Many IT managers are uncomfortable with emotion. This isn’t a criticism or an attempt to negatively stereotype. It’s simply based on the skills and preferences generally required for people who work in IT departments.
Psychologist, Carl Jung, argued that everyone has personality preferences. For instance, people have a preference for writing with their left or right hand. This doesn’t mean that they can’t write with the other hand. In fact if you break your right hand it doesn’t take long to become proficient writing with your left. However, as soon as your hand heals you go back to using your right hand.
Practise makes perfect
Having a particular preference, for example, for extrovert behaviour over introvert behaviour doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better at carrying out ‘extrovert-type tasks’ like public speaking and meeting people. But in reality, preference and ability often go together as what you prefer, you tend to practise and become more proficient at – the 3Ps.
If you prefer rugby over chess you are more likely to become a better rugby player than a chess player – all things being equal – as you are more likely to join a rugby club than a chess club. It’s no certainty though and often all other factors won’t be the same. For instance there may not be the option or all your colleagues play chess. In which case it may be that after a few of years you feel you have a chess preference rather than a rugby preference.
"Do people have an analytical preference and therefore embark on a career in IT or do people develop an analytical preference after working in IT for a period of time?"
In terms of computer programmers the most pertinent ‘preference pair’ in terms of behaviour seems to be analysis versus intuition. This looks at how people handle information and make decisions, whether individuals tend to make decisions based on analysis of evidence or more of a ‘gut feeling’. In terms of computer personnel the research unsurprisingly shows that twice as many of the people assessed who worked in IT had a preference for analysis over intuition.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone and it’s not very useful to label all IT personnel, along with statisticians and accountants as analytical. From the figures above one in three has a different preference.
There is a debate about whether the preference for analysis over intuition in IT personnel is similar to the egg or chicken debate, which came first? Do people have an analytical preference and therefore embark on a career in IT or do people develop an analytical preference after working in IT for a period of time? There is another preference pair relating to thinking and feeling. In Star Trek terms it’s the difference between Spock and Bones. Studies show that roughly 70 per cent of men have a ‘thinking’ preference. When it comes to senior management something like 90 per cent of senior managers are shown to have this preference. Once on a training course a female senior manager had real problems with this. On the questionnaire, completed before the event, she came out emphatically as a ‘thinking’ type, while she felt sure she was a ‘feeling’ type. I talked through the criteria and questions and asked her to think about her true preferences – what she would choose given no external pressures at all. She realised that her true preference was a ‘feeling’ but she had spent 30 years behaving as a ‘thinking’ and been rewarded for it with promotion.
Many specialists are trained in a fairly analytical fashion. In many large organisations the typical career path for an IT manager is to be recruited as a programmer – left to work pretty much on their own – do a good job – get promoted then given a team to look after with little or no training. IT managers tend to have a preference for analytic skills rather than people skills. This means that when they deal with staff, particularly problems, their approach is more analytical than intuitive.
Skilled people will recognise their preferences and adapt. Apparently David Beckham has a preference for playing in the middle of the park. His manager has a preference for playing him wide on the right – or in the dressing room at the moment. This doesn’t mean he’s not good at it or can’t do it. It’s just a preference.