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According to Robert Benfari, our ability to manage effectively is based on a mix of characteristics that can be analyzed, understood and, most importantly, changed.
Charlie Ott liked knowing that he had acquired a reputation as one of the most benevolent yet productive department managers at Burch, O'Brien & Powell, a direct marketing and advertising firm where he had worked for more than eight years. Over time, most of his subordinates had tolerated his command-and-control style because he treated them well, protecting them from outside intrusions and what they all liked to think of as "meddling" by other departments. He had recently been promoted to a new position where he was put in charge of three big accounts, with two middle managers (responsible for a number of teams) and a secretary reporting directly to him. He was supposed to be more hands-off than he had been in the past but monitor the progress of a variety of projects and activities as the teams worked to complete them. Because BO&P had recently committed to a flat matrix structure for the organization, Charlie's authority was limited to budgeting, scheduling, and overall workflow; teams and their leaders were responsible for giving him progress reports and meeting with him periodically to keep him informed on how they were doing.
But Charlie was frustrated. He liked knowing specifically what was going on, liked getting involved and giving advice. He was not all that comfortable trusting his managers (one of whom had just joined BO&P) to make sure the projects went well. He felt anxious about things slipping through the cracks, although so far not too many problems had cropped up. Charlie heard from his boss that both team leaders and his direct reports were complaining about him going around them to get more information about what the teams were doing and even trying to change their plans midstream. But as crucial deadlines neared on several of the projects, Charlie told his boss, "Look, Dave, you know I always deliver. I pride myself on that. I like this new team approach, but I still think I need to be more involved. And I'm not always so sure that these teams-and even my managers-are as on top of things as they should be."
"I know, Charlie, I know," Dave answered. "You have always done a great job. But I promoted you into this new position not so you could keep tracking details but because I thought you could really watch the big picture and motivate and train these talented young managers. People are feeling undermined and morale is kind of shaky-and that's not good given that we're right on top of these deadlines. I want you to lay off, pay attention to budgets and schedules, and let these guys do their jobs. I've seen the progress reports; they're on track and they're really creative. So just relax, OK?" As he said this, Dave could see Charlie's face was full of doubt and frustration. He didn't seem to be listening. Had he made a mistake in promoting Charlie?
Is Charlie just in the wrong job? Is he failing as a manager? Should he be put into a more hands-on position? Or is there a chance that with the right guidance he could change his approach to his new position-and even to management? The answer is not simple. The scenario in which Charlie and Dave find themselves is common. A management style that may have been effective at one level or setting does not work as well when someone moves into a new position, where the demands and structure are different. The key question is not just about a mismatch between person and position but about a perennial debate regarding human nature. Does the root of such problems lie in personality, which may be unchangeable, or in other factors that might be more amenable to change? For managers, the answer is crucial. As we discussed in the Introduction, some aspects of management style are innate, while others are learned behavior. Innate qualities such as personality type are more fixed but not entirely resistant to change, while learned aspects, with the right kind of targeted effort, can be modified.
In the midst of their frustration and conflict, Charlie Ott and his boss do not have the objectivity to see clearly what parts of his behavior Charlie can reasonably change and what he cannot. Charlie especially seems to have lost the ability to stand back and assess his situation and understand what factors affect the way he operates, including his ability to change. He may try to tinker with his management style, but when he finds that his attempts to do better fail to produce the results he wants, he will feel even more frustrated and out of control. This leads to increased and prolonged stress, with its attendant unhealthy effects. Without a more conscious, structured approach to change, Charlie is in a no-win situation.
In this chapter, we examine a central aspect of working with management style: understanding which of the six factors can be changed and how such change can be accomplished. This is the first step in gaining the objectivity to avoid situations like Charlie Ott's. Use the Integrated Management Style Model to begin to develop a more conscious and flexible management style.
Our Assumptions About What We Can Change
Our current beliefs about what we can and cannot change in ourselves did not materialize on their own in the twentieth century. They are the product of a long series of debates about human nature and character throughout history that have ranged from the idea that all is determined from birth, to all can be modified with the right methods. Those who have defended the idea that nature is the great determining force in our lives have used everything from theology to animal research to support their position. An equally potent school of thought maintains that our actions and choices determine our fates. Science has shown that we can manipulate nature to some degree and that we are not entirely bound by natural constraints. Most of the self-help movement that is flourishing today is based on the assumption that we can use our free will to change our predicaments, from alcoholism to weight loss to self-empowerment to response to stress.
