We blow it when it comes to managing the dominant personalities on our teams. Here’s why.
It’s very common for me to work with teams where one strong personality dominates the team and detracts from a positive dynamic. Often that’s why I’m there–the team hasn’t been able to deal with the person themselves.
Now, it would be easy if these people were misaligned or just plain out to lunch. The challenging part is that these people are often very bright, full of important ideas, and the only ones introducing diverse perspectives into the discussion.
By the time I am working with them, these team members have usually been beat up repeatedly for their behavior. As a result, they feel misunderstood, undervalued, and really frustrated. Their reaction is often to clam up. They sit through several meetings (or at least several minutes) with their arms crossed in front of their chests and their chairs pushed back from the table. But by their very nature, they can’t keep quiet for long.
When they finally can’t take it anymore, their comments tend to come out with disdain and aggression–just exacerbating their negative image.
But you need to be very careful when dealing with this behavior. You need to encourage the content of their comments while changing their approach.
I like to use the metaphor of a drug and its delivery mechanism. When I’m working with a strong personality that is disrupting team effectiveness, I tell them that they have a powerful and important drug to deliver: One the team needs to be able to make the best decisions. But their job is to find a way to deliver that drug into the system in a way that it can best be absorbed rather than rejected. Maybe more like a “patch” or an IV drip…less like a giant hard to swallow pill.
I find that the person is usually flattered and relieved to hear that their ideas are important. That helps them stay open to my pleas to use alternative language or a different tone.
It’s a mistake to silence these powerful voices. You need to help them add their value in a way that the team can really hear it and benefit from it. Do you have someone like this on your team? Share your story of how you have helped him/her have a more positive impact.