Last Updated Jun 19, 2011 11:27 PM EDT
A common mistake by managers is to forget one of the key rules of life: We like those best who are like ourselves.
While the well-known saying that opposites attract may be true in the realm of physics it does not hold in human relations. Studies have shown that marriages last if the partners have similar personalities while it is personality differences that led to more friction and conflict in daily life. This is a red flag for high performance managers: instead of selecting the best person for a job, they choose someone who has a similar personality to themselves.
I particularly remember the first day I learnt about the Humm emotional intelligence technique. The workshop leader described how they had conducted psychological profiles on the ten members of the executive management team of what was at that time Australia's leading property developer. He went to see the Managing Director, who was had the typical CEO Type A profile: energetic, enthusiastic and competitive. The MD started the meeting by saying that he was sure the tests demonstrated that his company had one of the best management teams in Australia. The reply was negative because all the executive team were personality clones of the CEO and in an industry notoriously cyclical like building, it was critical that one or two members of the team were focused not on achieving optimistic returns via deals but were pessimistic and conscious of risk. None of the executive team was risk-adverse and so the company was particularly vulnerable. The Managing Director, ever optimistic and decisive, dismissed the report as psychobabble. The company overextended itself and within 12 months had gone into administration. At the time, it was Australia's biggest corporate failure.
This was a lesson I never forgot and as I moved up the management ladder, I always tried to ensure that I had reporting to me as a number two someone who would compensate for my weaker personality components. In particular, I have a high tolerance for risk; many people regard my quick decisiveness as impetuosity. I remember one organisation where as a recently appointed General Manager I first had to downsize the organisation by 20%. Everyone was sure that the Administration manager, Bruce, who was a pessimistic, compulsive double-checker would be the first to go as we were such opposite types. However the reverse was true, he probably was the most secure person in the company. I knew he was good complement to me.
Indeed we developed a great management modus operandi. Our offices were adjoining and it was possible by putting a glass to the wall to hear telephone conversations going on next door. What I would do when I came up with what I thought was a brilliant new idea I would first go into Bruce's office and present my new initiative. Bruce would listen in silence and make little comment. I would thank him for his time and then rush around to my office and get the glass out. I would then listen as he would ring up various colleagues saying you cannot believe what the idiot next door is thinking of doing next. He would then point out at least three flaws with the new suggestion. He was generally right. So the next day I would go back into his office and say that I had been thinking about my idea and on reflection I could see several flaws. I would then rephrase the objections he had made the previous day and say I did not think we should pursue the matter. In four years our volumes doubled, revenues quadrupled and profits increased ten-fold. When I left Bruce's parting words were, "I have worked for nearly forty years but never had a partnership like I have had with you for the last four. We have been a great team haven't we?" I could only agree.