Our traditional organizational culture in the West has historically favored type A personalities and leadership styles over type B personalities and leadership styles. Our myths and icons-the cowboy president, the aggressive Donald Trump type, the stereotypical corporate executive-all underline our belief that type A behavior is more effective, more charismatic, and more successful in our culture.
Who hasn't heard the downside to the type A personality by now? 1960's heart specialists Friedman and Rosenman created the label to explain the physiological degradation of the heart and circulatory system when exposed to stress hormones and the fight or flight physiological reactions for extended duration. They had seen similar degradation in many chronic heart disease diagnoses, and found as their theoretical explanation a type of personality that was characterized by aggressive goal setting and attainment, excelling in whatever field of interest, yet often short tempered, dissatisfied with others or confrontational with obstacles in their environments and, in many cases, frequently reacting with hostility towards others.
The type B personality has sometimes been characterized as the type A's polar opposite, utilizing more negotiation and alliance-building in gaining support for their positions, having a more easy-going, less demand-driven psyche, better able to relax and to experience happiness through many different kinds of experiences, rather than just the goal driven experience. Type B's have often been characterized as calming personalities, naturally able to draw down stress in interpersonal transactions and organizations. They have been identified as physiologically more likely to live longer, healthier lives, whether due to more moderated activation of stress hormones or less physiologically activated in fight or flight mode save for when necessary.
Since Friedman and Rosenman's label has become popularized, organizations have come to recognize health care and productivity loss costs of executives with heart troubles in mid-career.
The number of catastrophic stress based issues like heart attack or extreme hypertension has decreased. Productivity loss and health impacts due to stress in individuals and organizations, however, has seen an overall increase. Experts like Jane Cranwell-Ward and Alyssa Abbey (Organizational Stress, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2005) note that stress has a strong up-tick in an economic downturn. From these two notable examples, we can see that humans have a strong capacity to adapt, given new information and a good practice; and stress is not going away anytime soon.
Type A personalities in my opinion react to stress by attempting to conquer externals. Stress can often be disguised entirely by other issues. In many circumstances, a person, thing or situation blocks success or progress for the type A. A stress audit may see that person, thing or situation in terms of how it generates stress physiology, stress based language and emotions in the individual. Type B personalities can act on a set of goals with similar determination and commitment, but respond to obstacles and setbacks with a sense that perhaps there is more to work out. Impatience-a hallmark of stress-and demand seem at times to be absent in their work process. Their stress may come only as those around them make demands and act out emotions in a prolonged fashion.
I like the adaptive idea the best. I have met few individuals who did not have a state dependent type A and type B personality available, somewhat developed, and certainly able to be activated given the right situation. While we tend to fall back on what we know best, or how we react, we have enormous untapped potentials for cross-networking type A states and historic experiences in memory with type B states and experiences, letting the executive brain act in an emotionally intelligent way with practice select the right personality response for the situation.
We are living in heady times, when the need for and practice of stress awareness and management for ourselves and those around us is vital to individual and organizational performance and sustainability. We must stay competitive and on point to find and make the best of ideas and actions that will sustain us individually and organizationally in the long haul. One of these necessities is located in the type B personality we all carry somewhere within us, experimentally and conceptually. Our type B component can offer the patience and negotiating skills necessary to lower stress and remain highly productive in times of increasing uncertainty.
The book De-Stressing the Workplace: A Guide for the Service, Blue and White Collar Workplace will be available in August. http:http://www.diamondpointcoaching.com/
David M. Hoza worked for 26 years in the service industry, including 10 years in the Restaurant and Hospitality industry in an international ski/tourist destination town, in all levels of roles. He has also owned and operated a service industry business. Since 2005, Dave offers organizational consulting and presentations with an emphasis on organizational relationships and stress awareness and management. http://www.diamondpointcoaching.com/