The personalities of tech company organizations is considered by many to be a “soft” management topic, resulting in it often not being given the attention it deserves. Traditional management education focuses on the numbers, not interpersonal relationships. But great leaders and an overall positive corporate culture is VERY IMPORTANT to long term corporate success. And the collective personalities of a company (especially it’s management team) largely defines a company’s culture. My background is primarily in software-based business such as SaaS, as well as technology hardware companies, so that influences my perspective. But I believe that this article is equally applicable across a wide range of businesses.
In my opinion, successful corporate cultures aren’t driven by a preponderance of any particular personality type. They are driven by assembling the optimal MIX of disparate personalities; this mix of personalities is usually helpful for great (and extended) success. I believe that’s because in successful organizations multiple personality types provide balance in the organization as a whole. Of course, for this balance to occur, there needs to be a collaborative environment which allows differences of viewpoint as well as valuing challenges to the status quo. In addition, different functional areas and roles often lend themselves to very different personality types. Too many of one personality type can cause problems as well. I once worked for a tech company that was largely populated by folks with a strong leadership mentality, along with the type “A” tendencies that often come along with that mentality. This led to a bunch of alpha dogs fighting among themselves for a leadership role, which greatly inhibited common purpose within the company.
There are exceptions, of course. The highly successful Oracle software sales organization, for example, was historically known to consist largely of super aggressive, type “A”s. I’m sure you can come up with a number of additional examples where there is a preponderance of a certain personality type within a successful organization. Advice is rarely 100% uniformly applicable. But in most successful organizations that I’ve worked in or with, there is usually a great leader who is an expert people manager. He or she puts together disparate personalities into a sophisticated “stew” which leads to the company “clicking on all cylinders”. There are many variations of personality type that can be examined. For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at three personality profiles: the leader, the follower and the team player.
Great Leaders are both born AND made
There is an old saying that “great leaders are born not made”. I believe that there is SOME truth to this; some folks certainly have more inherent leadership qualities and tendencies in their personality than others. But I believe that even “natural” leaders need to work at it to fulfill their leadership potential, and almost anyone can get better and develop better leadership skills. I believe that it’s important to take a broad view of what leadership is; it’s not just “telling people what to do”. In fact, people that take their cues from that stereotype are usually the worst type of leaders. Great leadership is more subtle and often doesn’t feel at all like this stereotypical view of leadership. For example, knowing when to defer to others is a very powerful aspect of great leadership. And leading “by example” is a really under-appreciated aspect of a great leader. It often leads to higher levels of respect than the caricature of the impassioned, vocal leader that we often think of. Above all, great leaders are HIGHLY RESPECTED, regardless of the specifics of their personal style.
Following needs to be a universal organizational skill
While leadership is discussed and examined widely, the converse skill of following rarely is. But EVERYONE needs to work on and develop this skill. Everyone has a boss; if you have a boss, you need to understand how to follow. Even powerful CEOs report to a board of directors. And as I mentioned above, even great leaders understand how to empower others by stepping back and letting others take the lead when it’s appropriate to do so. This deference to others, allowing others to take the lead – and then actually FOLLOWING their lead can actually strengthen your position as a leader. Remember, without good followers, little would actually get done! The worker bees of an organization, whose job it is to largely follow, tend to fly under the radar and are usually undervalued. But they are VERY important to every tech company’s success.
Team Players provide the best of both worlds
So you probably have gathered from the discussion above, that I believe it’s the proper mix of leadership and ability to follow that are required to maximize organizational performance. That’s true both in terms of the mix of basic personality types in the organization, but also within each individuals capacity to be flexible enough to take on a leadership or follower role, when called upon to do so.
And what to we do what call these flexible folks in a company? Team Player! Many people think of “team players” as folks with a drone-like follower mentality. But I don’t. A team player is someone who is comfortable and willing to take on EITHER a leadership or follower role, depending upon the needs of the situation at hand. They need both the willingness to lead OR follow, but have the SKILLS to do both as well. Even CEOs who are renowned as great leaders are often outstanding team players by this definition.
Here’s a practical example of what I look for in a team player. For folks that work for me, I very much want them to bring me both important organizational PROBLEMS that they see and also their OWN proposed solutions to these problems. I firmly believe that most great solutions rise up in an organization from the folks closest to the problem, as opposed to those solutions flowing down from on high. In many instances, if their solution (after vetting by myself and other interested parties) appears to be an optimal one, then I often put in a leadership position to implement it. However, if for some reason another approach is required, I expect that they not only accept the alternate solutions, but SUPPORT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS ALTERNATE SOLUTION WITH THE SAME VIGOR AS THEY WOULD WITH THEIR OWN IDEA. In a nutshell, that’s the essence of a team player, in my mind .
In the best organizations, in addition to great leaders at the top there many team players available as flexible resources willing to “get the job done’ regardless of their personal role. This gives a company the ability to flex and react to an ever-changing, dynamic business environment. Unfortunately, the great team player isn’t an easy individual to find or hire. Team players need to be smart and effective in a variety of business scenarios, but also humble and comfortable in their own skin. If you find a great team player, hire them and hang on to them! In business, they are the scarcest human resources of all.
There you go; that’s how I feel about the importance of personality dynamics of tech organizations. What’s been your experience about how this all works in the best – and worst organizations that you’ve worked in? We’d love to hear your stories and conclusions on this “soft” but important management topic.
If you liked this post please share it with you colleagues using the “share” buttons below: