When Personalities Trump Competence

Donald Trump is, of course, the ultimate example of this phenomenon.  He is a narcissistic psychopath exhibiting extreme forms of grandiosity, exploitive behavior and a lack of empathy.  Fortunately, this severe personality disorder is not common.  There are much lessor disorders with which we must deal.

One is fervent optimism.  We have all had colleagues who are always upbeat and sure that everything will work out.  They are sure that the best outcomes will happen.  The archetype of this personality is Sonny, manager of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. One of his favorite sayings is, “Everything will be all right in the end and if it is not, then it’s not yet the end.”

There is also fervent pessimism.  My mother, imbued with a “depression mentality” – learned from the Great Depression, 1938 Hurricane, and World War II – often concluded, “If anything can go wrong, it will.”  I have colleagues who believe and anxiously await all the terrible things that will happen.  One colleague pays particular attention to all the things that can go wrong.  His insights are often quite useful.

Another category is arrogance involving people who know everything.  Their way is always the right way.  They are the only ones who understand the central issues.  Any potentially good ideas encounter retorts that we already did that.  The worst case are people who knows absolutely how everything in life is going wrong.  Such folks are not interested in your perspectives.

A special category of arrogance includes people who are combative.  They know that you are wrong.  They know the right way to do things.  Further, they are sure that you don’t know what you are doing.  They are dismissive of you and everybody else.  They are not really sure of why you or anybody else ventures to offer opinions or suggestions.

Then there is the category of the oppressed. Their lives are laced with woe.  The organization, indeed the world, provides them no support.  They have to struggle to accomplish everything by themselves.  An extreme of this category are those whose lives are a mess.  Relationships, children, and even their homes conspire against them.  They feel compelled to relate these woes to everyone.

How can one best cope with the above types of personalities.  A strategy of listening but not reacting might work unless you are the leader of the team.  Then, you have to facilitate the interactions between the troublesome team members and everybody else.  You cannot let these unfortunate behaviors undermine the team and possibly the whole organization.

This can be rather problematic when the people exhibiting these behaviors are among the highest performers on the team.  You do not want to get rid of them because they are really good at what they do.  You might try to convert those in the troublesome categories to become optimists.  This will likely require some one-on-one mentoring.  This special attention can provide opportunities to acknowledge these team members’ skills and contributions, while asking them to change their approaches to others.

Leading a team involves much more than simply getting everyone to do their job well.  Excellent taskwork is necessary for success, but not sufficient.  You also need excellent teamwork.  Sometimes this requires mentoring excellent task workers to become better team workers.  This may involve mentoring some types of personalities to overcome their natural tendencies.  Everyone on the team will appreciate this.

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