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Type A: Good News, Bad News

If you believe that you can get more done and do it better than anyone else then you might just be a Type A. If you feel like you can run circles around everyone because they are slow as molasses then you might just be a Type A. If you are most comfortable when you have total control of people, places and situations then you might just be a Type A.

And if you are rewarded for your great results but mostly disliked then you probably are a Type A.

And good luck to you folks who have to manage a Type A.

I won’t bore you by repeating all the latest research on Type A’s (highly productive but a ticking time bomb interpersonally and health-wise) so let’s cut to the chase. In the real world most organizations still hire, value and reward these folks. Look at any executive team and you will find 60-75% of the members are hyper-driven. And they have the good stock prices to show for their efforts. That’s the good news.

But here’s the bad news: these Type A’s drive people crazy…including customers. Crazy to the point of running in the other direction. They tend to be controlling, demanding, aggressive, egocentric and completely insensitive to the people around them. By insensitive I mean that they don’t care how their actions effect others. They are the anti-collaborators and team builders. They are focused on results and get there through command and control and sheer force of will.

The dilemma for the CEO or other leaders is “do I keep this highly productive person in spite of the cultural and people damage in his/her wake”? Before you even say it let me stop you. Of course the party line these days is to focus as much (if not more) on the how of achieving goals but in the end the what is accomplished still wins out. Shareholder value and all… So let’s be clear, Type A’s are here to stay and we need to figure out how best to manage the situation. (As an aside, I have consulted with countless CEOs about this very situation and I can report that approximately 1 out of 8 times an especially obnoxious driver is let go. And some of those had to do with potential hostile workplace complaints. In other words, it had to get really really bad before taking action.)

If you work with or are the boss of a Type A here are some things to keep in mind.

  • They run at much higher RPMs than most and they really like getting a lot of stuff done. Anything or anyone that stands in the way is an obstacle that needs to be mowed down. Don’t take it personally…you are just preventing them from achieving their goals.
  • Their self esteem and self worth is built on achievements. The more they can rack up the better they feel about themselves. And they will compare their pile of chits against yours. They are competitive with themselves and others.
  • It’s not that they don’t care about other people it’s just not on the list of top priorities. They will demonstrate concern for others after the milestone and more likely in private.
  • Yes, they use I more than We and that is annoying. But understand that in the context of their mindset. They see themselves as responsible for all outcomes and they strive to always have good outcomes. It’s not that they don’t know others had something to do with the success. It’s that they don’t comprehend how success would have occurred if they hadn’t been front and center all along.

All that said, you still need to manage them and your interactions with them. You really don’t want them creating damage.

  • If you are the boss you need to have regular and consistent conversations that bring the Type A into alignment. You can’t send a double message of “you are doing great things but you are a bit of a cowboy.” Clearly define the parameters within which s/he must operate and reign him back in each time he violates this. He will push back hard (“don’t you want me to be entrepreneurial?”, “you’ll kill the business unless I do this” etc.). You have to have strong, clear and consistent messages.
  • If the Type A is routinely disrupting the team efforts or meetings by being a bulldozer, you as the leader must intervene firmly. The damage that gets done to a team when this aggression is unchecked is profound. People will leave the department or the organization. So unless you are willing to have one person left standing, you need to control the conversations and make certain the collaboration is effective. Don’t leave it up to peers to manage this person.
  • As a boss or colleague you have probably delivered feedback to this person. “Are you aware of the effect you have on me/others when you do such and such?” Even if that conversation goes well there is no change in the behavior. So if you are a peer, tell the boss and HR how harmful this person is to you. If you are troubled enough that you are thinking about leaving, raise that. Do this so that the boss can have a different feedback discussion with the Type A. “We’ve talked endlessly about your aggressive behaviors and I have not seen any change. I have a file of complaints about the damage you are doing to others and I won’t stand for it. You have a choice. Either get some help to learn better habits for working in this environment or understand that your future here is limited.” For a Type A they are more concerned about what will happen to them than what is happening to you. They usually push a boss to the wall and the boss has to eventually weigh the pros and cons of keeping this person. Once the boss sees more liability than value the next conversations are very easy.
  • If you are a peer make it clear that you cannot be pushed around. Don’t enter a control battle, just make it clear that you cannot be bullied. “I get that is what you want me to do but that is not what is going to happen. My priorities are X.” Be direct, be clear, be goal focused. Don’t personalize it on either side. S/he will go away and try to find a more willing victim.

For you Type A’s out there…be careful. Even if you enjoy great up side to your enormous drive there are some dramatic down sides. There are health concerns that are troubling. There are relationship issues at home and at work that will create isolation. (No one likes being bossed around and not heard as a steady diet.) And there are real career bumps in the road. Your aggression will be tolerated up to a point but when you put enough key players or customers or business ventures at risk you will be out the door. Yes, you may land some place new but the pattern will repeat. And then you will be damaged goods and no one will get near you. But if you can manage to develop some decent interpersonal skills and continue to drive for results then you are golden.

I only hope you get this message before it is too late for you…professionally or personally.

And for you bosses of Type A’s draw a line in the sand. You hired this person because s/he can bring in the results so give some leeway for her way of doing things. But do not allow her to get away with crazy shit…just because she delivers.

And for you peers of Type A’s accept that you will always encounter these folks. So find a comfortable way to see the value they bring without being stepped on.

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