The psychology of film & TV, media, & work

Seven Dwarf leadership styles. Which one are you?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

My first job ended with a triumphant walk out. I threw my Safeway name badge on the ground and never returned (except to buy things later).

This was not to be a trend in my career nor was it a sign of my immature youth. It was in response to a manager who lost his temper and decided to grab me by the arm, drag me across the store and berate me in front of customers. Let’s call him Grumpy.

Grumpy had an up and down personality. He was volatile one day and gregarious the next. Research suggests that an unpredictable personality is worse than someone who’s just difficult or unfair all the time. Uncertainty is the best friend of anxiety and worry. At least with a bad tempered person, you know you’ll be unhappy.

On this particular occasion, he was grumpy because someone had been stealing all the painkillers from Aisle One. When I approached him, he was standing in the corner of the aisle on a covert operation to catch the thief red handed.

Apparently, when I interrupted the critical mission, he thought it was appropriate to drag me across the store and give me a dressing down in front of the customers. I walked away, a little shook-up and a bit angry and proceeded to go back to work.

Grumpy wandered by a few minutes later with a jovial smile. ‘False alarm’, he said.

It was only when a younger colleague joked about the incident and Grumpy’s temper, that all the lightbulbs in Aisle four went off. ‘That wasn’t right!’, said a young pre-doctor/pre-psychologist (i.e. me). The badge fell to the ground and I only ever returned to stock up on bread and milk.

Then the phone calls came through. Grumpy was terrified I’d report him to Safeway management because he was under probation for sexually harassing a female colleague at another store.

In retrospect, it may have been appropriate to report him but, like most people, you just want to move on to something new and forget the past.

The only benefit of being man handled and embarrassed was Grumpy gave me a glowing recommendation when I applied for my next job.

It would be easy to think that Grumpy was the exception. With all the managers—senior and otherwise—across the globe, true leadership is a pretty important but is hard to find. Here are a few leadership styles that I’ve observed.

Sleepy

Sleepy leaders are those that are essentially asleep at the wheel as the workplace and world around them changes. They are personified by the worst kind of decision—indecision. Ideas are brought to them to improve their business and they fail to see the potential. Poor performers pass under their radar and may even be promoted. The sleepy leader is uninvolved and inspires apathy from their followers.

Sneezy

Sneezy represents the distracted leader who becomes so preoccupied with their immediate circumstances they are as effective as someone having a sneezing fit. I remember one leader who just couldn’t sit still in a meeting to hear a briefing. He’d wander around the room, interrupt you with side stories and even massage your shoulders. I used to liken it to trying to have a discussion whilst someone is juggling and swallowing swords in front of you.

Bashful

The bashful leader is simply lacking self-confidence and steel. I worked with a colleague who felt deeply uncomfortable when their manager confided in them about how they didn’t feel like they could lead. This manager would worry, feel ineffective when they made decisions and were concerned that their team didn’t respect them. Every leader has doubts, nerves, and fears. A leader should be self-aware and honest but, let’s face it, we don’t want to work for someone who doubts themselves all the time.

Dopey

The dopey leader simply makes poor decisions or does not have the subject matter expertise to have an educated opinion. I recall a manager who was facilitating a workshop after a major safety incident. The manager commanded the room and started writing a list of punitive and ineffective actions on the whiteboard. They were commanding from a place of ignorance. A sensible leader needs to defer to the experts and facilitate. A dopey leader makes the decisions from a place of complete ignorance.

Happy

Everyone loves the happy leader who inspires laughter and fun in the workplace. At best, these leaders can help motivate and promote a positive culture. At worst, however, they may not always be realistic and can even side-step issues that drain their energy levels. When I worked in the public service, I observed many a happy leader worn down over time by their worried, more conservative colleagues who wanted to tackle the difficult issues. They would sometimes joke or make light of a situation as their concerned counterpart was more interested in getting an outcome than feeling good about it.

Doc

Then there’s Doc, the natural leader. They don’t necessarily have any particular characteristics that stand out other than the fact that everyone listens and follows them. Workplace psychologists have long studied the various traits, styles, motivations, and thinking that goes into a ‘Doc’.

Docs don’t worry too much but worry just enough. They’re happy enough but happiness isn’t their priority. They’ve got the smarts but rely on their peers as well. They take action and have the guts to do the job without being too overconfident.

Oh, and they usually don’t man handle their employees.

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