Many leaders are by nature ‘Type A’ personalities. You know them. Passionate, driven, competitive and outgoing. They likely got to where they are because of some of these traits, and their ability to continue to lead has a lot to do with their continuing use these traits. Many of the best leaders today, and in the past, were die-hard Type A personalities, such as Steve Jobs, Dwight Eisenhower, and General Norman Schwarzkopf.
Now this isn’t to say effective leaders can’t also be a ‘Type B’ personality. I have worked with several leaders over the years who exhibited the more laid-back, personable style of a Type B. They’ve been tremendously effective in their careers, and their teams can be extremely loyal. In fact, some very famous leaders in history were Type B’s — for example, Winston Churchill and Harry Truman.
Whether you consider yourself an ‘A’ or a ‘B’, the reality is that to be effective as a leader, you need to be a combination of the two. Without a smart blend of motivation, drive and competitive edge, you’ll likely struggle to hold your team and organization accountable. But if you lack the ability to be relaxed at the appropriate time, to be a relationship builder, and to know when to back off, you will undoubtedly struggle to maintain a strong and cohesive team.
Not known to many is how these ‘types’ came to be. The actual ‘Type A’ personality was originally a designation identifying those people who had a higher risk of coronary heart disease. In the 1950s, two cardiologists, Dr. Meyer Friedman and Dr. Ray Rosenman, began an 8-year study of healthy men (yes, just men — it was the 1950s!) between the ages of 35 and 59, theorizing that men with a personality that was more impatient, and even chronically angry, had a higher chance of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). Having noticed that the chairs in their office were unusually worn on the front edge of the seat instead of in the middle or back, Drs. Friedman and Rosenman postulated that this was because the typical patient was more ‘on edge’ (pardon the play on words) and anxious and tended to sit forward in their seat, ready to spring at a moment’s notice.
During the study, they asked subjects who were more prone to be more driven and always feeling pressed for time, to do things that were against their nature. For example, they asked them to leave their watches at home, choose longer lines at checkout, and spend more time talking with people. Although it was infuriating to the Type A personality, it quickly helped researchers make a connection between the personality type and the ultimate diagnosis of CAD in these individuals, and labeled them as ‘Type A’, a name that sticks with us today.
And so, while leaders who are more focused and competitive tend to deliver results, they also have a greater risk of harming the organization in the long-term, both through health risks and added stress on employees. In fact, Friedman was quoted as saying that “Type A personalities who succeed do so in spite of their impatience and hostility.” Ouch!
But what of the ‘Type B’? Is their personality (and reduced likelihood of health problems) a good thing, and can it make a more effective leader? With all of the baggage that comes with being labeled a Type A, there is as much baggage, if not more, for those who are Type B — especially in the business world.
Although type B leaders tend to enjoy a slower pace, they also tend to avoid the mental and physical stress that their counter Type A feels; as a result, they don’t necessarily view competition as something to be won, but are happy with the competition itself. But in the world of dollars and cents, winning is everything, and losing is failure, so being Type B must be a liability, right?
Not so fast.
Think back to the origination of this personality designation. Remember, the study was conducted to find out the correlation between a person’s ‘traits’ and their health. Ultimately, it found that those who designated as Type A were more than twice as likely to develop CAD. But further study found that it was one specific trait of the Type A that seemed to impact this more than any other: hostility. And so, while being a Type A is good for business, certain traits can have a negative impact, not only on your health, but the health of the organization as well.
I once worked for a Type A. He was everything that you could imagine: focused, competitive, anxious for resolution to issues, and time-pressured. He worked long hours, often well into the night, and wore that as a badge of honor, making sure others knew how hard he worked.
But there was one trait that stood out above the others. He had a short fuse, and you really weren’t sure when it was going to go off. His seemingly unpredictable manner caused others to walk softly; even when you didn’t think you were involved, he might blow up on you, simply because you were nearby. To say the least, the culture was unpleasant. He was hostile, and the workplace was a mess.
What does this all mean to you as a leader? Is one way better than the other when it comes to navigating the constantly evolving healthcare landscape?
In part 2 of this series, we’ll talk about how Type A personalities can leverage their unique qualities to become more effective leaders, as well as what they can learn from their Type B colleagues.