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How to be a successful synergist

Lise Gagne/IStockphoto/Lise Gagne/IStockphoto

You've sweated to pull together a killer presentation on the project you're sure nails all the reasons to move ahead without delay. But when the report hits the table in the planning meeting, the boss just flips to the last page summary and hands it back for a rethink because of one tiny point.

You've run into a classic roadblock in organizations caused by a clash in management styles that can create a permanent gridlock. Fortunately it can also be easily overcome if you know how to work with people who have three predominant work styles, according to organizational consultant Les McKeown, author of The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.

"The key thing to do is when you feel a personality clash is to step back and determine peoples' natural styles, otherwise you can go through your whole career feeling at odds with them," he said.

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In his 28 years of working with corporate leadership teams, he's found that people with three natural styles tend to predominate in the executive ranks:

The visionary: This is the often the top executive, the big-concept person who is turned on by ideas and consumed by the need to create and achieve, but turned off by the minutia of the day to day.

The operator: "This is the person who just wants to go out and get things done and would rather smash through a brick wall than sit through a meeting," Mr. McKeown said.

The processor: The highly rational and detail-oriented person who wants to create orderly systems for getting things done in rational and repeatable ways.

The most successful projects have all three types in them, working together, Mr. McKeown said, but "when I see teams of really competent people stalling out, nine times out of 10, the sticking point is a clash of fundamental personal styles."

To get around the roadblocks, organizations need another personality style, according to Mr. McKeown:

The synergist: This is a person who has one of these dominant styles but also recognizes where personalities may clash and makes subtle – but essential – interventions to get around potential gridlock by communicating with people who have clashing styles on their wavelength.

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A synergist is not actually a separate personality but someone who realizes the inherent instability of the triad of visionary, operator and processor, Mr. McKeown said.

Becoming a synergist starts with recognition, he said. "It's a matter of realizing you need to put the interest of the enterprise above your personal emotions. That sounds like a given, but in reality is can be difficult to be dispassionate," he said.

In successful organizations, the visionary is most often the one who develops into the synergist. "The reason is they are looking to break gridlock and they are the ones who start with the most skin in the game."

Anyone can become a synergist by determining the predominant trait of people in a team and communicating on their wavelength, Mr. Mckeown said. Here's how:

Working with a visionary

You don't take a fully formed new idea to visionaries and ask for their support. Rather than a multipage proposal, bring in a single sheet with bullet points and ask for their advice. They'll lay their ideas on it and because they have then contributed to the document, they'll feel a sense of ownership, Mr. McKeown said.

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Because visionaries often have many initiatives on the go at once, working with them requires that you have a system for easy retrieval of information and report back as soon as you have it.

Visionaries expect you to be there when they need you. To stay sane, you need to establish times when you are not on call and learn what initiatives the boss is really committed to seeing done and which are merely shiny-ball passing interests that you can treat with benign neglect.

Working with a processor

The processor will want to see the complete proposal. Processors feel compelled to bring order to all they do and they resist risk and change. Data is all important to them, so you'll need to present lots of relevant hard data on why a project done your way is destined to succeed. Set precise goals for not only what the final result will look like but also when it will be ready.

Processors respond well to calm, even-tempered communication so learn to tone it down, avoid trying to wing it or use hyperbole to sell your ideas. You build their trust by being credible and congruent in what you say and what you do.

Being fully prepared for meetings is important and staying focused in the presentation is essential, as is following up with a memo of your understanding of the results of the meeting. Always make the effort to thank them for their contribution because processors rarely get the accolades that tend to go to visionaries and operators and they'll be very grateful.

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Working with an operator

Operators are intensely task focused and will do whatever it takes to complete the job, even if it means ignoring standard procedures to do so. It's important to give them latitude in how they work because they'll rebel at being micromanaged.

While operators are reliable self-starters, they need to have a goal to reach and from there they'll identify tasks necessary to achieve it. Give clear directions.

Operators tend to over commit and find it hard to say no, so they take on too many tasks to complete successfully. Managers should have them write them down and review their commitments to make sure their agendas are realistic, and encourage them to delegate.

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