Managing Your Boss: The Impact of Manager Personality and Style on Employee Performance
by Rick Garlick, Ph.D., Director of Consulting and Strategic Implementation, Hospitality Research Group, Maritz Research
By Rick Garlick
It's been said 'people don't leave companies, they leave managers.' Indeed, Maritz has conducted numerous studies demonstrating the importance of a positive relationship with one's manager as a key predictor of whether employees will remain with a company. While no one would question the impact the quality of managers has on employee turnover, several questions emerge from this type of discussion. Exactly what qualities define a 'good' manager? Do certain personality types make better managers than others? How does a task oriented vs. a relationally oriented management style impact employee performance and customer experience?
In addition to answering the series of agree-disagree statements, respondents were asked to perform a Q-sort task in which they were presented with 24 adjectives that could be used to describe their direct supervisor's personality. Each person was instructed to identify three adjectives that most described his or her supervisor, and three adjectives that least described the supervisor. After doing so, respondents were asked to prioritize the remaining adjectives, according to the degree to which they provided secondary descriptions of their managers.
Cluster analysis, which is a mathematical method for categorizing the descriptors into groups, was used to create six distinct supervisor personality profiles. These profiles are described in the following paragraphs, along with some of the attitudinal characteristics of employees reporting to each type of manager. Respondents were also asked to identify a well-known fictional character that best corresponded to their manager's personality type. This exercise was intended to add a bit of 'color' to the segmentation profiling. Finally, respondents were asked whether they would retain or 'fire' their own boss if given the opportunity.
Six Supervisor Personality Types
The Respected Professional (29%)
Nearly three-out-of-ten work for a supervisor best characterized as a 'Respected Professional'. The Respected Professional is largely task driven, but also seen as honest and reliable. They act consistently and 'know their stuff'. At the same time, they are not perceived as ruthless or controlling. They are flexible when the situation requires and make decisions with the good of the business in mind.
Most employees will not become 'buddies' with this type of manager. However, Respected Professionals earn the trust of their employees. They get the job done, without a lot of personal involvement with their direct reports. They maintain a professional distance, but aren't necessarily seen as uncaring. They just do what's needed to get the job done and save their personal relationships for outside of work.
Respected Professionals are evaluated positively by their direct reports. Employee satisfaction and commitment are high among those reporting to this manager type. In many regards, they are rated similarly, or just slightly lower, compared to the Caring Mentor (described in next section.) Direct reports do, however, rate the Respected Professional lower than the Caring Mentor on supervisor caring attributes and making the company a fun place to work. Even so, the Respected Professional is rated better on these attributes than the four remaining manager types emerging from this analysis.
All in all, the Respected Professional is viewed positively as a manager. When asked which character most described this boss type, 76% described him/her as 'Superman or Wonder Woman – open to your ideas', while 13% described this manager as 'Charlie Brown – everyone's pal.' Only 4% would 'fire' this type of boss if they could.
The Caring Mentor (26%)
This manager is highly relational and greatly appreciated by direct reports. Honesty is one of their strongest attributes. They genuinely care about their people. They are cheerful, generous, friendly, and flexible. They are not perceived as particularly task driven, nor are they controlling, tough, or ruthless. They are knowledgeable and act consistently. People are their most important priority at the workplace.
Employees serving under this manager are the most likely to stay with the company long-term, as well as the most likely to recommend their company to others. Only 2% said they would 'fire' this boss if they could. Eighty-one percent (81%) describe this boss as Superman/Wonder Woman.
These supervisors are tough, controlling, and ruthless. Worse yet, they are not seen as honest, ethical, or intelligent by their direct reports. They are extremely Machiavellian in that the 'ends justify the means.' This manager type does not worry about offending people. They may have achieved success through their methods since they are likely to be described as 'upper class', but not envied.
Direct reports do not indicate respect for these bosses, seeing them as 'inconsistent' and 'clueless'. Given the personality descriptors associated with these managers, it is unlikely they would respond negatively to this feedback as long as their direct reports work to achieve the managers' goals.
Not surprisingly, these managers have the lowest employee engagement among all supervisor types. They are seen as being strictly out for themselves. They breed dissatisfaction and disloyalty. Seventy-one percent (71%) would fire this boss if they could, with another 20% 'not sure.' The Win-At-Any-Cost boss is described as a cross between Daffy Duck (29%) and Cruella DeVille (26%).
