Managing strong personality team members is often one of the most challenging parts of being a first-time people manager.
First, let me address what I mean by a strong personality. David Wolfle puts it as “Someone who seems highly independent and somewhat unnerving. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want and having the guts to go after it, but someone with a strong personality can often come across as aggressive or rude. A strong person may have the biggest heart, but his or her rough-around-the-edges elements can be intimidating and cause a bad first impression.” The Wikipedia definition of Type A personality is “rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management.” A strong personality by itself is not bad. It can be a great asset. When it combines with stubbornness without clear reasons, slow adaptation to changes of plan, and diversion away from consensus, we have concerns.
One temptation is to recruit or build a team without anyone with a strong personality. I will argue against that because a diverse team is a strong team. A strong personality team member is more likely to speak their mind, and challenge the norms, which helps to avoid herd mentality in decision making. They can help to foster candid communication too.
Also, it is very easy to mistake someone who is curious and asks a lot of questions for someone who has a strong personality and wants to challenge you, especially in a tight turnaround situation.
Here are some tips for managing strong personality team members:
1. Define the team goals and roles early on
When you’re first starting to work with a new team, it’s important to set some clear goals and expectations. This will help everyone understand what they need to do and how their role fits into the bigger picture.
2. Encourage open communication
Open communication is key in any working relationship, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with strong personalities. Encourage your team members to share their ideas and opinions openly.
3. Be clear and concise in your own communication
When you’re communicating with strong personality team members, it’s important to be clear and concise. They’ll appreciate your directness and it will help avoid misunderstandings.
4. Respect their opinions and ideas
Even if you don’t always agree with them, it’s important to respect your team members’ opinions and ideas. They’ll be more likely to respect you in return.
5. Be willing to compromise
There will be times when you’ll need to compromise with strong personality team members. If you’re not willing to do this, it will create tension and conflict.
6. Don’t take things personally
It’s important to remember that not everything is personal when you’re working with strong personalities. They may say or do things that are meant to be constructive, even if they come across as harsh.
7. Be patient
Strong personality team members can be frustrating at times, but it’s important to be patient. They often just need a little time to adjust to new situations.
8. Keep your cool
It can be easy to let your emotions get the best of you when you’re dealing with strong personalities. But it’s important to keep your cool and not take things personally. I understand that your initial emotional reaction can be intense. You may start to form an unfavorable opinion about the team members and begin to formulate different automatic responses subconsciously. The worst thing that can happen is perhaps your decision to write someone off or start being aggressive yourself.
9. Seek out their help
Strong personality team members can be a great asset to your team. They’re often creative and full of new ideas. So don’t be afraid to seek out their help when you need it.
10. Be prepared to stand your ground
There will be times when you’ll need to stand up to strong personality team members. This doesn’t mean being confrontational, but it does mean being firm and confident in your convictions.
Last but not least, recognize that this is an excellent opportunity for you to learn and grow as a people manager. If this happens early in your career, it is a blessing since you can gain a lot more experience early on.
Embrace the challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your values, and how to manage people. Good luck!