Sometimes you choose a management style and sometimes it chooses you. In this edition of the Tough Things First Podcast, Ray Zinn explains the difference in extremes and how to be the best manager you can be.
Rob Artigo: Rob Artigo here once again, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m a writer and investigator in California. Being invited back is always a pleasure Ray.
Ray Zinn: Well, always good to have you on the program, Rob. Thank you for joining us.
Rob Artigo: Ray, I have a copy here of a column that you recently wrote and it’s Alpha Beta Blended Leadership. It’s a really good article. I suggest people go out there and track it down. Ray, you know, it’s about the difference between leadership styles.
Rob Artigo: It made me think about in the military we used to say hey, this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship. Just go do what I said, you know. We’re not taking a vote on this. Now there are two different styles there, and your article, it really says that they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s part dictatorship and it’s part democracy.
Ray Zinn: Right. You know it’s interesting that we get labeled, so this concept of this Class A personality or Class B or Super A or whatever, those are labels, and people tend to put these labels on us. So if you are in a leadership capacity in a company you’re probably going to get labeled as a Class A personality generally speaking, or a Super A or whatever, and that’s what we refer to as the alpha personality person who has to always have their way.
In leadership you tend to get saddled with that, because what happens is is that leader or the CEO, vice-president, whatever, they’re the ones making all the decisions, and if you don’t agree… As a subordinate you don’t agree with that decision, you tend to think of that person as being an alpha, or being a Super A personality, in other words always have my way or the highway kind of thing.
Then there’s the other type person, you know, the blue or the beta personality, what they call the benevolent dictator. In other words, they’re in the leadership position, but they’re benevolent. They’re not in your face. They make you feel like you’re part of the decision as opposed to being not part of the decision. They say, you know, you’re either an alpha personality, or you’re a beta, or you’re a red or a blue or whatever, and those are labels, because that’s what we get stuck with.
Now the challenge for us, or for you as a leader, is to not get labeled, but to put on the right face at the right time for whatever decision or whatever responsibility you have such that you’re not looked at as a Super A personality or an alpha male type, alpha character, or a beta. That means you can’t make a… So sometimes the blue, or the beta, is just oh, he can’t make a decision or she can’t make a decision because, you know, they’re afraid or they’re just… They just always want to be democratic.
Neither are great. They have their good points, but to be able to smooth… To be able to blend the two together is the key, so you want to appear decisive and you also want to appear caring or willing to listen. So try to avoid getting labeled.
Rob Artigo: Well the dictatorship approach, the hardcore leader who people have a sense of fear around because they can’t make decisions or the leader will snap at them, or they can’t… I’ve seen this in the Silicon Valley world, where employees will start to take on… It will be a paralysis in the culture of the company if the people don’t feel that they have any room to air or to make any decisions because they’re petrified of what the dictator type personality leader might impose on them.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. Yeah. The Class A or the alpha personality is a problem and we see a lot in management because they love the power. So if you have to walk around with your badge on, if you have to show your power, then that reflects on you as a leader as one who is not caring, who is not understanding, and who is not a good delegator, who won’t let people manage their responsibilities, so avoid either one.
Avoid being either a Super A, red type personality, and also avoid just being this well, you know, whatever, you know, and this kind of a rolled oats kind of approach to leadership, where there’s no example of leadership or taking the responsibility. Because when you’re just doing that as a beta personality, real easygoing and trying to keep everybody happy, of course then you’re going to lose control, because they won’t look at you then as being the authority or the one who’s got the responsibility for that particular project or area of the company.
So again, be a blend. Try to show leadership by taking responsibility, but at the same time be willing to listen and let them feel part of the decision as opposed to you being the decision maker.
Rob Artigo: Among the young entrepreneurs out there, the startup crowd that you are exposed to so frequently, what approach do you see most often when you see people favoring one side or the other too much? Which one is the one that’s most likely to be the… Is it going to be more of a democracy or more of a dictator type of approach?
