Do you Need to Adjust Your Management Style?

By Meredith Summers Posted January 9, 2018


When it comes to getting work done, people have a lot of reasons for why they do what they do. See how managers can address these expectations to start driving better performance.

Not surprisingly, managers who constantly strive to become better managers are more successful than those who simply rely on their "tried and true" management methods. In fact, a manager's sheer awareness that they're not perfect can go a long way. But managers who want to be as efficient as possible may need to take a deep dive into what messages they send their employees on a daily basis.

  • Is potential and productivity being lost based on their interactions with their team?
  • Is their management style building or diminishing trust?
  • Does the same style work for all team members?

You may be shocked at just how quickly you can grow productivity (and profits) with a different style. We'll take you through the four major personality types, as defined by Gretchen Rubin. Her bestselling book The Four Tendencies has inspired managers to start treating employees based on their internal and external expectations rather than the manager's demands or goals. See if you need an adjustment once you learn about a few basic principles.

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The Background

All of our behavior is influenced by a number of different factors, whether we realize it or not. But that doesn't mean that we don't all have certain trends that we notice in ourselves and in others. This isn't just another personality test that people talk about for a few days and then forget about. They're basic labels that the author identifies, defines and analyzes, and she provides clues on how you can do the same.

Her theories may help you figure out how to handle the many situations you encounter without wasting time or upsetting an employee. There's a lot of unnecessary and repetitive managing that goes on out there, and much of it is entirely counterproductive. As you read over the traits, you'll probably notice that everyone you know has exhibited all of these personalities at one time or another. The key is to identify a common core in an employee before moving forward.

The Obliger

As the name suggests, obligers are interested in doing the job right for the sake of their boss and their team. They're extremely focused on what other people think of their work, and they're motivated to do the job well without a lot of outside encouragement. Managers may not want to be stingy when it comes to doling out praise, but they can trust obligers to take the initiative on a project.

Obligers struggle if there's any confusion with what they're supposed to do. They may doubt themselves and their abilities if they're left with too much ambiguity. Obligers are also not very good at meeting their own goals if there's no pressure coming from the outside world. In addition, obligers do have limits. They may seem thrilled to take on extra work, but there will come a time when they'll start to feel overloaded and resentful. A manager needs to have clear communication and perspective with their subordinates to avoid this fate.

The Questioner

The questioner is motivated by their internal sense of logic and not by yours. Fortunately, that logic tends to be fairly spot on, and these people make excellent problem solvers if you give them a chance. They're willing to work so long as what they're doing is both efficient and beneficial to them and the company. The more a questioner understands the underlying causes behind the work, the more likely it is they'll be able to tweak it (or even overhaul it) in a way that works for everyone.

Questioners can also take their love of answers way too far. They may constantly doubt minute details of the plan that aren't relevant to the outcome, or they may question so much they never make a decision. You may be surprised at how far you can get if you work things out with questioners. Questioners may even thrive with additional autonomy. Just keep them in check about how much research they're doing (either collaborative or solo.) A real questioner should be able to recognize that at some point, extra information won't help them.

The Upholder

The upholder in a company is a person with a good balance between their own expectations and the expectations of others. They're normally in a position of power because they can walk a very tricky line. Upholders set goals, follow deadlines, and don't necessarily need coaching. These people are just as effective training with another person as they are on their own. If they say they're going to do something, you won't have to worry about the truth in their statement.

Upholders often have trouble with general flexibility though. They're the first people to cling to a plan, even if that plan is no longer working. They're unlikely to delegate their work to anyone else, even if they're drowning under their current load. The best way to handle an upholder isn't to pay too much attention to them — they're already aware of how well they are (or aren't) performing. What you may want to do though is stress the benefits of staying flexible and enforce delegation when necessary.

The Rebel

The rebel is often the most difficult type of person to get along with, and it's unfortunate because rebels can bring an awful lot to the table. Rebels are in a difficult position because they're not only resisting your expectations, they're resisting their own expectations too. This is one of the most difficult situations for a manager to be in, but rest assured that rebels get frustrated with themselves just as often (if not more) than they get frustrated with you.

It's easy to give up on a rebel as a lost cause, but you'd also be letting go of a person who tends to be smart, driven, and creative as all get out. You're not going to want to show a combative person special treatment, but you can remind them of how much is within their control. When rebels understand that they're free to make their own choices, they're more inclined to start buckling down. But just remember that they're not the work for you or for the other members of the team. They're doing it exercise their own autonomy. Rebels are often best paired with obligers to round out the extremes.

Success with Everyone

Managers by definition have to be good with people to be truly effective at their jobs. If you're not taking into account individual motivations, then we can say with certainty that your company isn't doing as well as it could. It's likely better to have a theoretical understanding of all of four personality types than it is to start drastically changing your style. Chances are you'll get bored with the artificial effort and then go back to what you were doing before.

Instead, you may want to increase your awareness of certain traits in people before gradually letting your habits shift to meet employee needs. The more employees see you responding to their intrinsic motivations, they more likely they are to care about maintaining a good working relationship with you.


Meredith Summers

Professional freelance writer for companies who want to get more done. She enjoys reading, going to the beach, and brief descriptions of herself.


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