Are you a Detective or a Live Wire?

You may have noticed that there are many different personality types in any organisation and in life in general. While each of us is unique, we do carry shared traits and recognizing those in ourselves and others can be helpful in understanding group behaviours and how large collections of people collaborate (or not) with each other. In short, understanding these traits can make the difference between mediocrity and high performance.

Psychology and human behavioural science attempts to categorise these types in many different ways, e.g. Myers Briggs, DISC, Five Factor Model, Belbin. At an observational level we have the happy ones, serious ones, shouty ones, quiet ones, some that talk too much (guilty!), the practical, the logical, the idealists (guilty again!), risk takers, risk averse….the list goes on.

In an excellent Forbes article a few years back they played with a labelling system based on how people typically behave within the corporate environment. We’d like to share a version of that, adapted slightly from our own experience. Hopefully you’ll recognise some or all of these but free to let us know your thoughts and add any others based on your observations:

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: The keen one, usually straight out of business school or Uni. But sometimes just the new kid on your block. Typically in their 20s or early 30th they will be keen to offer to do things, always feel the need to chip-in during meetings or brainstorms so they ‘feel’ useful. If harnessed this group can help drive projects.

EVANGELIST: The evangelist is the company cheerleader. It is almost as if their company is their religion. At a corporate event or exhibition they’ll wear the corporate logo or dare I say it dress as the company mascot.

ICE MAN *yes that is a Top Gun reference: The ice man is the one that will crush your idea into a million pieces, and in front of all your colleagues too. They have their eye on a corner office and the boardroom. They are a bit risky, a bit maverick and if you don’t believe their version of events, whether it be the truth or not then it could be your undoing. Harnessed correctly they can deliver change and leave all the emotion at the door in difficult conversations.

TEFLON: Know someone in senior management who leaves you scratching your head at not only how they got there but how they keep getting the bonuses and avoiding the redundancies? The Teflon man or woman lets the New Kids or the Ice Man take the floor in meetings; they blend into the beige walls quite well. They are comfortable being moved sideways and seem to know just enough to keep the Ice Man on-side.

WORKER BEE: Worker Bees as the name suggests are the ones who work till the task is done. Comfortable keeping the engine running and never out front under a spotlight they are often project managers, the IT architects, Operations or in HR. If their needs are met then they are hugely loyal and tow the company line. They don’t threaten the Ice Man or the Detective, as they like to stay in the shadows.

DETECTIVE: You can’t get this person to sign up to the company mantra just because. On team away-days or strategy planning they will be the ones who want to know ‘why’ and ‘how’. It isn’t enough for them that the CEO is stating something; they want facts & detail. They are polar opposites of the Evangelist and need careful management. They don’t mean to be difficult but they do often ask the questions everyone is either thinking but not brave enough to ask or should be asking.

INFLUENCER: Often in senior teams or with lots of influence but far more liked than the Ice Man. They thrive on relationships so people generally like having the Influencer around. They get work done, they are loyal but they still manage to challenge and need to feel affinity to what they are doing. If they see lack of parity then that demotivates them.

LIVE WIRE: Tricky to manage and even trickier to get to stay in one place the Live Wire can often be the entrepreneur we read about in the FT but can equally get so exasperated they jack it all in by sending a company wide resignation letter and go and work in B&Q. They often need a team around them to help translate their amazing ideas and keep them going in the right direction and they don’t make good managers but they can inspire amazing work.

RANK & FILE: Whilst they won’t catapult your business into the FTSE 100 overnight they equally won’t bring it crashing down around your ears. All companies need rank and file. They are happy to do what it says on the tin, or job description in this case. They work to be able to buy a new car each year or go on a cruise or just keep food on the table.

These traits may be temporary or situational and we can change as we go through our careers; we also tend to become more self-aware and more sure of what we like. Along the way we are influenced by what works well for us as individuals (e.g. getting a bonus, good appraisals stepping up the career ladder). So behaviour can be heavily influenced by the environment and culture in which we find ourselves. As we go through life and career, we build a picture of what good looks like based upon those we admire around us and what has worked for them and us.

In general, this is a positive as it helps us quickly learn how to survive, which we are very good at. The danger is where that culture becomes unhealthy or is being manipulated by a few unscrupulous individuals for their own benefit at the expense of those around them. Then, over time, the stress levels go up for those who have strong values and they eventually leave, sending the culture even further in the direction of the self-serving. Those that remain are either poor quality or similarly unscrupulous. As we have seen, such a culture, once created, is both difficult to change and in danger of a big scandal through dishonest behaviour.

As we move into an era where only highly adaptable companies will thrive, it will become even more important to nurture the right culture of co-operation and group learning across diverse skill areas and personality types. This increasingly critical leadership skill will also require extra vigilance to spot and root out the self-serving and insidious bad behaviours before they take hold. Leading by example is of course a great place to start.