The Power of Understanding Working Styles in Developing a Team


One of the critical building blocks of developing teams is forming an authentic and deep bond with them. This can also be defined as engagement. There are so very many ingredients in this recipe of engagement, some which I’ve blogged about in recent weeks and many which could fill up pages and books. At the core of engagement is the need to be willing to meet people where they are at, and figure them out so that you can motivate them. Doing this requires many tools. One of these is understanding and accepting the unique working style that a person brings into a working relationship.

I’ve participated in a variety of tools to figure out a person’s working style. One of my all time favorite books that simply yet effectively speaks to using this knowledge for effective relationship building is a book by Julie Straw called “The Four Dimensional Manager.” I’ve drawn wisdom from this book when leading training series on motivation and communication at two companies now. It all started when I was with a company that used personality assessments to evaluate individuals (and teams as whole) for team building and communication refining purposes. I stumbled across the Julie Straw book when trying to find a great way to deliver the message of the purchased assessments. The whole notion of going from one dimensional (the view of the world I possess) to four dimensional (able to put on the glasses of others once educated as to their world view prescription) is really the heart of this message.

I’ve seen the principles of this stuff work in my own management journey. I myself am a highly dominant and interpersonal person. That means I like to bulldoze through things and build relationships along the way. So I’m a bit of a personality mutt you might say and based on my two types perhaps a bit conflicted at first glance! Due to this I typically bond well with similar souls (and in some cases need to understand how to respect those who are equal in dominance to me). What I naturally, in uneducated state, do not do well is bond effectively with the more detail oriented and soft-spoken/timid souls. However, in an educated and intentional state, basing my relational interactions on the knowledge of a person’s working style, I can make clear personal behavior choices so that all types that are not like me can still relate to me.

A specific example of this was when I had an employee on my team who was a true analyst by nature. He will probably be a book author some day, and absolutely loves some good data, hours alone and a chance to prepare a near thesis statement to accompany each work project. I knew that having this guy on my team could (and did) do wonders in driving up the bar of excellence in the department as he helped me dissect things, draw critical conclusions, blow up old broken processes and build new processes that drove performance upwards. However, I had to learn to curtail my natural energy and working/meeting style in order to tap into this and build a powerful team synergy. Naturally I am an impromptu and open door/talkative person. I am in the clouds and getting excited about new vision stuff about every hour. However, I had to learn to carve out time, space, structure and a calmer method of management and communication with this individual on my team. I had to create intentionally planned meetings that were structured, and let him talk and share and essentially make myself step back, be quiet and let him shine when it was his time. It would have been impossible to develop and grow him by forcing my style on him. Rather, I was able to draw the best of him out by respecting how he ticked.

In the end, the truth is that the strongest teams are the most rounded teams. Just like in sports, every player has a unique position. In isolation they cannot win the game. In tandem, victory is attainable. We need the drivers to keep us marching onward. We need the strategists to cast visions for us and motivate us with speeches. We need the energy bombs to jazz things up and keep it fun and get the sales in the door. We need the analysts and number crunches to keep us compliant and make process improvements and tell us when to budget and spend wisely. We need the sensitive souls and negotiators to help us come together. The wise leader will step back from him or herself and see this, respect the power of the group and diminish the role of “I” or self. The leader who plays the role of coach, and does this, will be able to drive break through performance.

Straw, Julie. (2002). The Four Dimensional Manager: DiSC Strategies for Managing Different People in the Best Ways. Inscape Publishing. San Francisco, CA.

If You Challenge Them, They Just May Rock Your Performance Numbers!

My mother tells me that when I was a small infant she would have to frequently check on me during naps for fear that I would die of asphyxiation . You see I had a peculiar habit of getting so frustrated even at the age of some odd months, that I would clench my little baby fists and work myself into a silent, red faced, sweaty fit. She feared that in my fit I’d stop breathing.

