columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I consistently test one specific personality type on the Myers-Briggs personality test (it's INTJ). I am great at planning and developing long-term, big-idea strategies for my organization, but I really struggle making personal connections with staff. It kills me when hourly staff show up five minutes late for work, which I know is not a big deal to anyone else. I make some decisions without asking for input, which bothers some of my staff, who are used to making group decisions on everything. And I can only handle a few minutes of small talk before looking for my exit. So, yeah, I fit the profile pretty well.

I am curious what personality type you would choose if you were designing the perfect manager for a small business.

Green responds:

It's a trick question! You've identified some of the weaknesses that your personality type brings to managing, but every personality type has strengths and weaknesses as a manager. 

It's worth noting, too, that personality tests aren't scientifically sound; they can give you interesting insights into yourself, but they're not destiny! And whether or not someone sees themselves in a personality test, most of us have characteristics that make us both better and worse suited for managing.

Personality tests aside, I'd say that these are some of the characteristics that you want to see in a manager:

  • A strong drive to get things done
  • A willingness to make hard decisions, including ones that might be unpopular (like cutting a program that isn't getting the results you need or firing a well-liked employee who isn't performing at the level you need)
  • A willingness to have awkward or difficult conversations
  • A genuine eagerness to get input from other people and an openness to new information, including messages that might be hard to hear
  • Self-awareness and the ability to regulate your own emotions so that you're not spewing frustration or stress or drama all over your staff
  • At least a basic understanding of human psyches -- that humans are not robots, that people react to your tone as much as to your words, that things like the appearance of fairness or bias matter, and so forth

Those things can show up in all different sorts of people, no matter where they are on the personality spectrum.

That said, personality models like the Myers-Briggs test, the DISC assessment, and others can certainly be useful in helping you understand your own behavior and where you might want to make a particular point of compensating as a manager. For example, you note that you're rigid about things like arrival times, but that you also know that that's not the one universal way of looking at it -- and that last part is the key. Sometimes people don't realize that their own particular outlook on life or work isn't The One True Outlook Held By All Right-Minded People, and personality typing can (sometimes) be useful in helping to understand that.

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