Type A and Type B Personalities, Meet Type T

Ann All

To the well-known Type A and Type B personality types, we may need to add a Type T (for technologist).


In my just-published interview with Robert Austin, one of three authors of "The Adventures of an IT Leader" (Harvard Business Press), he provided more fodder for the idea that there's a classic IT personality type -- and such types may not mix well with their business colleagues. He said:

The classic scenario is something goes wrong, and the reflex of the person in the technical department is to go and fix it before they come back and tell a business manager anything more about it. They want to come back with good news. The business guy is upset and doesn't know what they are talking about, and in the worst cases, the two sides go into their opposite corners and break down at exactly the worst time.


Technology types prefer to solve problems with other techies and thus may resist discussing issues with colleagues in other areas of the business. Said Austin:

The classic problem for a technical person is that, because you do feel expert in technical areas, in the moments that you should be going and being consultative with the CEO, your reflex is to go and hang with your team instead and help them solve the problem.

I wrote about this idea earlier this week, ciitng a CIO.com article featuring a consultant who says 60 percent of IT personnel to whom she's given the Myers-Briggs personality assessment are Introverted Sensing Thinking and Judging (ISTJ) personality types, characterized by their reliance on facts rather than intuition and their inability to see nuances. ISTJs also have difficulty accepting input from others.


Some CIOs and other technology managers think they need to be master of all in their domain, Austin told me in our interview. Though this was always a stretch, it's just not possible today, given the rapid pace of change in technology The answer, said Austin, is to assemble a crack technology team and make sure the team's talents are employed in optimal ways. That means collaborating more, with both technology folks and business folks.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 25, 2009 9:02 AM Darrin Brillhart Darrin Brillhart  says:

The I.T. landscape has changed significantly over the past decade.  Where it was once ok to say it was "broken" or "fixed", the CIO or I.T. leader needs to be able to relate to the business now in everything from the financial impact, business operations impact, and work flow reduction to even the customer experience or impact.  I have been in the technology field for over 25 years now but I have my roots in Entrepreneurship.  That has helped me in more than one way relate to the leadership of a company what impact an outage or even what savings the solution provided at that point to the company. 

One thing that I have found particularly useful is to ask myself, if this were my company, what would I do/say, how would I react, and is this the right decision for the company?  Ultimately, the more interaction you have with the leadership team and other department leaders, they will begin to notice you not only as the "I.T." person, but someone who values the company and understands the impact I.T. has on the overall outcome.  The new CIO needs to relate on multiple levels and think in ways never before seen in the I.T. field.  The new CIO needs to ask questions, engage senior leadership, and befriend everyone from the CEO, Operations Manager to Marketing and especially the Sales department and even the individuals responsible for the everyday operations and by all means, talk to your customer-internal and external.  By doing this, you not only gain the trust of the leadership team but you show them that you are providing smart, dynamic business solutions and that you have the best interest of the company at heart and improving the Customer Experience.

It is true that the CIO or I.T. leadership wears many hats but even though you wear the hats do you understand what impact that hat has?  Learn by asking and prove by showing what I.T. can and will do to help the company reach even higher than before.

Darrin Brillhart

May 25, 2009 9:28 AM Paul Ford Paul Ford  says:

When you set up a business you define your business objectives and processes first.  You then get technology in place to support those initiatives.  Its not the other way around.

Many IT people don't seem to get that.  It would be best to hire technical people who understand the business than technology alone.

May 25, 2009 1:05 PM Anita Mathis Anita Mathis  says:

According to my Myers-Briggs profile,  I'm INTJ and I would choose to talk with a higher up about a problem before trying to fix it.  That may be because I know that I may not be able to solve the problem myself or even accurately define what the problem is. I can see how someone who naturually "senses"  the problem and how to fix it would be templed to run ahead and get things done. 

One of my former managers expected us to fix things we could and not bring stuff to him unless we couldn't.  That's one way competence is demonstrated, through action. The technologist would be taking the correct action in their mind.   If there was a problem it could be due to unclear boundaries or expectations.