This lovely trait has luckily since subsided into a more adult and manageable temperament . This being said, one of my inner fears is that if one were to ask folks that have worked with me to compare me to a creature of some kind that they might choose a cockroach due to its stubborn ability to live on things like small bits of postage stamp glue for periods on end. I resent this trait I was born with quite often (well, I can’t personally live on postage glue but my ability to hold out stubbornly is perhaps a bit analogous to that). You see, I fight it because I also happen to believe that I am called to a life of humility and self deprecation based on many of my personal faith tenets. So, in my personal inner war, I temper my own temper continually. However, where I can utilize my innate strong will for something good, I upon occasion am thankful for the red faced and tight fisted little infant.

The purpose of today’s blog entry, though I am going about it in a long winded fashion, is to speak to the importance of tenacity and fierce determination in the workplace. Specifically, it is to speak to how we can and should be developing our employees and leaders of tomorrow to possess this trait. It’s my fervent belief that deep down people are motivated by a challenge, if properly challenged and motivated. I remember seeing this in action a few years ago when I and a fellow developing leader got the news of our soon to be new boss. Now in this story let me say that my fellow developing leader was way smarter than me and ten times more tenacious (and as such achieved VP status at a record young age). I suspect he would in the world of analogies be the cockroach who lives a record breaking two years on a postage stamp. But, I digress. In any event I remember distinctly when our fun and lively boss who was leaving the company gave us our departing pep talk. She was preparing us for the feared horror of reporting into the new leader who possessed two Ivy League degrees and who few leaders, even of VP caliber, were able to please. We were shaking in our boots you might say as the “little guys” getting ready to get thrown to hungry sharks. But I’ll never forget what my boss who was leaving said to me, and what powerful emotion it evoked. She said to me, “You two will be just fine, because you both enjoy a challenge.” As I entered this new reporting relationship with my new boss who lived up to all the stories I had heard (though I have to admit I grew to deeply admire him), I kept myself motivated by that simple statement about enjoying a challenge. It stuck with me just like the glue on the postage stamp. It kept me motivated and whenever I was about to give up I’d remember, no, wait, I am a person who enjoys a good challenge and who doesn’t let it beat her.

I decided through that experience that there must be something inside people that rises up when a person challenges them while also believing in them. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can break us. I’ve had a few situations in my life that teetered on the brink of breaking me, some of them very recent and so I make my statements very humbly. But I am saying that we need to respect and guide that innate sense of need to rise up and accomplish in those that work for us, and in everyone on our teams.

I’ve seen the power of this belief in action with folks that have worked for me. Like the recruiter who worked for me a few years ago and started with just a little recruiting for our $70 million division. I challenged her and pushed her to split time to fill in half as we were growing. I told her she, we, could do it. Today she is a respected leadership recruiter for a large territory of a multi billion dollar organization, and I’m sure there is a fair chance she out earns me. Or, I think of another associate on another one of my teams who was at the brink of being terminated by an executive in the company. In this case our whole team stepped up, learned together, partnered together and I coached and challenged this associate to step up and lean into the resources available. This associate later went on to have book studies and a great professional relationship with the very executive who was at first a fear factor. Finally, I also think of each time I watch my 6th grade son out there on the basketball court. The boys on his team work so hard and it’s very common for tears to be shed and heads to be hung low with exacerbated facial expressions when they are losing. But then I watch the coaches step up and given them a tough love talk, believe in them, and send them out there again to pick up the pace, fight for it, and win. What I’m saying is that even though we work in tidy, sterile and perhaps at times mundane little office environments, we all possess the heart and spirit of a fighter inside. If you dig deep enough, if you believe hard enough, if you challenge those who work for you to step up, if you are a passionate coach and tenacious champion, you just may find that work suddenly gets a little more exciting. You may find that performance outcomes suddenly rock your little business world because when you tap into this potential and spirit in people things get kinda exciting. And, more important than all the success and dollars stuff (‘cuz that stuff after all isn’t what makes us happy or what folks remember when we die), you’ll find that your life is a little more meaningful because you suddenly make work about relationships and building human spirits up. Relational management is so worth it. It’s okay to shed a few fears. It’s okay to love a little. It’s really okay to care about your people and believe in them.

So, thanks to my boss with the Harvard and University of Pennsylvania IQ who challenged me. Thanks to the folks I was blessed to lead who inspired me by accomplishing something awesome when faced with a challenge. Like the sayings goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!