The Taskmaster (10%)
The Taskmaster is tough, controlling, and task-driven. However, unlike the Win-At-Any-Cost manager, the Taskmaster rates higher on both ethics and competence. The Taskmaster is a 'Type A' personality; not cheerful or peaceful, but more focused on achieving goals. Driving productivity is a top priority for this manager. They are generally rigid, but not particularly ruthless. People simply aren't as much of a priority as successfully completing a task.
The Taskmaster isn't seen as particularly effective by direct reports. They are preferred to the Win-At-Any-Cost manager but don't engender much in the way of employee loyalty. Their direct reports see them as only modestly effective with respect to how they serve customers. In short, people don't 'hate' them as much, but don't particularly respond to their leadership style either.
Direct reports describe this type of manager as a cross between Superman/Wonder Woman and Cruella DeVille, indicating they get the job done, but without much concern for the well-being of their people. About one-in-five (18%) would fire these bosses if they could, with another 27% 'not sure' whether they would retain them as a supervisor.
The Likeable Loser (9%)
The Likeable Loser's direct reports generally think their boss is a decent enough person, just not particularly competent. They are wholesome and charming, while at the same time seen as inconsistent and clueless. They are not seen as imaginative, intelligent, tough, successful, or task driven. They probably achieved their position because someone liked them or because they were someone's brother-in-law.
The Likeable Loser's direct reports simply don't respect him or her and would generally like to have someone else manage them. Employee engagement ratings for this manager type are similar to those who report to Taskmaster – somewhere in the mid-range. Employees don't hate these managers; they just don't have a lot of use for them. However, almost twice as many (32%) would fire this boss compared to Taskmasters, with another 28% 'not sure.' Only 40% would retain this manager.
The Likeable Loser is most likely to be described as The Invisible Man (34%) or Charlie Brown (27%).
The Glad-Hander (7%)
The Glad Hander is a friendlier version of the Win-At-Any-Cost manager. They are very similar on most characteristics including being seen as dishonest, unreliable, clueless, and uncaring. However, they are viewed a bit more positively, characterized as friendly and flexible. They are at least recognized for having a more ingratiating approach than the slash-and-burn style of the Win-At-Any-Cost manager or the Taskmaster, but they aren't seen as any more effective nor are they respected very much by their direct reports.
Despite being seen as more personable than the Win-At-Any-Cost manager, the Glad Hander's direct reports rate him or her almost as badly on managerial effectiveness. On a few qualities, the Glad Hander's ratings are better than the Win-At-Any-Cost manager, but still significantly lower than all other manager types. Despite this, their friendlier personalities makes getting rid of them less of a priority, as only one-in-five (20%) would fire this boss outright, compared to the extremely high percentage wanting to get rid of a Win-At-Any-Cost manager.
The character description of this manager type was mixed. The largest proportion (26%) described this boss as Charlie Brown – someone who wants to be liked, with 19% describing this boss as Daffy Duck and another 19% describing him or her as The Invisible Man. It should be noted there were some who appreciated this manager, with another 19% referring to him or her as Superman/Wonder Woman. These are probably individuals who have found some way to align themselves with this manager and benefit from his or her managerial tactics.
Employee engagement is generally considered the result of several components, including how satisfied employees are with their jobs, their intent to remain long-term with the company, and their willingness to recommend their workplace to others. The following table demonstrates the impact of supervisor personality style on each of these three aspects. Shown in the table, are the percentages of 'strongly agree' responses for each manager type.
'% Strongly Agreeing'
With regard to employee engagement, those working for Caring Mentors and Respected Professionals show significantly higher levels of engagement than for any of the other four personality types. Taskmasters and Likeable Losers come out in the middle with the two most self-interested manager types (Glad Handers, Win-At-Any-Cost) engendering very little employee satisfaction or loyalty.
While it is clear that different personality styles impact employee attitudes toward their jobs, what about the impact of supervisor personality style on the customer experience? Some might be concerned that, if a manager cares too much about their direct reports, perhaps customers are neglected. The data clearly show this is not the case. The following table shows the percentage of employees within each group who strongly agree with a series of customer-oriented statements.
'% Strongly Agreeing'
As can be seen in the preceding table, the most caring managers (Caring Mentors) produce the most caring employees. While some might fear being too caring about employees can be a negative for a boss, it is clear this manager type facilitates the most energized employees. Furthermore, employees serving under this manager have the strongest customer affinity. Most interesting is employees reporting to this manager rate their companies the best on having a strong customer focus. It is likely companies that hire caring, supportive managers also provide the same type of customer care. This manager type engenders positive feelings toward co-workers and senior leaders as well.
