The "Type A" Personality vs. "A-Player" Conundrum - Social Media Explorer
The “Type A” Personality vs. “A-Player” Conundrum
The “Type A” Personality vs. “A-Player” Conundrum

If you work in the corporate world I’m sure you’ve heard it. She/He is a Type A personality. For those who are called Type A personalities we are encouraged to embrace this as a compliment. For some reason, this never set well with me. However, since we launched SME Digital, the agency behind Social Media Explorer, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the type of talent we want to hire.

Our Chief Culture Officer, an my personal business coach, Giovanni Cavalieri, has spent a tremendous amount of time helping me define our culture and the type of people we should hire to build a team that will outperform any other. This weekend I finished reading, Steve Jobs, and his obsession with hiring A-Players got me thinking. What is the difference between a Type A personality and an A-Player? I think there is a big difference.

Being Called Type A is usually an Insult Disguised as a Compliment

After much thinking on the subject, I realized that the reason I was never a fan of being called a Type A personality is that it has always had such a negative connotation in the business world. After all, if you know the genesis of the term Type A, it was a type of behavior that “was first described as a potential risk factor for heart disease in the 1950’s by cardiologists, Meyer Freidman and Ray Rosenman.” (Source: Wikipedia) So when someone calls you a Type A personality, they essentially are saying that you are a work-a-holic that is going to eventually work yourself to death. I’ve heard other descriptors combined with Type A like; obsessive, overbearing, and even intimidating. Here’s the bottom line, how many times have you told someone they are a Type A to their face while you were really thinking they are an a-hole? I bet more often, than you’d like to admit.

I don’t want my children striving to be Type A’s. I don’t want people to call me a Type A. I want to raise my children to be A-Players. I want to hire A-Players. And I want to be an A-Player. I think there is a HUGE difference.

Type A’s tend to be perceived as overly independent office bullies. They are the people who can be so competitive they compete against other employees for turf…for budget…for credit. They are perceived as obsessive, but about the wrong things. Being a Type A is also perceived as having a ridiculously large ego. Now, this is all based on what I observed over 15 years in corporate America, so it’s just my opinion. I watched who was called Type A and what people were saying behind their backs. My perception is that they were perceived as Type A Douchebags that their co-workers were looking to assign an “office appropriate label”. Who wants one of those people on your team? I definitely don’t.

A-Players Don’t Fight for Credit…They Just Deliver the Goods

A PlayerOn the flip side of that, in Steve Jobs there is a huge emphasis on his desire to hire A-Players. When I first hired Giovanni as my business coach, he told me that he only worked with A-Players and I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it meant. However, as we started hiring our first employees for SME Digital, he told me how to spot an A-Player and how to spot B-Players in the hiring process and it all started to click. Here is the difference.

A-Players just deliver.

They are self-motivated, independent, hard-working, slightly obsessive, and extremely passionate about what they do. When there is a conflict or a time of uncertainty they make smart grabs. They know when to leap and when to stand down. If they think you are wrong, they will tell you and you’d better be prepared for a solid argument for why. A-Players don’t talk about hype and buzz. They talk about results.

A-Players find solutions.

They are problem solvers with an undying curiosity for solutions. They are creative enough to find solutions where others fail. They are adapters who can wear many hats as an organization grows. Vick Vaishnavi said it best when he said, “you’ll never hear from them, ‘that wasn’t in my job description” and “an A-Player is prepared to keep the bus moving while changing the tires.”

A-Players recruit other A-Players.

It’s clear that when you are hiring people that are at the top of their game, they want to work with other people who are at the top of their game to. There is seriously an “A-Player-dar”. We can spot each other within seconds of speaking. If you build a culture where A-Players thrive, trust me. They’ll bring their friends.

Are Type A’s, A Players in a Sea of B-Players?

The worst thing you can do is put an A-Player on a team of B-Players. A-Players need to be stimulated and energized by people who will push their thinking to the next level. B-Players who are notorious for doing just enough to get by can kill the spirit of an A Player. There is probably a valid argument to be made that all of those Type A’s could be A-Players surrounded in a sea of B-Players. I can certainly attest to not being on my best when I was surrounded by underperformers and I probably even came off as a Type A Douchebag. Frustration doesn’t bring out the best in any of us.

Are Type A’s, B-Players Masquerading as A-Players?

Trying to fake being an A-Player can certainly lead to fitting the perceptions of a Type A, so it’s really hard to say. I think there are definitely a stable bench of B-Players who fake it really well. In fact, B-Players interview REALLY well, as Giovanni told me early on. As he said, “they have a hard time delivering the goods so they have a lot of practice interviewing and they know how to say what you want to hear.”

The answers aren’t really clear. Trying to build a team of A-Player’s can be difficult and I’ll tell you most organizations have a lot of B-Players on the bench holding them back. I don’t know if Type A’s are A-Players trapped in a bad environment for them, but I do know an A-Player when I see one.   It’s a powerful thing to be in the presence of someone who just blows your mind in conversation. It’s even more powerful when you build a team of people who blow minds. That’s what we are trying to do at Social Media Explorer | SME Digital. And I truly believe that together we will turn the perception of an “Agency” on its head.

What do you think the difference between an A-Player and a Type A is? Have you ever hired a B-Player and regretted it? Do you think you have B-Players masquerading as A-Players in your organization? If so, how did you spot them? Have a question or comment? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

By the way, Social Media Explorer | SME Digital is hiring. We are currently looking for a Strategic Account Manager to protect the client experience. If you are an A-Player, apply here

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly
Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole

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