Mommy? Drill Sergeant? What Type of Boss Are You?

9 years, 1 month ago - June 29, 2013
Bestselling author Christine Comaford explains why the best managers have multiple personalities.

What's your boss personality? All of us have one, and the personality that fits you best often dictates how you deal with challenges as a manager, according to Christine Comaford, author of the New York Times bestseller Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together. Comaford says management approaches fall into one of these six categories:

Mommy--Completely supports employees and makes them feel appreciated. Great for building their confidence; not so great for spurring people to needed action.

Anthropologist--Acts like employees and company are a rare tribe, asking many questions and seeking to learn about causes of problems and solutions. Comaford says Anthropologists can help inspire needed action because they pull employees into their "smart state."

Drill Sergeant--Drill Sergeant's aren't mean, but they can provide a needed wake-up call. "Hey, if we keep making such low sales our company will go out of business! We need to get a move on!"

Professor--Professors know exactly what needs to be done, and they explain it in factual terms. Not good at building consensus, but good at providing clear instructions.

Best Buddy--"I feel your pain!" Best Buddies know how challenging it is for employees to help make a company successful. Like Mommies, best buddies are great at keeping employees feeling good about themselves and their jobs, but not good at getting people motivated to fast action.

Guru--The Guru is like a Professor "but with warmth and heart," Comaford says. "We are going to go down this path together and everything is going to be great. Let's go!"

While each of us has perhaps two or three of these personas we naturally fall into as managers (I tend to favor Anthropologist and Best Buddy) the most effective bosses use a combination of all six. For instance, she says, a tough macho boss who occasionally uses a little Mommy in his communications can be an extremely effective manager. "Or let's say there was a marketing campaign that tanked," Comaford says. "A lot of leaders would be ready to rip the marketing executive's head off. But if we become Anthropologists instead, we're curious as to why we didn't get the results we wanted. We can walk through it and try to brainstorm what failed."

In general, she says, the different boss personas work best when used in combination, for instance: You've always been a great employee [Mommy], but we've already had two conversations about your recent performance, and something has to change now! [Drill Sergeant]. I know how difficult your job is [Best Buddy]. Let me know what I can do to help you reach the results we need [back to Mommy].

"The positions we take as leaders are often pretty predictable," Comaford says. "If most managers use two or three personas, there are three or four they aren't making use of. If we can turn that around and start experimenting with different stances, we can get a different result. It makes it much easier to shift people's behaviors."


Text by Inc.

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