Managing those who’d rather manage themselves

For some, managing a personality type that is process-driven and strictly detail-oriented, like an engineer, is a dream. For others, it is frustratingly difficult. As the workplace becomes increasingly dependent on engineers — think software development or the Government’s national science and innovation agenda — managers must adapt to various engineer personalities to unlock their potential.

Inside the engineer

Though we all have a combination of personality traits, engineers tend to be curious, problem solvers who enjoy understanding how things work. Canadian research studying the personality test results of several engineering professionals found they most commonly shared a mix of “introversion, sensing, thinking and judging”. They also found engineers will stick to a task until reaching a solution, often going it alone. It’s when this focus becomes tunnel vision, when ideas become dogmatic, that managers may have to act in the best interests of their team.

The Know-it-all

The know-it-all is commonly found in engineers as they’re often high achievers in their chosen field. They like to be right and share their expertise, welcome or not — coming across as arrogant.

Handling the Know-it-all
The know-it-all is a technical asset you don’t want to lose, so it’s important to allow them some intellectual advantage. Most of the time, their ‘expert’ advice won’t impact the team negatively. When it does, let them be the ones to analyse how their behaviour is affecting the team both positively and negatively. A direct take-down in front of other employees is best avoided as it raises their defences. Try a private chat. Let them lead the discussion and eventually decide on the new behavioural approach. They’ll come out thinking it’s all their idea.

The Explosive

The ‘explosive’ engineer has little tolerance for opposing or intellectually-weak views. When provoked, they may use physical intimidation or manipulation to get their way.

Handling the Explosive
Resist calling out explosive behaviour every time it occurs. Allow the ‘explosive’ a few early blasts and consider what’s driving their behaviour. Approach them privately and firmly state the parameters of discussion early, resisting personal attacks. Work with them on a plan for change and growth. Play to the flip side of an explosive’s character by asking them for small pieces of advice. This massages their sense of self-importance and lessens the size of future blows. If the explosive won’t change, it’s best to move them on.

The Critic

The critic is the oversupply of an engineer’s critical thinking. This is a  quality that can help solve problems or if unchecked,  affect team morale. Critics tend to put others and their ideas down to assert their intellectual superiority. They may disguise their snipes as funny or even polite, but the effect is clearly negative on team morale.

Handling the Critic
Unlike the explosive, the critic should be called out early and in the open for their teasing. They must not be allowed to belittle other employees unabated. Sure, all teams need a devil’s advocate on occasion, but personal digs should be exposed for what they are. Use the group to agree that this behaviour is not on. With their cover blown, the critic will retreat. Bring them back into constructive discussion by again asking for their advice — like all engineers, they’ll enjoy giving their opinion.

Start positive engines

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