May 25, 2009 6:20 PM Diarmuid Murphy Diarmuid Murphy  says:

It may be more to do with the fact that the business cannot understand technical issues - why bother to explain so - its easier to say , "broken" and "fixed" than explain.

May 25, 2009 6:45 PM user1388287 user1388287  says:

Time has changed and with the theoritical knowledge base available everywhere,  everybody claims to be IT literare. Which is not true, specially when it comes to Buisness heads, as they have more focus on their targets and projets, hence IT personnel are roped in to remove any technical Snag and promote business.

The IT understands that Business would not know the technical reasons (rather would not be intrested in knowing the tech reasons), so the major focus is corrective measures for repair and precautionary measure so its chances of repeating is minimized, rather than reporting the cause of failure. IT plays a dual role by understanding the buisness and the impact and providing the focussed IT services.  


May 25, 2009 7:49 PM John Odam-Adjei John Odam-Adjei  says: in response to Diarmuid Murphy

But surely the IT guy should be taking the time and the trouble to educate his non-techie colleagues. I've always found non-technical business users to be appreciative of being appraised of technical concepts, issues and solutions, so long as it's done in a non-patronising way.

May 26, 2009 8:40 AM Badrinath Badrinath  says: in response to Paul Ford

Paul, You are absolutely right!

May 26, 2009 6:07 PM Badrinath Badrinath  says:

My 2 cents. I think Its just an attitude of not admitting or sharing. Business people understand the domain part of the technology (if not technically as in whole)

Sep 1, 2009 2:50 PM Som Gollakota Som Gollakota  says:

Indeed, technologists are problem solvers - they tend to use "was broken, but fixed now" approach. Also, the business folks (at least think they) are getting more and more technical, tend to want to know the technical problems and want to have a say in the technical solution. The technologists do not appreciate the attitude of the business folks and vice versa.

A couple of key points to remember - and I say this because, although I am no longer a technologist (haven't been one in 10 years) and do not claim to be one, I once was a technologist.

  1. Technology, regardless of the field, was invented to support the business need and opportunity - to make the business work easier, simpler, faster, better and more profitable. Technology supports business, not the other way around (fact!).

  2. As such, regardless of what it is, every technology problem at some level affects the business and the business bottom-line. This is a very critical fact that every technologist (and "has been" technologists such as myself) must understand.

The business leaders and analysts may or may not understand the technology issues/problems/aspects. But they know and understand their businesses better than any technologist does. When a technical problem occurs, they may not know what exactly the problem is, but they know there's a problem when they see some part of their business being affected. At the least, they need to know what the problem is and/or how it affects them - so that they can analyze the business cost of the issue, bring that to the attention of their leaders (before those leaders "accidentally" discover in the presence of their bosses and have a red face - no one wants to appear stupid or appear not knowing what is going on in their organization in the presence of their boss or peers).

Therefore, as I was transitioning from pure technologist to a techno-business project manager, I learnt to ask my technology teams one question every time they tell me about a problem (yes, I earn their trust because of the "techno" part of my expertise). The question is - what would be the business impact or how is the business affected by this? What is the end-user, business, or customer experience as a result of this issue? If I were using this application or that tool, what would I see? I usually get responses ranging from - defining exactly what the experience is, to - no customer/user/business impact (I drill down a little further after this), to - no customer/user impact, but the BI reporting would be a little skewed and so forth.

I believe every technologist must be, at least up to certain extent, business savvy. If not, at least understand that their work at some level affects the business of a company. Even if that's not the case, they must think about one real scenario in their own domain - the embarrassment they would feel if their boss were to identify an issue in an application they own. Because these are the very reasons why a technologist must let the business know that there is an issue, and what that issue is - BEFORE actually fixing it. There may even be a situation where the business would tell them - "we don't care about that. It is not important when compared to these critical issues we are dealing with. We need your help and undivided attention on fixing these". But then, the business managers at least know there is an issue, they can keep their leadership informed, and no one is surprised (personally, I hate bad surprises, and I think everyone does).

--Som G


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