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Analysis of “The Incredible Craig”

Craig displayed Analytical tendencies. Mr. Stamos thought he was a good analyst who understood the program, and he thought he would be an asset to Tony’s team. Having Craig, someone Mr. Stamos knew, on his vendor’s team gave Mr. Stamos an advantage. But the qualities that made Craig a good analyst did not help him become a successful leader. Craig was a man of few words. Although Analytical types are generally inquisitive, Craig did not feel comfortable enough to ask Jack questions about the details of their deployment methodology that he did not understand, resulting in his providing the client with inaccurate information. Craig was more concerned about his own desire to have cable television than about being respectful of his client’s and team members’ time. Craig took his time to produce the deployment plan deliverable. He preferred to work on tasks alone and not ask for help. He was not concerned about the client’s need to review the document before the conference call. He did not make the link between providing the document on time and his personal credibility. All of these behaviors are indicative of the Analytical social style. However, the lie Craig told about having a degree has nothing to do with social style. This behavior was unethical. It demonstrated a flaw in Craig’s values and signified that he could not be trusted.

Tony demonstrated Driver tendencies. He was good at “telling” and did not mind presenting information to clients. He had no problem “chewing out” Craig when he felt his behavior did not meet standards. He was not concerned about how Craig felt about his position or the tasks he was assigned. He was not concerned about why Craig felt tired and decided to go home. Tony was only concerned about outcomes. He reacted quickly when there were client issues. He took direct action to correct the deployment plan deliverable in order to meet the client’s deadline.

Neither Craig nor Tony displayed what Merrill and Reid refer to as versatility. Versatile people learn to control behavioral preferences when they create nonproductive tension in another person. Versatile people know how to communicate their words and intentions in a way that creates and maintains valuable interpersonal relationships. Versatile people interact with others in a way that makes them feel better about themselves. Others give versatile people endorsement, meaning people approve of their behavior and remain comfortable and non-defensive during encounters with them. No matter your social style, versatility is a skill that you can learn (Merrill and Reid, 1981).

Tony did not recognize Craig’s Analytical style. He did not understand that his expectations for Craig’s behavior were contrary to Craig’s style. He wanted Craig to be more like him. Since he was not aware either of his own style or of Craig’s style, he could not be versatile. He was unable to mentor Craig and help him learn to be versatile. While it is important to hold team members accountable, it is also necessary both to recognize where their style may cause them to be nonproductive and then to help them find ways to be effective in their roles using the strengths of their styles. Perhaps Tony could have facilitated collaboration between Jack and Craig in order to help Craig feel more comfortable about his relationship with Jack. Perhaps Tony could have involved Jack and Craig in team-building activities to help them understand each other. Perhaps he could have coached Craig to open up, helping him to understand that his inclination to work alone was not beneficial to the success of the team.

Versatile people monitor their behavior and adjust their actions to reduce tension in others, so that their actions do not interfere with their relationships with others. They share their feelings and thoughts about the messages they receive from others while also monitoring their own messages. They make an effort to understand what others are interested in and how they feel about situations. They seek to find common ground, asking good questions and providing good feedback (Merrill and Reid, 1981).

Craig did not engage in any of these versatile behaviors. As an Analytical person, he would have needed to exert some effort to gather the information he needed about the expectations for his leadership position. He would have had to operate outside of his comfort zone in order to collaborate with Tony and Jack to accomplish his assigned tasks. He would have had to demonstrate concern for how Tony and Jack felt about his performance, and he would have had to be willing to adapt his style in order to meet their expectations for his position.

The class I took on social styles included an exercise in which I had to identify my social style and deliver a presentation to the class on why I felt I identified with the style. “I am Analytical,” I said. “I love to work alone. One of my favorite activities is to go into work on a Saturday when no one is there and write code all day. I can spend 12 hours writing code, and the time seems to go by extremely fast. I would much rather interface with a computer than to interact with someone else.” The other people in the class with an IT background, who were also analytical, could relate. They saw me as dedicated and hardworking. The others could not understand how I could value a relationship with a computer over relationships with people. I had credibility with some of the class, but not with others, and that was fine with me. I was not concerned about what others thought of me. I was concerned about my own thoughts and actions, not about how my behavior might influence others.

In order to be successful in that business program, we all had to collaborate, working in small teams to complete class projects. We had to team up with people who were very different from us, who saw things from different perspectives.

Over time, I learned to appreciate the perspectives of others. I learned how our differences made us a stronger team. For example, I learned that if a team consists of members who are all Analytical types, the final result would most likely be an analytical one. When all four social styles are represented on a team, the team is in a position to analyze an opportunity or issue from various perspectives, providing a more complete result than if all of the team members had the same social style. Learning to appreciate—or at least tolerate—team members with a style that was not like mine took effort, but it turned out to be an investment with a high return. I learned to be versatile, and I learned that versatility leads to credibility.

Years after receiving this education in social styles, I was a program manager for a team deploying a large-scale hardware and software solution. One of the lead engineers on the team was very expressive. A conversation with him could be like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at Disney World: a strange, wild ride where you find yourself unsure of the direction you’re going and how it will end. The other engineers on the team found his style annoying, but I went out of my way to keep him talking because he was very bright and had ideas that helped us solve customer problems. Many evenings, I’d be at my desk catching up on email or working on a deliverable, and he would call me. I’d close my door, put him on speaker, and continue to work. The conversations proceeded something like this: “Uh huh,” I’d say, “Uh huh. Oh really? Oh, okay. Uh huh. Uh huh.” But then a gold nugget would appear. He would say something really important, and I’d say, “Wait—what was that?” Then I would stop multitasking and ask questions, focusing intently on the issue or opportunity he mentioned, digging deep to mine the vein of gold. Sometimes the conversation resulted in a new contract with a customer, other times it resulted in a more efficient way to perform deployments. If I had found this engineer annoying and avoided him, the way other Analytical team members did, the project, the company, and the customer would not have experienced the full value of this bright engineer, and we would have missed out on important opportunities.

It is easy to identify a person’s physical characteristics—whether he or she is short or tall, heavyset or thin, younger or older. A person’s physical traits may be advantageous or disadvantageous depending on the situation. Groups such as sports teams and singing groups that have physical objectives take advantage of the physical characteristics of their members to accomplish their goals. In basketball, for example, a shorter person may not be able to dunk but can use his or her shooting, dribbling, and passing ability to contribute to the team. A taller team member may not be able to handle the basketball well but could be an accurate shooter when close to the basket. In a men’s quartet, members have different voices: bass, baritone, first tenor, and second tenor. Individually, each may sing beautifully. Together, they can sing in harmony, producing a sound unique to their four blended voices, a sound that could make even the angels envious.

IT leaders need to recognize the mental characteristics and talents of their team members and stakeholders. If they understand who is amiable, who is analytical, who is a driver, and who is expressive, they can better assign team members to tasks that are compatible with their styles. IT leaders know when a task requires the team members to function outside of their comfort zones, and when they recognize this situation, they know to provide encouragement to help the team members feel comfortable and safe when performing their tasks. They know when the customer’s style may be considered annoying or irksome to a team member, and they can then help the team member to learn to tolerate this difference in style, making the customer feel comfortable interacting with the team member, a comfortable feeling that leads to clearer and more complete requirements than might be obtained otherwise. As with different positions on a sports team, or different voices in a singing group, individuals with different social styles can accomplish more together than any of them could accomplish by themselves.

Next, let’s explore Merrill and Reid’s four-step process for improving your versatility, a process that can help you mindfully improve your personal credibility and IT leadership competence.

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