier blog, we Doer’s get a lot done, but sometimes at the expense of dead bodies left in our wake. 

When brought to our attention that we may have caused a bit of an issue as we voraciously chewed through a problem, we Doer’s are usually confused as to why anyone is upset because after all we did get the job done. And very quickly at that! So all Doer’s be forewarned while you may accomplish a lot you need to keep the battlefield clear of bodies.

ImageNow in case you think that I am a real “piece of work,” please remember that I am not a Doer all of the time just when I am under pressure. When I am working along as I am today just getting things done at a normal pace, I am really a thinker. I had plenty of time to get ready for work this morning (the girls are all grown and gone) and my pants have that knife-edge crease in them. I am operating in my best thinker mode pondering all the different detailed ways to write this blog and get my points across. As you can tell, I do love pictures and still identify with the Taz.

ImageI’d like to also add that when the conditions are very favorable I can switch into my Feeler mode.  This is when I walk around the office and chat with folks and find out how they are doing, what their children are up to, and maybe even invite someone to walk across the street for a Starbuck’s. More on this next week as I share a bit about the Feelers among us. Perhaps I should dub them more politically correctly and call them the “Connectors.”

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Working with a Pure Thinker

Last week I wrote about my experiences with a pure Innovator (Intuitor in some camps), but this week I’d like to focus on my friend the Thinker. What comes to mind for me is the statue by Rodin, with his thoughtful expression and solid cut in stone appearance. The Thinkers among us are sometimes characterized as being organized, structured, conservative, analytical, rational, controlled, etc.  In an earlier post, I summed this up by saying that you can tell a Thinker by his pants being pressed with a knife-edged crease (actually I believe I said it would cut butter).

When I think of someone I work with who fits the model of a “pure Thinker,” I remember a recent team building exercise. The Thinker was on my team and since it was raining I of course went into my “Doer” mode and wanted to complete the event quickly, while my teammate the Thinker was keeping the notes in dripping detail.  After we finally slogged back to the comfort of the office with our soaking shoes and clues – this was a CSI crime solving team event – the Thinker then proceeded to catalog the clues in excruciating detail. It seemed that each individual hair needed to be accounted for by its length and color or at least that is what I thought the Thinker was doing constantly handling each hunk of hair over and over again. When it came time to solve the crime, our team was last to submit our clues and solution and even then we did not win!

The team building was not really about winning, it was about learning about each other. I certainly learned that the Thinker was a perfect fit for their role as a Project Manager where the devil is in the details and it also reinforced a bit about me as well – the Doer rushes to the conclusions which are not always the right ones.

Learning about the different styles, hopefully lets us appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each. If we take a few minutes and do a bit of introspective thinking, we can probably determine which style most fits our daily lives. With this in mind, we can then view others by their dominant styles and interact with them accordingly.

I appreciate both the Innovators and the Thinkers for their strengths and definitely want both of them on my team because they have valuable traits that are needed to provide the creative complex thinking and the detailed steps so that nothing is forgotten as we get the job done.  This last is the Doer’s specialty and I will share with you more about my predominate style under stress next week. I think I will call that post “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Working With A Pure Innovator

Early in my management career I had the great pleasure or perhaps better put misfortune to work with a pure innovator. As I said in my post last week, most of us are usually a blend of several styles but predominately one under favorable conditions and another one when under stress. With that in mind, it is rare to find an individual who exhibits the same style under both conditions and even more rare, thank goodness, for that one style to be an Innovator.

The person I am referring to, who will remain nameless to protect the innocent, was the most brilliant individual that I have to this day ever met. He could come up with an overabundance of new ideas, could imagine how they would be built and could even envision exactly what they would look like. He was a deep well of software architectural knowledge, could expound on any subject, would work day and night on the next innovation, and always be seeking out new approaches. He was highly valued for his new ideas so of course he was put in charge of the entire software engineering team. He was brilliant and it stood to reason he should be in charge, right? Well, as those of us who have had a few years of management know, you don’t put someone in the manager’s role just because they are the smartest technology guru. Putting this pure innovator into a people and project management position was like asking the cat to kiss the dog. It was a recipe for disaster.

