A former professor of mine used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into kinds of people, and those who don’t. Now as a professor myself, I would add a third kind: those who cautiously categorize, but feel bad about it. That would be me. Faced with seemingly random complexity, it can be handy to group behaviors and tendencies (not people), but only for a specific and time-limited problem at hand, and only if you feel wary all along the way.
The “problem at hand” for me, as a faculty member in Arts Management, is how to define, describe, develop, and direct management capacity within my students, and how to observe it in useful ways in the working world. For that problem, management scholar and consultant Ichak Adizes has a rather simple but functional sorting approach.
In his book, Leading the Leaders, Adizes suggests that there are four essential roles of a manager, and that nobody excels at them all. Most of us have one or two dominant roles, just as most of us have a dominant hand. Rather than striving toward one perfect person (since Adizes sees the roles as incompatible with each other), Adizes suggests we strive toward more balanced and integrated teams that can work with and across different roles and world views.
In brief, the four management roles Adizes defines are:
- Producer (P): Deliver and execute the task at hand, ensure immediate-term results, know what needs to happen and get it done…right now.
- Administrator (A): Develop and defend organizational processes, ensure efficiency in the short run, forsee the problems, barriers, or procedural issues behind ideas and consider how systems might (or might not) navigate them.
- Entrepreneur (E): Discover long-term changes and opportunities, set a vision, see through the fog of a hazy future and describe a next reality.
- Integrator (I): Connect and nourish collective spirit, build capacity for teamwork and shared decision-making, find and weave together common threads.
If you were particularly strong in the Administrator role, Adizes would flag you as a pAei. If you predominantly thought and worked from an Producer perspective, he would label you a Paei. Again, according to Adizes, while you might have two areas of strength, a fully-balanced PAEI doesn’t exist in the wild, even though much management theory and training strives for such a person. Rather, the goal is building and supporting a dynamic team that covers all the roles in integral ways, with each individual building capacity to work, learn, and “play well” with the others.
A handy byproduct of Adizes’ simple model is that it not only defines the functions of managers, but also the likely dysfunctions that occur when a manager is hyper-dominant in one area — without empathy or appreciation for any other area. These come with catchy titles that will likely remind you of former bad bosses:
- The Lone Ranger (or the Lone Wolf) is the extreme form of the Producer, who focuses exclusively on immediate work, trusts nobody else to do that work, and thrives on a desk piled high with projects. When faced with outcomes that don’t match expectation, the Lone Ranger doubles down — doing exactly the same thing only twice as hard.
- The Bureaucrat is the extreme form of the Administrator, who cares exclusively about how things get done, and whether they’re done according to policy and administrative practice. Prefers to do things right rather than doing the right things.
- The Arsonist is the extreme form of the Entrepreneur, eager to burn down any current practice, process, or product in search of a bold future idea. Often charismatic and compelling, the Arsonist is toxic to thoughtful, sustainable, collaborative enterprise.
- The SuperFollower is the extreme form of the Integrator, desperate for consensus and calm at the expense of forward motion or difficult change. Will never say what they want or think, but only ask what you or others want or think.
All of these, of course, are cartoons. Adizes’ entire framework is extremely broad, a radical rough-cut/short-cut through highly complex human behaviors and belief systems. But that’s a large part of its utility (at least for me). The goal isn’t to label with permanent ink, but to highlight key tendencies that might need attention, and to encourage awareness of difference across a working team.
While these frames and approaches may be useful, it’s important to remember (constantly) that they are flawed. There aren’t two kinds of people. There aren’t four kinds of managers. There aren’t seven habits of highly effective people. There are humans, doing their best, who can sometimes learn from a signpost, a rough sketch, a caricature, or a metaphor. Use such things with care and compassion. Some assembly required.