Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 1/22/2004
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Herding Cats: Management Challenges 5
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [email@example.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.
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
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 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.
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 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.
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.
(Thanks to my friend Joann Miller for this one!)
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.
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 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 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
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 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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