Ray Zinn: I have seen both. I mean, you know, having run Micrel for 37 years, I’ve seen managers on both sides. I’ve seen equally… I see just as many Super As as I do Super Bs, or a you would. So it just depends upon the personality of the individual, what they feel most comfortable taking on.
The successful one, the most successful leaders that I’ve had working for me have been the ones that were able to blend that Class A with that Class B or the alpha and the beta, blend those together so that they’re saying I can’t tell one or the other, and that’s best kind, because then you look like one manager that they would love to work for.
My experience is and statistics show that 70 or 80% of the reasons that employees leave companies is because of their supervisor, not because of the company or because of some other issue, financial or whatever. It’s mainly because they didn’t like their boss. And when you look into it, the reason they didn’t like their boss, they say, “Aw, he can’t make a decision. He won’t take charge. He won’t lead.”
Or they’ll say, “I can’t stand the guy. He thinks he knows it all. He’s got his chest all puffed up. He walks around like he’s got a badge and he just wants to be the boss, and I want to be part of that operation where my boss doesn’t act like some supreme leader.”
Rob Artigo: You mentioned the badge and I thought of people talking about that sort of cop attitude thing. When I was in the Army and I first made Sergeant E5, I went through a period of a little bit of a battle with the power trip angle, and I had to learn, and I did pretty quickly I hope, that it wasn’t a good approach to take on, like you said, the puffed out chest, the sort of you have to do exactly what I say, and now I’m big in charge.
I had to learn how to be a leader by at first failing, and I think you can take that approach. You can either be too easygoing and the anything goes democracy side, or you can be the suddenly power tripped dictator. When you find out the extreme solely sticking to one approach fails, then you’ve got to make adjustments, and that’s where you’ve learned that you have a balance, that you have to go there.
You have to be fair, but the people have to know that when a decision is made that ultimately that is up to you. They know that you’re going to follow through, you’re going to be the guy that makes the decision or woman who makes the decision. To me it’s a learning experience, and that’s what I’m hearing from you.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, the story comes to mind is what General George Patton in the Second World War, when he was visiting the hospital and he saw this individual who was… This soldier who was badly damaged, badly injured, and he showed great compassion. He showed great love and great compassion for that soldier, but then as he walked down and started visiting some others he came across one that had some psychological problems, that was not injured at all. I mean he was just afraid and didn’t want to go into battle and he was just… Psychologically he was all messed up, as you would, and George Patton really let him have it. I mean he just slapped him and lambasted him for his cowardliness. He called him a coward.
So, of course that didn’t look good for Patton. He got ridiculed for that, but that shows the difference between the Class A and the Class B. In the case with the badly wounded soldier he showed a lot of compassion, like a beta personality, but then when he got to that individual who was goofing off and was acting more like a coward of course he took charge. He lambasted him and he cuffed him good. I think he slapped him.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, he slapped him right upside his face there, and like you said, the media got ahold of that and they really ripped Patton for brutalizing a kid with shell shock or something.
Ray Zinn: I think Patton acted correctly. I think he showed the two different personalities we’re referring to. He showed that compassionate leader with that injured soldier and then he showed that Class A personality, that more of the take charge, when he let that individual know that being a coward was not part of what the Army is all about.
Rob Artigo: You wrote all about that in Alpha Beta Blended Leadership, your article. So if the people out there listening right now want to Google Alpha Beta Blended Leadership and Ray Zinn they’ll be able to track down that article if you want to learn more about this balancing of these two different types of personalities and leadership styles.
Thanks again Ray. The listeners can join the conversation at toughthingsfirst.com. They can take your questions… Ray will take your questions there and try to get back to you. Follow Ray Zinn on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and of course get the text of Ray’s book, Tough Things First, and of course the Zen of Zinn. Thanks Ray.
Ray Zinn: Rob, it’s always good to have you on the program.