Yet thinkers have emphasized the importance of learning in behavior, the idea that we can modify our behavior with the right application of external reinforcement and punishment. That model (known as behaviorism) tends to minimize the importance of internal factors in learning thought and our ability to reinforce our actions and attitudes ourselves. For managers who want to be more aware of their management style and alter it to make themselves more effective, learning is the key. Understanding how to promote learning-and where and how it will be most effective-is the focus of the rest of this chapter.
What-or Who-Are the Agents of Change?
In a sense, all styles of behavior, including management styles, stem from a combination of personality, past experience, and attitude. Our reactions to problematic situations and individuals are based on the sort of people we are-whether we are extroverts or introverts, for example, or whether we meet conflict headon or shrink away from it. Some of us almost instinctively make the right moves, but most of us do not. Nevertheless, we can all learn how to alter aspects of our management style in order to become more effective in dealing with bosses, peers, and subordinates.
The question of how such change can take place still remains. Can a person, by his or her own insight and actions, change circumstances or is a prompt from the outside necessary to instigate the change? In his book What You Can Change and What You Can't, Martin Seligman describes two opposing views: those of the "booters" versus the "bootstrappers." The "booters" believe that change can only result when an external force or agent acts upon an individual. The psychotherapist, using the tricks of the trade, gently moves the client to insight and change. The behaviorist manipulates reinforcements and shapes the individual's actions. The "bootstrappers," in contrast, believe explicitly that the change agent is the self: we lift ourselves up by our bootstraps. Essential to the bootstrappers is the concept of the "maximal self," where we have ultimate control of our lives, versus the "minimal self," where we are controlled by our nature and fate and thus need external help to make changes.
As Seligman points out, self-improvement bootstrapper techniques do work. As we drive ourselves to change, we are more fulfilled. However, there are limits. The truth about change lies somewhere between the total plasticity of bootstrappers and the total passivity of booters. There are things that we can change and things that we cannot just as there are ways of coping with situations that help us to control ourselves. It is hard to disagree with Seligman's assertion that "much of successful living consists of learning to make the best of a bad situation."
Applying Seligman's approach to management style and organizational culture, the things we can't change include:
• Our boss or our subordinates if they do not want to
• The course of the national economy (unless you are head of the Federal Reserve Bank)
• The macro environment of our organization-not even CEOs can do that
• Our own deep-rooted dispositions (more on this in Chapter Two)
But we can change:
• The coping mechanisms we use to deal with uncertainty, to manage stress and difficult people, and to control our own negative thoughts
• Skills and behaviors such as decision making, planning, and problem solving that help us function more effectively
• Our level of optimism, which has to do with our convictions that we can change our lives for the better, including the ability to dispute negative thoughts about ourselves and others
• Five of the six building blocks of management style we discussed in the Introduction (needs, conflict and problem solving, use of power, personal values, and approach to handling stress)
The sixth building block-personality type-cannot be changed, but we can work with it to enhance our strengths and lessen the effects of our weaknesses.
Change and the Building Blocks of Management Style
The six factors that make up management style encompass a wide range of behaviors and propensities and profoundly affect all sorts of interactions. The six include:
• Psychological type (how we perceive and judge the world around us)
• Need patterns (what drives us and how we gain a sense of personal satisfaction and competence)
• Power bases (how we influence others)
• Style of handling conflict and solving problems
• Personal values and their effect on organizational behavior
• Methods of handling stress
These six elements have been known and studied for a long time, but too often separately from one another. In this book, the goal is integration of the elements: identifying and looking at our own configurations in order to understand and determine whether we might want to rearrange them to create a different management style. That is the reason we call the model the Integrated Management Style Model. Whether we can reconfigure depends upon the extent to which a given building block can be reshaped. We have to consider the factors that most affect the probability for successful change. Let's look at each of the six now in more depth and examine whether and how they can be changed.
Psychological Type: Innate Temperament and Preferences
The four main psychological types we will use here are drawn from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), a popular personality test that came into use after World War II and that is based on Carl Jung's psychological theories. The psychological types are useful in drawing a map of a person's temperament or attitudes but are not necessarily definitive; that is why they are only one element in assessing management style. Taking the MBTI and finding out your type is a highly useful way to begin thinking productively about management style because it helps you understand your preferences and innate tendencies.
