Monday, December 16, 2013

Alphas, Betas, & Deltas

Each of us has a different personality type, and that's a good thing.  It takes all kinds of people to make the world work as well as it does today.  If everyone was the same we would never have athletes & actors to entertain us, soldiers to protect us, customer service agents to take our abuse over the phone, and politicians to...well... you get the point.  Having different personalities has given each of our societies the ability to create places for us all to live and thrive.  But at the same time, as our societies have become more complex it has become more important than ever to make sure that we create the proper match between each person and the function that they are to play.

For the sake of simplicity, let's define all possible personality types into three distinct categories.  As shown by our graphic, we'll call them Alphas, Betas, and Deltas.

A lot of the talk I've heard about personalities revolves around the Alpha type.  I suppose this is most likely true because of the terms "Alpha Dog", "Alpha Male", etc.  These terms describe people that are in charge, go-getters, and typically the ones that folks look to as leaders and winners.  However, in my experience, things are not always so simple.  More often than not, I see many CEOs and senior executives as Betas.  That may sound odd, but let's explore it further.

(In case you're wondering why we don't talk much about technology these days in a "CIO" blog, remember that the modern CIO succeeds through people)

Alphas -- These individuals attack problems head on.  They are typically very tenacious, results driven, intensely focused, and don't take "No" for an answer.  In my opinion, the best project managers are Alphas.  I've seen all sorts of project managers, but the ones that are most successful are those that are hard drivers.  Since the project manager rarely has direct authority, they have "break through walls" through force of will at times to accomplish the difficult tasks of bringing projects in on time/budget.  Another area where I see Alpha's flourish is in the area of the physical.  The more hands-on and physically active an environment is the more I see the workforce gravitate toward "Alpha" types of leaders. 

Of course you'll find Alphas everywhere.  In sports and the military, it's almost a given that Alpha personalities are rewarded for their specific behaviors.

Betas -- Just like Alphas tend to be lionized in many cultures, people may assume at first that Betas are destined to be followers.  In my experience, nothing is further from the truth.  What the person with the Beta personality recognizes is that it isn't always prudent to always go through the wall, as our graphic suggests.  The Beta personality is more circumspect, looking for ways to solve a problem that may not be immediately obvious.  While every company has Alphas in high positions, if you take a long look at corporations and politicians you will find that most of them likely have a Beta personality.  As a mentor said to me when describing corporate politics -- "You will see the Alphas coming from a mile away.  The Betas you won't see until the knife slides in."

Deltas -- The Delta personality is the hardest for me to describe.  Why, you might ask?  The answer is that Deltas almost always masquerade as either Alphas or Betas.  Not always, but quite often.  The Delta personality is where we find our innovators, great thinkers, and entrepreneurs.  Before you get too envious, though, it is from the Deltas that we also get our troublemakers and psychopaths!  The Delta personality is one that sees the world for what it is and refuses to accept it.  In essence, the Delta is the one that does not go through or around the wall.  The Delta either changes the landscape or goes another way altogether.  From an organizational perspective, many of your consultants today may be either partially or fully Delta.  These people both embrace and crave change.  If you want to shake things up, put a Delta in charge.  But if you want a discrete problem solved or to maintain a healthy status quo, look to the Alphas and Betas.

Putting together a winning team requires a careful and dynamic balancing of personality types.  This task can be especially hard in IT where the types of demands can be so varied.  Yet, if you can master the skill first of identifying who and what type of people you have and then put them in the right roles at the right time, the rewards will be tremendous.  Just ask Ronald Reagan and Alexander the Great...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Concept of Justice

Few would disagree that there are tremendous differences between people of different cultures.  Rarely do cultures or civilizations share the same outlook on anything, whether they have close proximity or not.  Obviously Americans do not share the same outlook on the world and life as do the Afghanis.  But then again, there may be even more differences between the Chinese and Japanese cultures and they are virtually next door neighbors.

So if it is a given that different sets of people do not usually share the same values, is there anything that everyone has in common, no matter where they originate or live?  I'm not a sociologist or anthropologist, but after spending time on six continents I think I have an answer.  If all people on Earth share one trait it would be the concept of Justice.  I'm not talking about justice in a legal sense.  Rather, I believe based on my experiences that all humans share an innate sense of when something is just and when it is not.  Some people may refer to this concept as people having a "conscience".  Yet I believe that description is too complex and is based at least in part on values (cultural).  I think that the sense of Justice people feel is almost instinctual.  Without any description, either written or verbal, humans from all over the world can view an event and develop a gut feeling as to whether it was "just" (virtuous) or "unjust" (tyrannical).

Why is this concept so important to discuss in the SimpleCIO blogosphere?  It relates back to the effectiveness of managers and organizations to (a) attract good people, (b) gain the respect and trust of these people, and (c) have the esprit de corps to be a competitive and vigorous entity.

Something that I tell my staff and others that seek coaching in order to become better leaders is this:  When you are in a position of power there is no such thing as secrecy or privacy.  Even if you think nobody is watching you or knows what you're doing, the fact is that you are always being observed.  Often this observation is done asynchronously, which means not in real time.  But rest assured that everything you say, everything you do, everything you write - it's all being viewed by one person and thus everyone.  In many cases, the simplest facial expressions and body language will have all kinds of context read into it.  Does that sound a little bit weird and maybe creepy?  Yes, it just might.  But all the same, it's true.  Just like in the modern hit movies in the "Hunger Games" series you should consider that your every move, action, and conversation is being observed by a much bigger audience than you ever thought possible.

At the company level, the phenomena is a little different.  Since a company is not a person, body language is impossible to incorporate.  However, people are always parsing the moves that a company makes.  Organizational charts are scrutinized, press releases are read for hidden meaning, and people compare notes on how they view the treatment of themselves and others.

So what is the point of this post?  It is quite simple. 

Point 1 -- Once you become a manager you will forever more be viewed like Jim Carrey was in "The Truman Show".  Since your actions will always be known, you will always be judged.  And since every person on Earth shares a similar sense of Justice, there is no escaping the fact that a consensus will develop over time on just what kind of person you represent.  Your actions will create a reputation that will (or will not) allow you to develop the types of teams and eventually organizations upon which you will rely for success.  If you are a "just" manager, you will prosper.  If you are "unjust", there is simply no way and no place to hide.  You'll only get one chance in life unless you are truly, truly charmed.

Point 2 -- As a company, remember that you still, ultimately, a group of people.  The business strategies that you collectively develop, as a company, will be weighed by your staff, customers, and investors.  (If you don't believe that then why is Google's slogan "Don't Be Evil"?)  If you make just decisions you will most likely be successful, even if you go through hard times.  If you do things that are unjust, no amount of corporate spin or clever words will hide that fact.

Ultimately all of us who have the sacred charge of leadership must decide if we are to be just or not.  Whatever decision each of us makes, know that we will all be known for exactly who and what we are.  The sense of Justice for all humankind is a universal trait.  If you strive to be a good, benevolent, and successful leader, act as if everyone is watching you at all times.  Because they are...