To sum up his project management skills, everything was easy and would be finished tomorrow. His people skills were nonexistent. He thought that everyone should work all day and night just like he did, no mentoring or people engagement here, he was brilliant after all and always knew all of the answers and could of course do it much faster himself.

I am sad to say that it took several projects that never saw the light of day and the loss of multiple valued staff for someone to finally see that this just was not the proper fit.  A niche was carved out for this brilliant individual where he could operate in a “think tank” mode and come up for air periodically to share his project ideas and then return to his pizza box and toy strewn office for another round of extreme innovation. He was much happier in his new role and the rest of us were certainly much happier having him in this role.

As you will remember from last week the outward signs of an Innovator are:

  • Head in the clouds with lots of great ideas.
  • Always looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  • Stays at high level – does not live for the details
  • Anything is possible and it’s all quick and easy
  • Toys all over their desk
  • Might forget to put on their pants

I can’t say that I ever saw him without his pants (and probably wouldn’t tell you if I had), but I have seen him asleep on the floor of his office under his desk after putting in yet another all night siege to find the way to software nirvana.

In case you think that I still work with this individual, let me be clear, that even though we did find him a different role, his self-esteem was harmed by his unhappy stint as a manager. It was a rare occurrence for him to have failed at anything and not easily tolerated by someone with an Innovator style. He has since gone on to a much different career and I believe he is now mining sugar from salt mines, but happily working alone in this entrepreneurial endeavor.

Next week, my experiences working with a Thinker. I call this one how to examine every little detail over and over and over again.

What’s Your Style?

Any of us who have been in a management position for a few years have probably experienced some type of “personality styles” training and assessment. Whether it is the Myers- Briggs test, the ITDF test or something else, we should by now know our style. What I’m going to try to do in this missive and over the next couple of weeks is share with you my experiences when working with individuals who have each of the ITDF (see my definitions below) predominate styles.

I’ve based this on what I consider to have been the best training I had early in my management career. What the assessment associated with this training did was point out that while we may have a predominate style we actually might have two predominate styles, one under favorable conditions and one that might be vastly different when under stress. The importance of this should be understood, because it could make you look slightly schizophrenic. An example of this was a former manager of mine who had two very different styles and to make it more challenging his styles were the exact opposite of mine. Well, needless to say, he thought I was crazy and I felt the same about him.  That was not a recipe for a good working relationship. We were both fortunate to have taken the styles assessments and management training at the same time. I will never forget when he turned to me and said “well I guess you’re not crazy after all.” We were able to move forward from there to have a very productive professional relationship. I learned how to read the signs that he was under stress and approach him accordingly – I will also say that this was very uncomfortable for me at first because my natural inclination was to give him the exact opposite of what he needed – in this case he wanted all of the facts and details when under stress and I was inclined to want to move very quickly and just give him the bottom line with no supporting details – made perfect sense to me.

With that as background, the styles as I define them are listed below with a bit of how I look at their definition. Now remember, most people are not completely one style, but are usually predominately one under each condition – favorable or stress.  Next week I will give you my story about working with a pure Innovator.

Can you see yourself below?

Innovator

  • Head in the clouds with lots of great ideas.
  • Always looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  • Stays at high level – does not live for the details
  • Anything is possible and it’s all quick and easy
  • Toys all over their desk
  • Might forget to put on their pants

Thinker

  • Loves to plan things
  • Very task oriented
  • Very precise and detailed
  • Always has a clean desk
  • Pants pressed with a crease that could cut butter

Doer

  • Quick to react
  • Takes ownership
  • Accomplishes lots of simultaneous tasks
  • Messy desk covered with papers
  • Pants on backwards

Feeler

  • Has many Friends
  • Is energized by meeting new people
  • Will always ask you how you are doing and really cares
  • Has pictures, plants, and flowers on the desk
  • Will give you their pants

Keep you pants on, more to come next week.

