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Executive Class

In my job as a management consultant, the primary function is to interact with people – clients, product vendors, government officials, bankers, and of course other consultants. Most of these are executives and over a period of time, I have started developing certain classifications for them. I know this sounds a little profane because people are not commodities; and personally I am a follower of Gandhi in terms of treating people.
Most of Gandhiji's ideas can be ascribed to some inner quality of his mental eyesight that kept him from seeing people as a mass. He never saw or judged Indians or Frenchmen or Christians or Muslims in millions. He considered each human being too holy, too important to be the mere instrument of a remote impersonal terrestrial power called state.
So before I start the main agenda of this post, let me clarify that this is not an attempt to define people as a collection. It’s a more mundane exercise to define certain common characteristics I have seen in people whom I meet in official capacity. More so, I am not going to generalize any association – so I will try my best not to tie any characteristic to say a Govt. Official or a Corporate Executive.

Executives can be clubbed into 2 broad groups (as a friend of mine put it) – those who manage the job that they do and those who manage the people who do the job. Some people (such as Team Leaders in IT companies) have a mix of the above two roles and more so are often aspirants to move from the former to the latter club.

Some senior executives who are in the role of being people managers are mentally tuned to behave as job managers. Such people often appear as bad people managers because they like to put a process to everything which is many times confused with ‘disrespect to individual’ or ‘stifling creativity’. Such people often may keep other job managers happy because of their understanding of processes, but will disgruntle a softer workforce which prefers a more human approach to work.

Contrasting the first kind are executives who are intrinsically people managers – these executives understand aspects such as what motivates people, how to manage different personalities etc. But one again finds two sub types of executives among these – one who only understands people, another who also understands the work that his people do.

Out of the 3 types – intrinsically job manager, intrinsically people manager who knows people, and intrinsically people manager who knows the job – the third category of people is usually the most liked by most subordinates.

A fourth kind of senior executive is the one who lacks both people and job management skills – often such people will have an impressive appearance and personality which is often the reason why in spite of poor talent, they move up the ladder (as put by Malcom Gladwell) . Such executives will often be glib talkers but will keep quite when a technical discussion is going on – sometimes by starting a parallel chat or else diving deep into their laptops / blackberry’s.

A fifth kind of executive is the smart, intelligent and often with impressive personality who know their subject matter. Most times these people are also aware of their ability to impress people with not just their appearance but also their knowledge and command over subjects. They talk the right stuff when they are expected to and hence are often trouble shooters for their organizations. One potential problem though with them may be that they may be bad people managers – sometimes also because their knowledge of their power to impress people makes them arrogant.

The sixth kind of executive is the concept guy – someone who plan ahead of the times, thinks a lot and is capable of building a model of thoughts. However, within this type you will again have two subtypes – the visionary and the Gyan Master :-). The visionary is not only capable of conceptualizing the high level concept, but drill down to process details – such a person is an architect for new horizons.

On the exact other side of the spectrum is the Gyan Master who mostly creates bubbles of hot air and has little ability to conceptualize details. Such a person usually cannot deliver solutions but his talk can be helpful to provide a feel-good factor. Such people are used when an organization is aware of a impending unmanageable situation is going to crop up and wants to instill some confidence in its people by glib talk. In such situations, usually a good job manager executive would be able to reduce the damage, but the Gyan master is also important to provide immediate relief as an emotional cooler.

You would realize that the above quoted characteristics are not mutually exclusive – they are often intermixed and also situational. For example a visionary can become a gyan master if the subject at hand is not his core area of work. Similarly, the good people manager may turn hostile if under pressure and so on.

Comments are welcome!


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