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Type A and B Managers and Stress – Personal and Organizational

Often a senior level manager can be the person who offers to hold the standards, and has ultimate responsibility to the top level of an organization. Senior level managers may tend to have type A personalities. They may tend to define their job and actions based on goals, rather than optimizing circumstances for people to meet those goals. Some of the stressors they may experience are different from the potential stressors people managers may experience. People managers may tend to inhabit type B personalities. The potential stress that type A manager goal oriented behavior may create for the organization also tend to be different than the types of potential stressors a type B people manager may create for an organization. Each of these stereotypes may or may not resonate with you or someone in your organization. The real potential here may be the potential to cultivate-one in the other-type A and type B components in ourselves and our managerial styles.

Type A managers tend to be goal oriented, aggressively pursue goal attainment, and are highly invested in responsibilities. They may hardly identify with their roles in the organization, meaning their role may be their identity. Type B managers can be people oriented, and may mediate between the goals of an organization or its head and the work fit for those goals. Type A's may spend more time specifying the goal they have and the tasks that need to be done to get the job done. Type B's may spend more time listening, and may devote time for problem-solving to solutions that suit both the needs of individual team members and the team as well as the goals of the organization.

We could look at stress in an organization-and at the individual level-and see where the potential stressors tend to come up. Ideally an analysis of this type would be conducted based on interviews with the managers and team. A discussion based on the analytic would not focus on change, unless of course there were dysfunctional aspects showing in the analysis. Rather, the analysis would be used to witness the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons of the potential or actual stressors highlighted in the analysis. In such a practice, criticism is by-passed for statements of perception and experience. The questions may include questions on how the qualitative quality of one manager could motivate, and how that motivation may be perceived as helping the employee in question obtain her or his goals. Stress is a two way street.

In our stereotypical assessment, based on my experience of managers from several different organizations, and discussions with co-workers about different managers and their styles, I want to proceed with a stress picture, and then discuss the possibility of cultivating the key strengths of each of these stereotypes as components of our own predominant managerial style. First some common issues of stress that occurs with a type A manager.

We want to look at both the potentials for stress for the organization the manager abroad, as well as that manager's own vulnerabilities. As I have seen type A personalities, and understand the literature, one of the aspects of type A goal attainment seems to be that type A's have the capacity to externalize all stress, and utilize the fight or flight system to attain goals. In extreme cases in the literature, I interpret the hostity that comes from extreme type A's, and the sense of impatience, as ways to control externals to attain goals. One of the overlooked aspects of this set of habits is the amount to which this has become a very powerful combination of energy (stress) and stress management (goal attainment).

In the case of a highly stressed individual, the need for control of externals is directly related. For the type A, the control of externals is a powerful and successful mechanism for success or goal attainment. Anyone who has started a workout program after a period of dormancy may be familiar with the need to get over the psychological hurdle of resistance. In a very real way, stress may be there simply to maintain comfort and stasis. Type A's may ignore this message altogether for the majority of their lives, and early on, the use of that resistance to power goal attainment can be what feels like a key to productivity.

The type A manager is acclimated to stressful situations as a domain for getting things done, and in some circumstances we benefit from their intensity or discipline of motivation. As a young persona with a great deal of support, and little in the way of life stressors (these are the larger stressors that tend to come along later in life, or perhaps sometimes be characterized as traumatic), the tension for the kind of stress generated in the attainment of goals to be eustress-the good stress, the motivational or amped up stress-feels to me to be very high. The ego of a successful young type A manager may take pride and a sense of security in how using stress to achieve goals has worked well in the past. The tendency may be that if it works well for them, it will work well for the organization that becomes an extension of them, and in many instances they may offer a lot of drive and support for goal attainment to the organization.

One of the problems that may exist, however, especially later in life, after this style has become habituated, has become an auto-pilot program, is that where additional stress enters into that person's life, the tension may be to manage stress by over -controlling the organization, or becoming over-dependent on the performance of the organization to manage outside stress. The ego has seen how goal attainment has led to security, which leads to a reduction of stress. The stress relief mechanism primarily employed has been one which controls externals-obstacles to goals-in order to satisfy ego needs which in turn lowers stress and relieves with satisfaction at the end of a successful goal attainment cycle.

A common comment about type A personalities is that they rush to the next goal, and the next, and there is no room for enjoyment of the attained goal at hand. I believe this is a tendency for the system to collapse into an over-efficient state. As an analogy, consider this. Hormonally, the type A personality is amped up while attaining goals. This is true also for the type of neurochemistry specific to type A goal attainment while enduring stress. While the pattern is being laid in place, while we are young, this pattern does not often have major stressors-other than performance and 'how will I be perceived by others?' stressors-layered in the mix. (Or, there may be additional stress that is endured from other parts of a type A's life, ignored and managed by goal attainment and striving for success).

When additional stressors come into play later in life, whether it's a rough relationship, the threat of a major loss to identity like a job title, a threat based on income loss or what have you, the amped up system-the one which has unconsciously was serving the type A well up to this point-is the program of choice. The type A will not be likely to choose a vacation, a yoga class, re-thinking, or any of the professionally suggested practices for de-stressing, because the system in place has worked, and the system in place is highly efficient, and the system in place is automatically activated by stress. The ego and the hormones of the fight or flight system may be conspiring to keep a type A personality in a system that loses its efficiency with the weight of extra stressors.

Go back to how type A personality attain goals. Control of externals is one of the main auto-pilot strategies for goal attainment, whether controlling others to complete tasks for goals, or controlling the external environment to optimize for goal attainment.

Under stress, control of the external environment is strongly activated, but the problem is, without stress awareness training, the need to control the external environment is simply as a successful goal attainment strategy. Becoming short tempered may work to motivate workers to meet a deadline, or to be more careful in the completion of their tasks. At home or in a pleasure experience, this characteristic may be completely out of place, branded as improper etiquette and connoting disrespect, may do damage to the relationships where the behavior is exercised in extreme, and yet, it may be the unconscious way that the type A personality is managing stress.

I do not believe the type A personality is locked into this tension. For one thing, statistics show that since Friedman and Rosenman, the heart surgeons that coined the term 'type A' from their work with chronic heart issues and hypertension, put the type A description into circulation, incidences of mortality and disability have gone down, even as stress has remained a major factor in the workplace. This capacity to respond to information makes me very hopeful that at least some of us will listen to feedback, and look at the type B component we carry around with us, that has had experiential practice, if dependent upon a specific environment (recreational) or circumstance (vacation) or set of associations (lover, family, friends), and consciously foster that component so that it may be accessed when valuable, and inhabited as necessary for sustainable individual stress management, as well as sustainable organizational stress management.

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