Think Free… Think Gray

This past week I’ve been reading a new book, The Contrarian’s Guide To Leadership, by Steven Sample. After reading a few chapters I posted the think free think gray phrases on my white board. These were a personal reminder. Yesterday when a respected peer asked about what these phrases meant I told him that they were reminders to me to not jump to a conclusion or make a quick decision. Now that is so unlike me, that he just smiled and shook his head. Well one can hope that as I have read, leaders are made not just born, and that I can learn a few new habits. The habit I am working on first is “artful listening.”

More along the lines of thinking gray, artful listening, is listening attentively without rushing to judgement. This allows gathering a fresh perspective and not being bound by pre-conceived notions. I have been praised for being able to think and act quickly. While there is a place for that in “fight or flight” situations these are not often present in the software development world– while it might seem like it is when a customer calls with an urgent issue, it is still better to gather all of the facts before racing to make a decision.

However, thinking gray and thinking free are much more than just artful listening, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Given  my proclivity for rushing to resolve problems I think artful listening is enough for me to tackle initially.   Then after I think I have somewhat mastered this art I will move on to the next learning opportunity.

I am finding this book a wealth of thought-provoking information and encourage anyone in a leadership position or who wants to move into a leadership role to read this book and start to practice some of the principles prescribed by Mr. Sample. I’ve included an excerpt from a particularly well written summary of the book below.

“…If nothing else, Sample’s gift in this book is the notion that there is no tried and true formula for good leadership or for becoming an effective, let alone good, leader. Should we aspire to doing leader, as opposed to being leader (in which we like the trappings of office but don’t want to dirty our hands with the day-to-day, not-always-pleasant requirements of actually doing the job), we are encouraged to break out of conventional thinking, cultivate some tendencies that diverge from what we may have learned, and take responsibility for our own and others’ actions. As Sample says, if you’re not willing to do what it takes, stay out of the leadership business altogether.

A few Contrarian principles suggested in this book include:

  • Think gray: try not to form opinions about ideas or people unless and until you have to. Sample calls this “seeing double,” and “the ability to simultaneously view things from two or more perspectives.”
  • Think free: train yourself to move several steps beyond traditional brainstorming by considering really outrageous solutions and approaches. Too often we rush to judgment or give in to the naysayers who only focus on how or why something cannot or should not be done.
  • Listen first, talk later; and when you listen, do so artfully.
  • Experts can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for your own critical thinking and discernment.
  • Never make a decision yourself that can reasonably be delegated to a lieutenant; and never make a decision today that can be reasonably put off to tomorrow. But then, Sample also says…
  • Shoot your own horse. Don’t make others do your dirty work.
  • Ignore sunk costs and yesterday’s mistakes. You can only influence the future.
  • Reading Machiavelli can help make you a more moral leader.
  • Work for those who work for you. Hire people who are better than you and help them succeed.
  • You can’t really run your organization; you can only lead individual followers, who then collectively give motion and substance to the organization you nominally head.
  • You can’t copy your way to the top; true excellence can only be achieved through original thinking and unconventional approaches….”

Sample is also a huge proponent of something he calls “open communication with structured decision-making,” which allows the freedom to talk informally with anyone in the organization but doesn’t undercut the authority and responsibility of line administrators and managers.  I particularly like the example he has in the book that deals with a successful business leader who stopped by and had a chat with one of his engineers and asked a few questions. A few days later the engineers manager complained to the leader that he had redirected the work of the engineer. The leader felt terrible because all he did was ask a few questions. However, it wasn’t clear to the engineer that while there was open communication the decision-making really needed to follow the structure already in place.

If you really want to avoid micro-managing and if you truly want to empower those who work with and for you, this type of approach is critical. You might say it’s contrarian leadership at its best!