A friend of mine, Mark, spends one week a year fishing in the mighty Zambezi river. You may have heard of the Victoria Falls on the Zambian and Zimbabwean border – that’s the Zambezi. It is a mighty river that’s home to one of most ferocious fish on this planet: the tigerfish. Like the piranha, individual tigerfish have interlocking, razor-sharp teeth, along with streamlined, muscular bodies, and are extremely aggressive and capable predators. ‘To catch a tigerfish you’ve got to do two things; understand them and respect them,’ Mark told me.
You may work for an Apex predator type of manager or leader. You know the type. They don’t walk into meetings, they ‘arrive’. They possess a force field around them that can quieten a room. Their energy has a perpetual subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) latent menace. Their calculating intelligence is there for all to see. They make judgement calls in less time it takes for your heart to beat once. They have power and wield it at times with a heavy fist or a swinging axe. They can hold your career destiny in their hands.
“They have power and wield it at times with a heavy fist or a swinging axe. They can hold your career destiny in their hands.”
How do you deal with a Tiger Fish Manager or Leader?
It’s real. Donald Trump is President of the United States.
His management style has these tigerfish attributes. In ‘management theory’ language this is known as the Dictatorial Leader.
The leader or manager using this style operates like a Trump. They make all the decisions. They are specific about what, where, when, how things are done, and who will do them. They rarely, if ever, spend time on the ‘Why’, aside from the fact that they ‘say so’. If you have worked (or do work) for a Trump Type, you know the cost of failing to deliver will see you rapidly moved, marginalised or shown the door.
Their modus operandi is easy to spot… decision-making power is theirs. They often make excessive and unreasonable demands. They only allow a few to question their decisions or authority and take umbrage against those that do so without permission. They are not afraid to discipline and punish.
Their number one value is competence! Interestingly, they are often from tough or impoverished backgrounds (not Trump in this case) and are ‘self-made’. Hence their respect for meritocracy.
“Their number one value is competence!”
If you can manage the tigerfish, or Trump Type leader, then you can manage every other leader/manager type. They are the apex predator.
To manage a Trump Type:
- Deliver on promise. Nothing beats sheer competence. Nothing.
- Play the long game. Don’t react or get overly emotional. They will win every time.
- Be present in their presence. Pay attention.
- Walk and sit confidently. Always.
- Think before you speak.
- Less is more. Be concise.
- Speak with authority – find a voice that’s low and strong.
- Do not contradict. Agree with their position and ADD a point of view. The Dictator hates the ‘yes, but’ response.
- Speak at the levels of concepts and principles… only offer details when asked.
- Be on time. Every time.
- Take full responsibility for mistakes. If you have not delivered or in some way failed (even when it’s not your fault) take full responsibility. No excuses. No fingerpointing. No long justifications. “I am wrong and this is how it will be fixed!’ is the attitude to adopt.
These 11 principles apply to presenting to groups of ‘tigerfish managers’. If they smell weakness or ‘blood in the water’ you are history. Principles 4, 5, 6 and 7 are most apposite here.
Some years ago I was facilitating a group of Trump Type leaders in Sydney. It was an aggressive sales company and the leaders in this group were fierce, blokey (they were all men) and hyper-competitive. Towards the day’s end, having done good work, the main man, the CEO, suddenly took a left turn and disrupted the whole day. He was notorious for doing this. “I like to mess with people’s minds” he once told me. I violated Principle 8. I pushed back, contradicted him, and told him to not do his ‘messing with the process’ thing. Big, big mistake. Teeth bared he came at me. Predator meet prey. My mistake. I never worked for him again. That’s what happens when a tigerfish grabs you with his jaw.
Mark told me that one of the greatest feelings is landing a tigerfish on the boat. ‘You have got to work with them, not against them,’ he told me. ‘They have the advantage. They know their world. They know how to fight. It’s always about respect and understanding.’
“They have the advantage. They know their world. They know how to fight. It’s always about respect and understanding.”
If you are lucky enough to have the Trump/Dictatorial type of manager show up in your career then learn fast and learn well. Most importantly, learn how to work with them, not against them.
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Colin James is a well-respected Educator, Keynote Speaker, Facilitator and Co-Founder of The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. Creating memorable, impactful world-class events that deeply influence the way people feel, think and behave is Colin James’ forte