'Crats' Of A Feather Flock Together
Posted: February 2, 2013
The Friendly City Files
Do you instinctively place people into categories such as “us” and “them”?
(I don’t, at least where “us” is concerned. I’m an odd duck and try not to mentally insult people by assuming they are anything like me.)
A client provides personality testing, employee evaluation systems and relationship management services to Fortune 500 companies and feels people tend to fall into one of four personality types, each ending in “crat.”
To illustrate the point, he tells the nine cats story: Four people are asked to get nine cats out of a sealed room that has no windows and doors. (And clearly no PETA presence.)
The first person cuts a hole in the wall, yells “Scat!” and impatiently waits for the cats to jump out. He’s an autocrat; he expects the cats to immediately do what they are told, without hesitation or question.
The second person cuts a hole in the wall, places a saucer of milk just outside, and says, “Here kitty kitty ...” He’s a democrat. He hopes self-interest and buy-in will motivate the cats to come out.
The next person meticulously cuts two identical holes at opposite ends of the room, stencils the word “even” over one hole and “odd” over the other, tells the cats to number themselves, and tells the even cats to use the even hole and the odd cats to use the odd hole. He’s a bureaucrat who instinctively creates procedures and rules he expects the cats to follow.
The last person doesn’t cut any holes. He sits around saying things like, “Wait. Tell me again why we need to get the cats out in the first place?” He’s a no-crat who questions everything, dislikes structure and always wants to set his own goals and expectations.
We all approach life in different ways as different “crats.” And we can be judgmental about those differences, even though every type has its strengths.
In many cases, autocratic behavior is invaluable, such as generals or coaches or firemen who hustle people out of a burning building … but, in other settings, autocrats are off-putting and abrasive. Democrats are great at creating harmony and fostering teamwork, but sometimes distributed authority results in no authority at all. Bureaucrats keep the trains running on time, but can also stifle creativity. And no-crats can be incredibly innovative, but also incredibly unproductive in a structured environment.
Most of us naturally gravitate towards people of a particular type — our particular type. “Normal” is often defined by how we see ourselves. We tend to instinctively make friends with people who are like us. We like to work with people like us. We involve and engage people like us. It’s comforting.
It’s also limiting.
If you’re in a leadership position, think about how great leaders operate. They look beyond personal preferences and take advantage of the strengths of different types of “crats.” Where people are concerned, too much of the same usually results in too little accomplished.
Or take your kids. Great parents don’t treat each of their children the same; they treat each child fairly, but not the same. And they guide each child differently.
Say you want your child to do something. Kids who crave structure benefit from a step-by-step blueprint and clear milestones. Fail to provide enough information and guidance and those kids often fail. Children who dislike structure may only need to know what you want done — they do their best when you give them latitude and a degree of freedom to decide how to get it done.
Do you like some people better than others simply because they are like you? Do you dislike other people simply because they don’t think and operate the way you do? They are who they are, so to speak, but still — they might not be the problem.
The problem might lie in how you think about them — and how you treat them.
Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a bestselling ghostwriter and columnist for Inc. Magazine. He can be reached at www.blackbirdinc.com.