In the 1960s, two cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenman, observed that the people who visited their practice with heart complaints all exhibited a cluster of personality traits.
The chairs in their waiting room provided the clues to the personalities of their patients. Where normally chairs wear at the back, the chairs in their waiting room wore at the front and the armrests, suggesting that their patients’ tension kept them literally “on the edge of their seats.”
The table below outlines a brief comparison of the personality types:
The first thing that’s noticeable is the Type B personality is, of the three, the most desirable. It’s the “ideal” to which we all aspire. The Type A and Type C personalities, on the other hand, are the aspects of personality we’d prefer to disown. The likelihood is that, while we might defer to one “type” as a stress response, we are likely to display characteristics of all three personality types to a certain degree.
Given most people experience stress in their workplace, it’s a useful thing to consider the personality type that best describes you. Here are 10 simple questions that will help you determine your current personality type.
- How do I respond to news that a peer got the promotion/project/accolade I wanted?
- How do I respond to approaching deadlines?
- How do I handle missed deadlines?
- What importance do I place on managing my time?
- How do I handle the work/life balance?
- How do I handle conflict with managers/peers/team/employees?
- How do I respond when someone challenges me?
- What word or words do other people use to describe me?
- How do I express emotions like anger and fear?
- How do I approach problems?
Notice I use the word, “How,” a lot in these questions. Why? The clues lie in how you behave, or how you show up in the world. In answering these questions, I recommend that you think of concrete evidence to back up your assertion.
Imagine you've received an email that has presented a major challenge. If you're a Type C personality, your typical response would be to pretend you didn’t receive it. A Type A might fire off an equally challenging response, and a Type B would sit back and reflect upon what would create the best outcome before responding. The likelihood is that you have a default way of dealing with stress, in particular fear. Do you fight, flee or freeze? Or perhaps you do something entirely different.
The goal, in reflecting upon these questions and your way of responding to stressful situations, is to encourage you to be straight with yourself. Here’s the thing to remember: your demonstration of a certain personality type now does not mean you’re stuck with it forever. The opportunity, in accepting how things actually are and not how you want them to be, is transformation. When you recognise and acknowledge what does and doesn’t work about your management style, you can set about improving it.
Victor Lipman, Forbes and Psychology Today journalist and former executive of a Fortune 500 company, thoroughly explains what this looks like in practice in his book, The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully In a Type A World. Written for the Type B (and I would suggest the Type C) manager, Lipman draws largely on his own experiences of survival, growth and development as a Type B senior manager for a large insurance company made up of Type A management.
Full of honesty and insight, the book gives Type B managers a voice that’s often overshadowed or disregarded by the more vocal and visible Type A managers. He helps people of a subtler persuasion learn to value their contribution. At the same time, he points out how certain Type B characteristics (which, according to the original definition are sometimes Type C characteristics) are detrimental to one’s managerial and leadership evolution. While primarily focusing on the Type B personality, he illustrates how to move beyond the limitations of the personality types.
While Type A’s often get accused of being domineering, demanding and distracting, he does not label Type A characteristics as “bad.” In fact, some characteristics, like being decisive, maintaining a professional distance in relationship and handling conflict, are skills that Type B and C managers must develop if they want to progress up the management ladder in any organisation.
And, while the book is aimed at Type B managers, Type A managers can benefit by learning how to bring in Type B characteristics to their own leadership style. The real opportunity Lipman offers with his perspective is the potential to bring greater self-awareness and balance to your management style.
You may recognise the tendency within yourself to judge one style as better than the other, and you may wish to align yourself with a particular type. I would caution you against this. Rather, treat your leadership style like a cross breed. The greater your ability to embrace and blend styles, the more balanced and robust your leadership will be.
From my perspective, all letters of the alphabet are important, not just the first three. My invitation to you would be to define your own leadership style. What letter would you choose? Perhaps you want to venture away from the alphabet and use numbers, or even images! What qualities do you consider important and necessary to your leadership evolution? How will you bring these qualities to life? What impact will developing these qualities have upon you and those around you? What value will you create as a result?
These are the real questions. Using previously defined distinctions, your opportunity is to take them and make them your own. When you choose to cultivate the leadership style that works for you, you break the mould of distinction and enter a new realm of possibility. You set foot on the road to real leadership brilliance, and you clear a path for others to do the same.
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