Ask Liz: How to handle large personalities, and when going back to university makes sense

Friday 26 April 2019

Question Mark

Dear Liz,

How would you best handle a manager whose large personality completely kills the “animal spirits” within the team? 

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for your question. A large personality can be the result of a number of things, it could be the result of high levels of extraversion; it could be the over use of a strength; it could be a trait called ‘Bold’ (from the Hogan personality profile). Someone who is Bold may be perceived as assertive, energetic, confident, ambitious and visionary - on the up side. They may be self-promoting, ignore negative feedback, be competitive, even competing with their own direct reports, and demanding - on the down side. They may therefore struggle to foster and develop a sense of loyalty or teamwork among their colleagues.

Whatever the reason, we can’t change our personality, but we can adapt our behaviour. In terms of how best to handle a manager with a large personality, here are my suggestions:  

  • Identify the specific behaviour that causes issues and the impact that it has. Being specific is very important as it is the most likely way of helping someone to change their behaviour because it is difficult to know how to respond to generalisations.
  • Be as objective as you can in describing the behaviour (try to step away from the emotion caused by the behaviour). We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by our actions. In other words, the intention of the manager is likely to be positive and they may not understand how their actions are affecting others.
  • Sit down with the manager (perhaps in a regular one-to-one) and talk to them about what you have observed and how it is impacting you. It’s probably best not to speak on behalf of the team, only focus on the impact on you. This may well take some courage as you can’t be sure of the reaction you will get, and I highly recommend practicing what you are going to say with a trusted colleague to ensure you are well prepared.
  • Good language to use is ‘when you do x, the impact on me is y’.  Avoid using language that may be received as an accusation or is personal, and only focus on the way that a behaviour or action impacts on you and how it makes you feel.  For example, ‘when we are in a team meeting you sometimes do a lot of the talking and there isn’t much space for me to speak up, I find this frustrating because I am keen to offer my thoughts and opinions.’  This approach makes it easier to receive feedback and is less likely to cause a defensive reaction.
  • If this approach doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up and try again at a later date as the manager may reflect on what you have said and be more willing to listen on another occasion.

Dear Liz, 

I am a CFA charterholder, and a quantitative analyst with fifteen years’ experience. I have a bachelors’ degree. I would like to move further into quant research but feel that my (lack of) academic record may not make that possible. I’m thinking of applying for a master’s degree or PHD in a relevant subject, which would allow me to continue to work while studying. I’m 40 years old, would this be a worthwhile endeavour at this stage of my life?

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for your question.  As a general rule I am a firm believer in what they call lifelong learning so I would say ‘yes’, it’s always worthwhile to learn, to study, and to invest in yourself.  You are only 40 and have up to 25+ years at work to further build your career so injecting a new qualification has the potential to be a great springboard.  

More specifically, and forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, it’s about what to study and where to study it in order to get the best from your investment.  For example, research the top schools for your subject, e.g. LSE, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, etc. Research the course and make sure you choose one that is sufficiently demanding from a quantitative perspective but also give consideration to your own abilities in this area so that whilst it challenges you it is also within your reach.

Liz CoddGot a question? 

Write to me, and I’ll give you some advice, on an entirely anonymous basis. 

Queries may be posted in anonymous, general terms, with Liz’s response, on our website. Liz may not be able to reply to all queries but will do her best to get back to you.

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