Charming Execution: Balancing Nice With Good

I have an insurance agent. A lot of us do. He's a great salesman. He has a gift for establishing an almost instant rapport, and he’s great at charming you into signing checks. But he doesn't execute very well. To get him to complete a policy change or a quote or whatever, I routinely have to follow up with him. I get annoyed, but then he calls me back and smooths it all over. He's great at building rapport, but not so good with doing actual stuff. He's great at being nice but not great at being good - at his actual job I mean.

There are other people I work with who lack this type of natural rapport and ease with others, but are excellent at doing what they say they are going to do - on time and without having to be reminded. For these people, the work of coding a website or building out an API or preparing a project plan feels more important than schmoozing. These people execute well, but are not necessarily described as 'nice' or 'friendly' as a primary personality trait.

People who fall into each of these rough categories naturally tend to lean on their innate strengths more than they should. High-touch, high-rapport people tend to not take execution as seriously as they might because they know they can usually get back in someone's good graces by deploying their gift for the human touch. Execution people tend to avoid contact and conflict because they know that once they complete their task, whatever it may be, the human level issues will be resolved.

After many years of serving clients and building web stuff, I feel like I have now managed to marry these worlds together. My first priority is to execute well so that I don’t have to use interpersonal capital to make up for failures of delivery. At the same time, I also try to remain connected at the human level and consciously invest time in developing relationships. I feel successful when I (we) have executed so well on a good plan that our interpersonal time can be invested in sharing our non-work related interests like kids, family, hobbies and such. I am happiest in my job when this balance has been achieved in a client/vendor relationship.

The truth about this bit of personal evolution is that I didn't so much change my own personality as I intentionally partnered with people who were stronger in one area or another than I am. I often try and strike the right balance by getting a read on the client we'll be working for, then deciding how best to staff the project for the best experience and outcomes. In some cases it’s clear that my best contribution will be as one of the developers on a project. In other cases I can tell that a client and I will get along easily and well, and it makes more sense for me to be the lead. And the times when I have been most successful at both the execution and the rapport pieces is when there’s a fully collaborative arrangement, where each person on the project team has handled the part of the equation that best played to their strengths.

In order to function optimally, groups (companies/teams) need people with varied skill sets and inclinations. But the key to success is that all these types need to be able to work well with one another and learn from one another. Our personality traits are not fixed. Our strengths and weaknesses can evolve (or devolve) with intention or lack. And where we know we lack, in addition to consciously working to improve, we can also partner with others whose strengths shore up our weaknesses.

What I know for a fact is this: to lean too heavily on the importance of either execution or relationship doesn’t work. When I find myself attempting to resolve a problem using an extreme form of either approach, odds are I am about to make things worse. Balance is critical.