There are four aspects of psychological types:
1. Extroversion versus introversion. This dimension indicates how we use our psychic energy. Extroverted people are oriented to the objective, outer world and to people, things, events, and institutions. Introverted people are oriented away from the outer world toward a subjective, internal awareness.
2. Sensing versus intuition. This dimension indicates how we perceive the world around us and our environment. Sensing people focus on details, facts, and data derived from the five senses. Intuitive people focus on possibilities and the big picture, go beyond the facts, and use their "sixth sense."
3. Thinking versus feeling. This aspect describes how we judge situations. Thinking types use impersonal, logical, and analytical approaches to judge situations. Feeling types base their judgments on individual value systems and focus on the personal impact of their judgments on others and on themselves.
4. Perception versus judgment. This aspect indicates whether we use sensing versus intuition (the perceptive function) or thinking versus feeling (the judgment function) to deal with the outside world.
Psychological type is more nature than nurture. Parents often observe that their children seem to be born with distinctive temperaments that do not change much over their lives, and recent research indicates that patterns of shyness and assertiveness emerge at an early age. Similarly, the research on the sensing versus intuitive function reveals underlying physiological differences between them. For example, brain scans of the intuitives show more interaction between the hemispheres, while scans of sensing types demonstrate fewer such crossovers.
Once we realize that psychological type is innate and strongly established early on in life, it is clear that changing behavior that stems from it must be approached with an appreciation for what can and cannot be modified. Whether you are trying to change some aspect of type in yourself or in someone you manage, that attempt could be stressful. It is more realistic and effective to avoid attempts at major, long-term change and to focus instead on encouraging adjustments that are designed to respond to particular situations. For example, if you are an introvert who is uncomfortable in public speaking roles, you can take a course in public speaking and improve those skills. If you are an intuitive, you can learn to deal with details and time management in a specific job setting. Neither one will change your underlying natural stance; you may adapt and bend for short periods of time or in specific situations, but your fundamental nature will stay the same.
Excerpted from UNDERSTANDING AND CHANGING YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE by Robert C. Benfari Copyright © 1999 by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted August 5, 2002
I began 'Understanding and Changing Your Management Style' expecting just another book on management theory. While Benfari definitely is well versed in management theory, he's packed this book full of dozens of practical tools, advice, and descriptive case 'studies.' <p>After reading 'Understanding and Changing Your Management Style,' I've come to see that books on management are often like the three blind men trying to describe the elephant-they each describe focus on one aspect of the whole. Benfari attempts to take in the whole picture and help the reader understand all the aspects of managing. Quite a daunting task! <p>In the introduction, Benfari says, 'The most fruitful way of working through the book is to take the assessment in the appendixes before you start your journey' (p. xii). I was already familiar with the Myers-Briggs profile but much less familiar with the influence inventory, and the assessments of needs, conflict resolution style, problem solving style, values, and stress. I spent so much time assessing; I almost gave up on the book without even reading the first chapter! <p>I'm glad I gave the book a chance. This book is Benfari's explanation of his 'integrated management style.' In his words, 'Changing your management style is possible once you understand what can be changed (and what cannot) and are willing to do the work to shift your assumptions, perceptions, and behavior' (p. xi). We can't change our basic wiring-personality-but we can change most everything else. Benfari even offers techniques on influencing and temporarily flexing our personality tendencies. <p>At times, I found 'Understanding and Changing Your Management Style' to be somewhat redundant. I think this stems from trying to describe the elephant from eight different angles. No matter how many ways you look at it, the elephant is still an elephant. Much of what Benfari writes about already appears in many management theory and pop psychology books. The value of this book is precisely in the 'multiple views' packaging Benfari gives the material. <p>'Understanding and Changing Your Management Style' is more of a workbook than a textbook. Don't just read this book. Have a pen handy and be ready to flip back-and-forth between the section you're reading and the appendices in the back. The last chapter was a bit of a let down for me. Rather than 'developing an action plan,' it amounted to little more than re-recording the results of the assessments. <p>Nevertheless, if you're interested in developing yourself and your management skills, 'Understanding and Changing Your Management Style' may be a useful book to have in your library.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.