The I and C in Weakness Mode

I had the opportunity to spend more than a year observing a case of the I Personality Style and the C Personality Style working in their “Weaknesses”.

A national corporation that manufactured products used in the construction of multi-million-dollar office buildings decided to enter the small office construction market.  In order to accomplish this they decided to create a new model housing their 2 divisions – sales and product distribution – under one roof in order to accommodate the faster paced environment of the smaller construction sites.

The corporate office hand-picked 7 teams from current employees and placed each of the teams in new sales/warehouse facilities across the country.  Each team was to develop a process for approaching the small construction market.  After 18 months the top producing office would become the template for future facilities across the country.

I was hired to be the assistant to Rob, who would manage the facility in my area.  He had been with the company 20 years.  During the previous 10 years the office under his management was consistently one of the top 5 offices in the country.  He was known for ingenuity.  Many of his sales techniques were used in training new sales reps.  Rob was fast-paced, people oriented, enthusiastic and high energy.   I spent several days training at his old office with his previous assistant.  His staff was devoted to him.  He had obviously pulled the best from everyone who worked with him which is a characteristic of the I Personality Style working in their strength.

Our Product Manager was Larry.  He was transferred to our facility to manage receiving, warehousing, delivery and installation.  He had been with the company for 30 years, starting as a laborer and ended up supervising the huge warehouse in our area.  Many of his systems and processes had been implemented in warehouses across the country.  He had a great reputation, was 2 years away from retirement and was excited about the challenge of making this new concept work.

Larry’s Personality Style was a C – reserved and task oriented.  He was methodical, detailed and analytical.  He was as quiet as Rob was charismatic.  Larry thrived on systems, planning, precision and contingencies while Rob ran on instinct and changing course rapidly when needed.  They were complete opposites in Personality Style and focus.  Rob focused on the positive while Larry obsessed about the negative.

Rob wanted to get business in the door fast.  He didn’t mind an initial small profit margin as he was certain we could win future more profitable contracts by demonstrating quality service.  Larry preferred a huge cushion in the bids to cover unexpected emergencies.  He felt Rob was unrealistic, unfocused, impatient and setting us up for failure.  Rob felt Larry was critical, pessimistic, worrisome and slowing everything down.

As they focused on what they called each other’s “shortcomings” they totally missed each other’s strengths!

Over time they both deteriorated to operating in their Personality Style’s Weakness Mode.  Larry was openly critical of Rob in front of customers; he used intellectual intimidation with him and focused on every error he could find rather than complementing what was going well.  He became protective of his domain, stayed in his office with the door shut and he pulled away from the team.  He became a rigid enforcer with anyone who came near the warehouse.  People obviously started to avoid him. Communication with Larry broke down rapidly.

Rob took Larry’s criticisms as a personal rejection. Criticism was not something Rob was used to experiencing.  He reacted to Larry with emotional outbursts and arguments.  Around the rest of us he became very self-promoting and needed our reassurance that he was doing a great job which, after a time, he wasn’t.  He spent a lot of time in the field, which would have been ok if he had a cell phone, but this was the pre-cell phone era.  His out-of-pocket time slowed our response time when a contractor needed a quick decision from management.  As a result we began to lose future contracts with companies who had been willing to give us a try.

After 12 months our office production was well behind the other 6 satellite offices.  Everyone on the team except Rob and Larry could clearly see why we were failing but no one (including me as this was long before I was introduced to the concept of DISC) had any clue as to how to turn the situation around.  After 14 months our office was closed.

While watching the dynamics between Rob and Larry was painful at the time it has certainly become a very valuable tale to share related to how our strengths can deteriorate to a weakness given the right circumstances.  Their story is a great example of how companies can spend a lot of money to hire people who are the cream of the crop, but who might fail miserably when the dynamics of the new job prompt them to work in their Personality Style Weaknesses.

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