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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 1/22/2004

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


eN-040122:

Herding Cats: Management Challenges 5 
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]


This e-Newsletter is the sixth, and last (for now), in my continuing “Herding Cats” series (see also eN-031106 – Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Engineers, eN-031120 – Herding Cats: Management Challenges 1, eN-031204 – Herding Cats: Management Challenges 2, eN-031218 – Herding Cats: Management Challenges 3, and eN-040108 – Herding Cats: Management Challenges 4) that addresses some management challenges in the form of specific engineer personality types, and approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them.  To wrap things up, this e-Newsletter hits briefly on a number of different engineer personality types.  Clearly, every engineer is an individual, with characteristics that are unique.  The personality types that are described here are purposely more extreme than will normally be the case, and emphasize just one specific set of characteristics, whereas most people have a variety of personality characteristics.  Every situation is unique, and should be treated in a unique fashion.  Further, every manager has his or her own approach, and what I describe is just one person’s view, mine.

Quick Takes:
The Complainer/Whiner:
The Challenge:  Nothing goes well for the Complainer/Whiner.  He/she can find the cloud for every silver lining, and can find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  While somewhat similar to the Problem Child (see eN-031120), the Complainer/Whiner complains and whines to everyone about everything, and finds ulterior motives everywhere.  He/she can’t take a compliment.  No news is good news; only bad news.  This behavior brings everybody down, and sucks the life out of everything, including group morale.
The Management Approach:  Let the complainer/whiner know this poor attitude is not helpful and is upsetting to all around him/her.  Nobody wants to work with him/her, as it’s always a downer.  This person needs to adopt a more positive attitude, for his/her own benefit as well as for the group.  While you don’t expect this person to become an Eternal Optimist, there is little value in being the eternal pessimist.  He/she needs to shape up or ship out.

The Eternal Optimist:
The Challenge:  The Eternal Optimist is the opposite of the Complainer/Whiner.  For him/her, everything is good news.  This person is never down, and is often perky to the point of ridiculousness; for him/her, every cloud is made of silver.
The Management Approach:  This attitude is far better than that of the Complainer/Whiner, but he/she needs to recognize that others can find such continual perkiness disconcerting.  He/she shouldn’t change much, but should recognize that it’s OK to occasionally be frustrated and show it.  Still, do not do anything to discourage this person or dampen his/her positive outlook.

The Gossip:
The Challenge:  The Gossip is always on the lookout for the latest dirt on everyone and everything.  He/she is quick to learn what’s going on, and quick to spread what he/she learns, both positive and negative, but seems to take more delight in the negative.
The Management Approach:  Explain clearly to the Gossip that he/she is paid to do the job, and not to gather and spread gossip.  He/she must concentrate on the work and not on ferreting out gossip.  He/she must straighten out or move on.

The Cheshire Cat:  (Thanks to my friend Joann Miller for this one!)
The Challenge:  The Cheshire Cat smiles and nods to let you think you’ve got everything under control, while he/she may actually be doing things behind your back that are entirely contrary and undermining to that control.
The Management Approach:  Lay down the law with the Cheshire Cat.  It’s unacceptable for him/her to say one thing and do another, particularly when he/she has led people to believe what’s been said.  He/she must be consistent, honest, and above board, or no one will ever trust, or want to work with him/her.  Such unacceptable behavior must change immediately.

The Loner:
The Challenge:  The Loner likes to work alone and avoids working with others.  He/she wants assignments that don’t require interactions with others.  He/she is often competent and skilled, but unwilling to help or be helped by others.
The Management Approach:  Try to find assignments that are good for the Loner and for the group, but the Loner must recognize that he/she does not and cannot exist in a vacuum.  People depend on him/her, and he/she should learn to depend on others.  The success of the group is dependent upon a group effort.

The Credit Taker/Thief:
The Challenge: The Credit Taker/Thief steals others ideas or takes credit for them as his/her own, and will often diminish the contributions of others to build up his/her own.  He/she will often deride others in public and try to always put a positive spotlight on himself/herself.
The Management Approach:  Let the Credit Taker/Thief know that you are on to him/her, and that such behavior will not be tolerated.  Ask why he/she has been behaving in this way and what he/she intends to do about it.  Let him/her know that if this poor behavior does not change immediately, you will take disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.  

The A$$hole:
The Challenge:  The A$$hole may or may not have skills to perform the job, but regardless, he/she will make life miserable for everyone else.  The A$$hole will never miss a chance to show someone up or embarrass others in front of their peers or their boss.  When in meetings, the A$$hole will monopolize the discussion with comments that are off base, wrong, or unrelated.  He/she will never give others the benefit of the doubt, and will always point out others’ flaws and problems without regard to the situation.
The Management Approach:  Let the A$$hole know that his/her behavior is entirely unacceptable.  If this person can’t work well with others, then this may not be the place for him/her to work.  Let the A$$hole know that such behavior is seriously damaging the performance of the entire organization, and that it won’t be tolerated.  Let him/her know that you will be monitoring the situation, and that if this behavior doesn’t change significantly, this will affect his/her performance review, and possibly his/her employment.  (See also eN-030605 – Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!)


These are just a few more of many personality types that you will come across in engineering (and other) organizations.  The key is to recognize the various personality types as early as possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may bring.  You don’t want to destroy individuality or mold everyone into an automaton.   At the same time, you don’t want certain individual behaviors to destroy team morale.  You must walk a fine line, and find what works best for your organization using a style that fits you.

If you have more engineer personality types you’d like to bring to my attention, please let me know.  Manager (or rather Mis-Manager) personality types will get their turn in future e-Newsletters.


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