Working with intense people can be very exciting. One minute, you are doing a super job and the next minute, you are destroying their lives. If you sometimes complain that your life is boring, try hanging around with intense people. They will raise your blood pressure daily (at least). It is a roller-coaster that never seems to end.
Some people are just naturally intense. They were born that way. As they grow and mature, some of those people learn self-control, making it more difficult to discern them from naturally calm people. On the surface, they will seem calm, focused, serine. They seem to be like that all of the time. You can handle that. It is nice. However, when things go bad, some of them will revert. It’s like a light switch was flipped and all of the happy stuff evaporates and the Halloween decorations underneath, come to life. Bwoohahahah!
Time to Panic?
In the world, there are people whose job is to regularly handle emergencies: police, firefighters, soldiers, hospital staff, etc. Those people are trained, so when things go bad, they will instinctually know and do the right things.
Sometimes, in an IT department, there are also emergencies. I’m not talking about actual life-and-death scenarios, but still, IT emergencies are pretty serious within their context. Nobody wants your IT people to face IT emergencies often enough to develop (or require) the kind of experience that emergency workers need. It is much better if your IT department is run in a manner that prevents emergencies. Unfortunately, this means that when an emergency does happen, your IT staff probably will not be prepared for it. So, it will be hard for everyone to keep calm and focus on doing the right thing. This is when some people’s “crisis personalities” boil straight to the top.
During an emergency, some people will simply remain calm and stay focused. They will shut-out distractions and concentrate on the most efficient way to determine the root-cause and then determine the most effective way to resolve the problem. This is the right thing to do: stay focused. If a techie is really quiet, he is thinking. You won’t be able to see the hamster-wheel in his head going 800 mph. You just have to imagine it.
Meanwhile, the intense people will come unglued. You see the fear and anxiety well-up in them and spill over. They lose their cool and forget about productivity. When they see other people remaining calm, it seems to make things worse for them. They can’t believe that anybody can keep a level head. They start getting ideas like, “This calm person must not be aware that there is a crisis”. They seem to think that the best course of action is to change this.
Before a crisis
Know your people. A manager who has come-to-know his people is going to know what to expect from his people. He will also know which ones are bloodhounds who are naturally going to begin tracking the scent, even before being told to do so. He will know which of his people are likely to lose it and head-off into the weeds.
How to handle things
During a crisis, perhaps the worst thing that a leader can do, is to spread panic to his team. If you see a leader doing something like this, you really will want to grab some duct-tape and subdue that knucklehead (but please resist this urge).
During a crisis, a manager should be doing these two things:
- Keep your team focused on resolving the crisis and staying on task.
If they lose focus, then get them to step-back from the problem for a moment (to regroup) and then try again with a different approach. Think of yourself as a NASCAR (auto racing) pit crew. When the driver is doing his job, let him concentrate. When the car pulls off of the track, get him some fresh gas and tires, and send him back on the track.
- If you spot a person who is buckling under the pressure, your job must be to pull that person aside, before they spread it to the rest of the team or create a distraction.
Of course, pulling a person aside, can be much more challenging when you are dealing with an intense person. Those intense people do not want to be contained or squelched and they will probably become very agitated if they realize that they are being “handled”. Regardless, that person is a threat and you need to contain him/her.
In part 2, I will discuss ways of handling a manager who is “losing it”.