“Someone gets it!”
You know that feeling you get when you’re listening to a talk and the subject matter resonates so strongly that you want to stand up and yell, “Yes! Exactly!”?
Or when you read an article that seems as if it was written about you – for you, and you find yourself nodding vigorously (perhaps while others looked on in confusion)?
That was me at Starbucks last week, as I skimmed a Huffington Post article entitled, “What’s so wrong with being Type B?”
The gist of the piece was that there’s nothing wrong with it – and in fact, it can be quite beneficial, both in our professional and personal lives, to possess Type B traits. And so it got me thinking about these labels we tend to attach to certain individuals, and what they actually mean.
It started with a provocative blog post in which John Mason, CIO at Quorum Health, explored the origin on this personality grouping. As he points out, it was a cardiologist – and not a psychiatrist – who first focused on the distinction. In a study of men between the ages of 35 and 59, Dr. Meyer Friedman found that individuals with more driven, impatient, high-stress personalities were more likely to suffer a cardiac event.
He went on to write a book with Dr. Ray H. Rosenman, Type A Behavior And Your Heart, which gave rise to the term that “has become psychology parlance for a loose set of tendencies related to highly competitive people,” according to Huffington Post.
Perhaps you’ve heard people say that Type A’s “get things done.” Maybe you’ve been subject to a humble-brag such as “I’m Type A — I can’t just sit back and let things happen,” or “I cringe when I see messy desks.”
As the aforementioned piece noted, “it’s simply more acceptable to cop to being a hard-charging, go getter,” with the implication with that Type Bs lack drive, ambition and ability.” This, however, is not the case. In fact, although these individuals tend to be laid-back, they’re also often “patient, creative and collaborative.”
That, of course, begs the question: which is the more effective personality type?
The answer? It’s not quite that simple (spoken like a typical Type B, I know).
Rather than assigning labels, we should think of it as a spectrum of behaviors and traits, says John Schaubroeck, professor of psychology and management at Michigan State University. “There’s a continuum that as you’re more on the Type A side of the spectrum, you’re more driven, and tend to be impatient and competitive and get irritated easily by impediments to your progress on things.”
In other words, most of us fall somewhere along the spectrum — even leaders. Although Type As are more likely to “take on managerial positions and to draw attention to their work,” there’s value in mixing in a few characteristics from their counterparts, who are slowly shedding the “slacker” image as new ideas come to light.
For example, Type Bs are more likely to delegate in a high-pressure situation. While that can be interpreted as a fault, some believe a willingness to share duties can result in better outcomes for the team.
Type Bs also tend to be big picture thinkers. “What they lack in detail-orientation, they make up for in a coherent view of the road ahead,” the HuffPo piece noted. “Big picture thinkers are less likely to get mired in the petty frustrations of daily life and are better able to keep an eye on what’s really important. While type As get all the credit for focusing on the goals ahead, type Bs are just as adept at achieving their objectives in the end.”
Simply put, there is no right or wrong personality, even when it comes to leadership roles.
In fact, Mason believes that to be an effective 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.”
To me, that makes perfect sense. But I also believe that it depends on the situation. If I need heart surgery, give me a Type A. If I need an attorney, or someone who can negotiate with a car dealer or fight with the town board on construction plans, I’m ordering up a Type A. Stat.
On the other hand, if I’m looking for a general manager or scout for a professional sports team, give me a Type B. The same goes with teachers, architects, and home designers.
Most of the time, however, it seems the most successful people, the most innovative thinkers, are those who are able to take some from each column. One day, I hope to become more of a blend of the two.
But until then, I’ll just have to live with my messy desktop.