Managing Different People

First published on Sporting Edge.

If we were all the same it would be boring, wouldn’t it?!

It’s a nice idea in principle, but I’m sure some leaders would love the chance to be bored for a while by managing a low maintenance team.

Operating in a competitive climate of pressure, pace and expectation accentuates individual personalities and we have to find a way to manage them.

When it comes to our leadership style, we accept that one size can’t fit all but equally are we really expected to design every management intervention from scratch.

With modern leaders stretched thinly with complex reporting lines and multiple stakeholders, how are we supposed to find time to manage all these different personalities?

Here are some practical tools to solve some common ‘people’ problems.


1.     The Moaner

On a good day this person makes you laugh, they are so negative that you can’t even imagine what it feels like to live in their head. They will argue that their glass isn’t even big enough to be half empty and will skip today’s beautiful weather to forecast impending doom at the weekend. They are beyond pessimistic and tend to be critical of anything showing positive signs.

On a bad day, these mood hoovers can drain the life out of the office or dressing room and the really good ones don’t even have to say anything, their long face and foot dragging is enough to leave you feeling morose.

These people have usually been around in the organisation for a few years (sometimes decades) and they have learnt to be helpless, maybe they tried something back in the late 90’s and it wasn’t worth the effort so they haven’t bothered again since.

The moaner wants two things, attention and company. Their negative statements are intended to provoke debate with them at the centre but you can never win these wars because for them every cloud has a charcoal lining. When the moaner has company it’s dangerous, the grump fest gathers momentum as they can’t be singled out for being the only bearer of bad news.

Moaners need someone to listen, there is catharsis in feeling understood. Hold back from agreeing with or apologising to the moaner as this is the oxygen to their fire. If you fight back in an over defensive way it will strengthen their case and they will restate their criticism more passionately. Think twice before taking them on in public as they may say something that it’s difficult to forget.

Moaners love to exaggerate so try to stick to the facts, ask them to write the specific points down as this will distil their argument to key evidence. If they have a gripe with someone else in the team ask if they have spoken to them about the issue - they usually haven’t as they love unresolved complaints.

Once you have received their written issues, make a time to find solutions cooperatively and be realistic about what you want to change (if anything) When you say you will change it, you must follow through as empty promises are their specialist subject.


2.      The Introverted Technician

An interesting yet frustrating crowd, they have deep expertise but initially seem to be unenthused by new projects or progress. They are not excited by your dreams and vision, they have witnessed failure before and crave evidence, structure and process. They feel uncomfortable with change as they need time to ‘get their head around it’.

Half-baked plans won’t wash for this group, they want to see the detailed roadmap of where you are taking them (ideally with distances detailed). This differs from the moaner as they probably want to see things improve, they just need the granular detail to avoid failure.

If security is their driver, make them part of your detective work because their desire to find the answer could be really helpful. One mistake we make is to think that because these silent warriors don’t get the airtime of more extroverted characters that we need to let them speak in meetings. This could be our biggest crime, they might hate that exposure, they value the satisfaction of doing things right over stardom so if they prefer, let their expertise remain in the shadow. A pat on the back and a word of appreciation will go a long way with these loyal servants. Keep giving them problems to solve and they will feel more secure and like they are making a contribution.  

These people were born to ask questions, don’t get defensive see them as providing the proof reading and detail that you don’t have the time or inclination to do. These people solve problems so don’t let them become one.


3.      The Super Agreeable

This is a weird one because they seem really nice, they back you in public but then melt away when the heat is on. They seem to think that everyone needs to get along and to agree with everything anyone says. This seemingly sweet profile can soon turn sickly. The last thing you need when your decisions are being scrutinised is an echo chamber where your ideas get cascaded without challenge. These people know how to play the game, they are the indestructible black box in a team crisis but are too nice to blame.

Guided by relationships, they speak as much about family as getting the job done. This is a great profile to have in a team as they can really help to balance the edginess of some more driven types but be careful that the world doesn’t turn a light shade of grey, you need team mates not mates.
You will need to focus this group on getting the job done, with clear objectives and accountabilities to keep things sharp. They will want to please everyone but they must know that you are the leader and you set the tone. Use the data and evidence to provide objective feedback, debate should never feel personal but solely about people working well together to hit the standards required. Think about your current team, do you have lots of people nodding around you or are you brave enough to recruit challenging people into your team?


4.      The Maverick

Every team has a maverick, we can’t live with them and we can’t live without them.

These are our match winners, they seem to have an innate gift, a confidence and an extra gear that can’t be reached by mere mortals. The only problem is that they know this too and it causes as many catastrophes as it does sublime moments.

Many leaders see the maverick as their biggest challenge, a constant balance between what they give and what they take. With confident performers who often have a warped view of their own importance, conversations can become animated and volatile in moments as they attempt to mark their territory.

Busy leaders have a choice here, do we courageously nip these minor discretions in the bud or choose the safe path and see how things go? Your instinct may be to keep Mavericks at arm’s length but as major social architects, you need to bring them close.

Ego often gets bad press but actually we need these characters in our team because when the pressure is on, we look to them to guide us to safety. Having worked with Shane Warne for several years in the Indian Premier League his views are simple, “Make them feel special, make them feel important and they will give you their best. Force them to do the team thing all the time, to keep quiet and they will rebel”

Mavericks may be more vulnerable than you think, their noise may be there to keep you away from their insecurities so get to know them and support them as much as you can. Giving them responsibility is a good strategy, give them the heads up with new ideas so that they can road-test them with the group.  

When it gets a bit tense, hit the issues early and in private, mavericks have an image to uphold. Make the feedback about their impact on the team and future focussed about how good they could be rather than opening up old wounds.

The maverick is your biggest test, but as a leader you will need to manage all types.



Obviously these are caricatures (I hope) and there are so many different traits which people show when they operating in our teams.

Ultimately in both business and sport we are looking for resilient, diverse and agile teams so that we can deliver results under pressure and recover quickly when things go wrong. We don’t want to be pegging our emotions to the highs and lows of results, but to the winning process of doing the right things in the right way.

There is only so much a leader can do, the rest we have to leave to the team. Recruiting on values and character is important to avoid these pitfalls.

I also encourage leaders to create smaller teams within the business team or squad. This has several benefits such as increasing accountability and strengthening internal trust. Creating diverse groups of personalities, ages, cultures and skill levels can also fast track learning and problem solving.

Themes which have worked well are groups looking after areas such as ‘preparing training’ ‘social committee’ ‘reviewing the last month’s performance’ ‘inducting new team members’. To be honest, the interaction is as valuable as the output and it challenges team members to work together and think wider than just their role.

When the team starts to learn and solve problems together you can sigh with relief because the sign of a great leader is creating teams who can ‘almost’ manage themselves.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you to sharpen your leadership skills to create a high performance culture in your organisation.

T:  01858 414214   E:

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