Are You A Promoter Or A Protector?
A year or so ago the Harvard Business Review had an interesting article on two personality styles and the watch-outs regarding matching up pairs of people in boss/subordinate roles. They categorized people as being of two types: promoters and protectors.
Promoters see their role as creating a path to win. They are comfortable taking chances and like to work quickly. They dream big and think creatively. Naturally, this makes them more likely to make mistakes, not think things through, and usually don’t have a back-up plan.
Protectors see their role as taking responsibility and delivering. They play not to lose; worrying a lot about what might go wrong. While they are risk averse, their work is typically very thorough and accurate. They work slowly and meticulously.
While it is certainly the case that nobody is 100% a promoter, or 100% a protector, it is an interesting way to capture the basic tendencies in people. As noted in the HBR article, it really gets interesting when you think about the boss/subordinate relationship.
Let’s look at the four possibilities and what they might lead to:
#1. Promoter Boss/Protector Subordinate
The boss is likely to undervalue and underutilize the strengths of the subordinate, and fail to challenge him or her with well-defined goals and objectives. The subordinate will likely view the boss as unfocused and out of control. The net result is underperformance versus what the two should be capable if they were properly working in unison. Neither party is likely very satisfied with the situation.
#2. Promoter Boss/Promoter Subordinate
The two HBR researchers found that promoters tend to enjoy working for promoter-like leaders who support creative solutions and look for ways to shake things up. While both parties are likely to feel very good about the relationship and ideas will flourish, beware of the execution of these ideas, since this is not the strong suit of either of them. This pairing can be quite dangerous in mature industries, but can work well in fast growing and changing industries.
#3. Protector Boss/Protector Subordinate
In this situation, the two probably really like working together and things most likely are executed very well. Rules and standards would be emphasized, and things are likely to be micromanaged. If the goals are clear, they are most probably met with few mistakes being made in the process. But beware; the creative aspect of finding better ways to do things would not be a high priority. Protecting the status quo would be the overriding focus.
#4. Protector Boss/Promoter Subordinate
While the boss may be a bit bewildered by some of the creativity and change being brought forward by the subordinate, it can actually be a big plus to have a discipline-oriented boss helping sort out ideas and perfecting them. If both parties respect what the other brings to the table, this can be the optimal situation of the four arrangements we have described here. This pairing is particularly good for well-established businesses in well-established industries.
Successful examples of these pairings
Stepping back, there are some very interesting examples of the above pairings. In the fast moving technology world, consider how highly productive the ultimate promoter Steve Jobs was, working with promoter subordinate Jony Ive, the highly creative design guy. They were fortunate they had Tim Cook around, the quintessential protector who ran manufacturing and executed the iPhone and iPad roll-outs flawlessly.
Lou Gerstner is an example of a guy who was a great promoter, de-emphasizing the mainframe and focusing on services, while also being a terrific protector, managing the total re-organization of IBM to put the customer, and his or her needs, as the focal point of the entire organization.
The intent of all of this is to raise the awareness of the difference in strengths that people inherently have and to suggest that leaders would be well served to think about the pairing of bosses and subordinates as they contemplate ways to make their organizations more effective.
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