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Part IV: Rigid Managers

Part IV: Rigid Managers

You Will Do It My Way

Many managers are rigid. They insist on doing things their way to such a degree that we wonder if they are allergic to compromise and change. They are resistant to learning new ways of doing things and are major obstacles to organizational change and improvement efforts. Working with them can be very frustrating as we see resources wasted on outmoded, inefficient methods. They are the last people you want around if you want to cut through red tape and get things done quickly or in a new way. Rigid managers also tend to be unresponsive to others’ wishes and needs. When dealing with subordinates and peers, they tend to micromanage, giving excessive directions on the details of how to carry out a project rather than giving general directives and trusting their workers to find the best way to reach their goals. They seem to constantly be in control struggles with others, and when their anger is not bursting forth, it is just under the surface.

There are many rigid managers. People with these personality traits are often attracted to management positions rather than to teaching, research, or entrepreneurship. Management provides greater predictability, clearer relationships with others, and does not require the creativity or risk taking of the other fields. Management is certainly not the only profession with rigid individuals. Law and medicine are filled with rigid people, and there are many compulsive teachers, researchers, and entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, management is a haven for many compulsive, educated, work-oriented individuals.

Some aspects of rigid managers can be very helpful in some managerial positions. In particular, the meticulousness and hard work of compulsive individuals is often valuable. These traits may not bring high efficiency or leaps in performance, but they can bring high quality. More creative and flexible individuals may not have the patience to ensure that every detail of a project is in place. If you want someone to ensure that the details of the bureaucratic process are carried out, managers with compulsive traits are ideal. Perhaps most important, their tendency to work very hard and eschew leisure time can benefit a company. Similarly, if you want someone to carefully carry out your orders and to see to it that their subordinates follow suit, someone with authoritarian traits is useful.

Nevertheless, the difficulty of rigid managers in accepting change and their tendency to control others creates many problems. Understanding what drives the rigidity, what limits the manager from trying new things, can both help us tolerate the behavior and sometimes provide us with the tools to modify it.

The Many Flavors of Rigid Managers

A number of factors and personality types can underlie rigid behavior. Some rigid managers have compulsive personality styles, some have authoritarian personality styles, some are oppositional, and some are narcissistic. Some are rigid because they believe that a coercive managerial/leadership style is most effective. Understanding what lies underneath the rigid behavior of a manager is crucial to finding the most effective way to modify the behavior.

Compulsive managers, like most toxic managers, exist on a spectrum (Table IV-1). Some compulsive managers are mildly rigid. They push for things to be done their way, they tend to micromanage, and they compromise only reluctantly and with discomfort. They are hampered in their ability to develop the people under them to lead, and they do not get the best out of people. Assuming that they are otherwise competent to do their job, however, they are usually able to perform reasonably. Those who are very compulsive tend to be perfectionists, which seriously compromises their ability to make decisions and finish projects and work tasks. Their performance is much more seriously hampered if they need to be creative or produce in a rigid timeframe. If you pour narcissistic traits into the mix, the problem grows exponentially. You now have a control freak who demands that everything be done their way and can be offended if you even suggest that you have a useful idea.

Rigid Managers and Aggression

Passive-aggressive individuals, like most rigid individuals, have problems with anger, but their means of dealing with it are unusual. While compulsive individuals deal with their anger by becoming rigid, and by letting their righteous indignation pour out, passive-aggressive people are uncomfortable with expressing anger. Rather than directly saying no or attacking someone’s ideas, they become oppositional and negativistic, and they drag their feet. Their difficulty with being assertive leads them to feel that others dominate them much of the time. As a result, they frequently are oppositional. Unlike narcissistic individuals, they do not have an exaggerated sense of their abilities; they simply think that others are even more incapable than they are.

Table IV-2 summarizes key characteristics of the oppositional personality types underlying rigid behavior: compulsive, authoritarian, passive-aggressive, narcissistic, and dictatorial.

Part IV Overview

The section begins with a chapter on compulsive managers. Compulsive managers are an extreme form of rigid managers, in which both work and play situations are dealt with in a rigid, unyielding style. Authoritarian managers are bureaucratic monsters who believe that people should do as they are told, follow convention very rigorously, and at times express considerable anger. Dictatorial managers are primarily following a belief that coercive leadership is best. Other areas of their lives will generally not have them in rigid control of others. Passive-aggressive managers could easily have been discussed in Part III, “Aggressive Managers.” These managers are negativistic, and they drag their feet in order to sabotage others’ plans. Finally, Part IV has a chapter discussing the general impact of rigid managers on organizations. An important type of rigid manager not discussed in this section is the narcissistic manager.

  • Chapter 16—Compulsive Managers: Slaves to Work and Perfection

  • Chapter 17—Authoritarian Managers: Bureaucratic Monsters

  • Chapter 18—Dictatorial Managers: I’m in Charge

  • Chapter 19—Oppositional Coworkers: Any Way but Your Way

  • Chapter 20—Passive-Aggressive Managers: You Can’t Make Me

  • Chapter 21—Organizational Impact of Rigid Managers: Innovation Stymied

Further Reading

David Shapiro. Autonomy and the Rigid Character. Basic Books, 1981.



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