While employees who work for Respected Professionals evaluate the quality of the service they provide to customers as better than those who work for the other four manager types, they do not enjoy their interactions with customers any more than the others. The moral of this story is if you care about your people, they will care about your customers. While it can be argued this is all perceptual data from the standpoint of employees, Maritz has conducted studies demonstrating an extremely strong relationship between employee perceptions of product and service quality and actual customer satisfaction as measured by customer feedback surveys.
Assuming the information provided by this study can be projected to the entire U.S. workforce, the data provide some very striking conclusions. For starters, only slightly more than half (55%) work for someone who could be considered an effective manager (Caring Mentors, Respected Professionals). One-in-four (26%) work for managers who completely lack any ability to motivate employee performance (Win-At-Any-Cost, Glad Handers). It is no wonder Maritz studies measuring employee attitudes have consistently shown low levels of workforce engagement.
A second important implication is that a manager's relationship with his or her employees is essential to creating a positive customer experience. While both Caring Mentors and Respected Professionals are associated with more positive employee perceptions of customer service, only those who work for the most caring managers demonstrate a significantly greater affinity for customers. Employees who believe their managers have their best interest in mind are unquestionably those who are most likely to go out of their way to provide high levels of customer service.
The data also call into question the effectiveness of managers who are either focused too much on tasks and not at all on employees or managers who have good relationships with their employees, but possess no ability to adequately manage tasks. However, no manager is viewed more unfavorably than the manager using his or her employees to advance a personal agenda without regard for anyone but themselves. Unfortunately, the data suggest this manager type exists to a far greater extent than most would like to believe.
The same Maritz study that produced these results also examined attitudes of workers broken out by age demographics. Young workers, under 30 years old, who are considered Generation Y, were the least likely to remain loyal to an employer. The reason is most young workers realize companies no longer offer lifetime employment. Young workers are those most likely to ask the question of 'what's in it for me?' If companies have managers perceived as self-interested or uncaring, they will have a particularly difficult time attracting and retaining young talent.
The results reflect a changing cultural landscape of the American workforce. In a previous era, a self-focused, command and control management style could be accepted within certain corporate cultures. Given the increasing 'war on talent', particularly young talent just coming into the workforce, companies will need to hire and promote a different type of manager than in the past. Instead of managing by intimidation, managers have a greater need to inspire the loyalty of their workers through a caring, mentoring management style, or at the very least, a style that inspires respect and admiration. This is not only important for recruiting and retention purposes, but also for creating customer loyalty since the most caring, committed employees produce the most positive customer experiences. In this regard, management quality can be directly linked to the growth and retention of profitable customers, and ultimately to the success or failure of an organization.
Dr. Rick Garlick is Director of Consulting and Strategic Implementation, Hospitality Research Group for Maritz Research. He has worked with many of North America’s leading hotel chains including Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood to translate research findings into actionable solutions with the goal of driving organizational growth and profitability. He is also an integral part of Maritz’ international leadership team guiding its employee engagement measurement and training program.
About Maritz Research | As one of the world’s largest marketing research firms, Maritz Research, a unit of Maritz Inc., helps many of today’s most successful companies improve performance through a deep understanding of their customers, employees and channel partners. Founded in 1973, it offers a range of strategic and tactical solutions concentrating primarily in the hospitality, automotive, financial services,telecommunications, retail, pharma workplace and technology industries. The company has achieved ISO 9001 registration, the international symbol of quality. It is a member of CASRO and official sponsor of the American Marketing Association. Based in St. Louis, Maritz Inc. provides market and customer research, communications, learning solutions, incentive initiatives, meetings and event management, rewards and recognition, travel management services, and customer loyalty programs. Maritz has a presence in 42 countries, with key offices in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain. For more information, visit .
Nationally recognized subject matter expert in the areas of brand alignment, employee engagement, and customer experience and loyalty. Primary focus in the hospitality sector but also experienced in the financial services, entertainment, retail, utilities, and manufacturing sectors. Best talent is the ability to communicate complex information into specific recommendations to inform business strategy.More from Rick Garlick
About Maritz Research
As one of the world's largest marketing research firms, Maritz Research, a unit of Maritz, helps many of today's most successful companies improve performance through an actionable understanding of their customers, employees, and channel partners. Founded in 1973, Maritz Research offers a range of strategic and tactical solutions concentrating primarily in the automotive, financial services, hospitality, telecommunications and technology and retail industries. The company has achieved ISO:2 0252 registration, the international symbol of quality. Maritz Research is a member of CASRO and official sponsor of the American Marketing Association.