workplace tip: learn how to assess your manager’s personality

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

A few years ago, I stormed into my boss’s office and launched into a 45-minute tirade about how one of our clients should be institutionalized. Bellevue, rubber sheets, straightjackets–the whole nine. My story was one for the ages, replete with fireworks, an excruciatingly detailed play-by-play of all the conversations that lead to my deduction, and word confetti. I hardly noticed that my boss fixated on his inbox for the whole of my rage blackout, not once glancing up to offer insight or advice. In the end I was depleted, exhausted, and frustrated when he said, quite bluntly, So what’s your solution? As the weeks pressed on I noticed that I wasn’t able to get as much face-time with my boss and his manner was clipped, brusque and cold. Since I felt he wasn’t giving my concerns the weight that it deserved, and he felt that I was sucking the breath right out of his mouth, our relationship deteriorated to the point where we were barely on speaking terms. Not necessarily a smart play when your boss is the CEO of the company.

On the flipside, I’ve a real inability to write or read long emails. Direct reports would fill my inbox with artfully composed epic poems, followed by thirty attachments, and I’d scroll the length of the email (endless scroll, my friends), and I’d call them over and ask, What’s the problem and how do you recommend we resolve it? Because I didn’t have time for the telenovela–give me the Cliff’s Notes version paired with your thinking. You may not have the right answer but show me you’re bringing me something more to the table beyond another complex problem I have to review and solve in addition to be responsible for an agency of 160 and millions in revenue. Make me realize that I’m not doing all the thinking in the room. Give me options. For the love, meet me in the middle.

It wasn’t until my mentor conducted a personality assessment training did I realize that I wasn’t matching my boss’s work style and, in turn, my team wasn’t managing mine (and vice versa). Over the course of a few short months I was able to repair my relationship with my boss and be more compassionate with my direct reports, who, in turn, adjusted their style to be more in rhythm with mine.

I know the term “profiling” carries the weight of the pejorative. It’s often construed as reductivist and fallible, and while I agree with this to a certain extent, having some parameters of how people work, present, negotiate and manage conflict is extremely helpful to minimize miscommunication, stress, and frustration.

My mentor riffed off a Myers Briggs training where he assigned personality traits based on a quadrant method. Using terms from the advertising world, he composed four archetypes: Headline, Logo, Body Copy and Illustrator, along with two simple questions: Are you task or people oriented? Do you ask or tell?

Image Credit: Simple Talk
Image Credit: Simple Talk

We completed a lengthy questionnaire and I discovered that I’m a “Headline” in the workplace and a “Logo” in my personal life. I sometimes bring the personal into the professional so me ranting to my boss was me in Logo mode (I was trying to establish a relationship and trust), but my interaction with my direct reports was in Headline mode (solutions not problems, be brief, be brilliant, be gone, etc).

A Headline is interested in results, tasks risks, believes in brevity, and makes quick decisions. We like options and the fact that you came to us with a brief assessment of the problem and a few alternatives for a solution. We’re entrepreneurs, division leaders, sales leaders, turnaround specialists. My reports used to make fun of how often I said, send me bullets in an email. A Logo puts relationships first in business; they are people-oriented, consensus-builders, the ultimate team player. They’re cautious and very sensitive to office politics. Think politicians, HR managers, and CEOs. A Body Copy believes in the power of process–they’re cautious, methodical, detail-oriented, extremely professional, and may endure analysis paralysis since they spend so much time weighing all of their options. Accountants, project managers and lawyers are excellent body copies. An Illustrator cleaves to the Bright Shiny Thing–they love the latest, trendiest, coolest. They’re impetuous and want to inspire and be inspired. They’re creative directors, in PR, or they might be in sales. They do what they can to get the job done but they may not necessarily think through implications (it bores them to tears) like a Body Copy would.

To that vein, inspired by my mentor’s training, I created two quick charts on how to present and negotiate based on archetype.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.09.53 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.10.01 AM

Granted, these are basic archetypes and people may move through the quadrants based on situations, stress levels, mood, etc, however, this helpful guide empowered me to not only manage up more effectively, but it allowed me to recognize how my team managed themselves and their communication and I made a point to meet them halfway. Example: I was demonstrably less impatient with stories and lead-ins (especially for my more junior team members) and I could see how they were trying to devise solutions for problems. Remember, communication and connection are not unilateral. We’re not here to change who we are and how we work based on who we work for, rather, we’re all trying to find our way to a comfortable middle.

2 thoughts on “workplace tip: learn how to assess your manager’s personality

  1. Haha I am a total Headliner and my boss is a Logo. It is driving me insane!!! It’s like constant circular conversations and minimal resolution. I went into his office with what I thought was a simple “I need direction” type question and had my bullet points all outlined for him about what I wanted to do and I came out of the office extremely confused and without direction or resolution of my original issue. He’s a super nice guy though- goes with the territory probably though 😉 This gives me some good insight!


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