Guest post from Merrick Rosenberg:
At extreme levels, our most admirable personality traits undermine us. Charles Dickens said it best in his novel Dombey and Son:
“…vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!”
To understand the vice, and address it, we must examine the virtue first.In your work environment, you manage four main personality types. No one style is superior or inferior – they all complement each other. Indeed, effective leaders learn to employ and mirror each style, like a chameleon. I’ll introduce you to the virtues and vices of each style, and then I’ll explain how to counter the extremes.
Eagle: Dominant to Domineering
Eagles are impossible not to spot. Direct, confident, and results-driven, they soar into the situation with an appetite for action. In crises, you want an Eagle on your side.
When Eagles take their virtues to extremes though, they become what I call The Commander. Their natural leadership ability morphs into bossiness and aggression. Their frankness can devolve into callous insensitivity. They degrade and even frighten their coworkers in the insatiable pursuit of results.
When Commanders emerge, understand their inner need for achievement and respect. They must do what they perceive to be great things in order to validate themselves. Counterintuitive as it may seem, giving the Eagles that desired recognition can tame their vice.
Parrot: Passionate to Promotional
Parrots are the social birds who rally the team. Enthusiastic, outgoing, and optimistic, they have a knack for engaging people. Parrots can talk your head off and keep you enthralled.
When Parrots go overboard, they become The Promoter, a self-involved chatterbox. Their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills lose sight of any objective. In their clamoring for attention, they distract themselves and their coworkers. Meetings become pontification sessions, as Promoters love the sound of their own voices.
Parrots need to feel liked, and a little positive feedback can quench their desire for appreciation. Something as simple as, “Hey, I really need your opinion on ____,” can guide Promoters back into productive conversation.
Dove: Conciliator to Martyr
Doves help their coworkers feel supported. Harmonious, helpful, and compassionate almost to a fault, they genuinely want others to be happy.
But when Doves go too far, they become The Martyr, their passive-aggressive twin. Because Martyrs must solve everyone else’s problems, they become overwhelmed. They suffer quietly rather than voice their frustration. If no one recognizes their sacrifices, they’ll dish out contempt instead of empathy.
The Dove finds self-worth in service to others – a virtue, no doubt. But if others fail to acknowledge that service, here comes The Martyr. Commend Doves for the specific things they thought no one would notice. It’s the little things, not the massive achievements, that Doves want recognition for.
Owl: Analytical to Unpleasable
Logical, detail-oriented, and accurate, Owls sweat the small things, and we love them for it. They charge headlong into data analysis, strategy, and planning with an obsession for getting it right. Let’s just say that Owls tend to make better accountants than Parrots.
But in excess, the Owl becomes The Critic. Such Owls become hyper-skeptical of people and new ideas. They overwhelmingly find faults instead of solutions. Nothing will work and no one is to be trusted in a Critic’s opinion.
Know that Owls are perfectionists. Work is integral to their identity, so they take shortcomings very personally. Change the dialogue to bring the Owl back. Questions like, “How would you improve this?” and “How you would add to this?” help the Owl become a builder instead of a bulldozer.
Energy Vampires: Personality #5
Many people lose passion for their work. They go through the motions, count down the minutes, and leave the office as soon as they can. Eagles, Parrots, Doves, and Owls can all become The Energy Vampire, the disgruntled person who sucks the spirit out of coworkers.
Rather than firing Energy Vampires outright, or telling them that negativity isn’t tolerated, identify the root of this disengagement. If you don’t address the cause, it will create more Energy Vampires.
Remember, you didn’t hire a dead battery. You might find that a new project, a change in teams, or more self-direction recharges the person in question.
You cannot tolerate difficult personalities without bringing down the person, the team, and, eventually, the whole organization. When you enable and tacitly condone toxic personalities, you lose credibility with the people hurt by them. Without credibility, you can’t lead.
Rather than fight the symptoms, fight the disease. What stressor, situation, or dynamic fuels the negative behavior? What virtue, in excess, has a become a vice?
The good in people doesn’t vanish into thin air. Usually, it hides behind a cloud of unmet needs. Stay calm, find the need, and pull the virtue back down to Earth.