Learning & Development
6 min read

The many faces of a manager


Roi Ben-Yehuda

Leadership Trainer, LifeLabs Learning

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Deep inside the cave temple on Elephanta Island, India, lies the trimurti, a god with three faces. Each face represents a different manifestation of divine power: creation, maintenance, and destruction. Like the trimurti, managers (while hardly god-like) have powers and responsibilities that express themselves in different forms. 

Sometimes managers need to be supportive, while other times directive. Sometimes they ignite inspiration, while other times they put out fires. Sometimes they dish out sagacious advice, while other times they listen in silence.     

At LifeLabs Learning, after studying and training thousands of managers, we have observed that great managers flex their management style to fit the situation. They are not stuck with a single and chronic mode, instead they are able to employ a wide variety of tactics and strategies to get the job done. 

Culture Amp has created a model to distill some of the most common orientations that great managers employ with their teams. It should be noted that while all managers have their strengths and preferences, these are modes (not archetypes) that every manager can potentially enter. For each manager mode, we’ll share pro-tips to increase management competence based on our research at LifeLabs Learning:   

The Empath

Managers are in this mode when they are attuned to their team. They intuit what people are feeling without being explicitly told. They are high in emotional intelligence and skilled in non-verbal communication. They use their 1-on-1s to connect with people and help their team feel equanimity.   

How to increase your empath score?  

The superstrength of the empath comes from their ears. By being a better listener the empath builds trust and strengthens connection, At LifeLabs Learning, we teach a listening method called the Three-Level (3L) Playback. The idea is that you demonstrate your listening and provide support by identifying different ‘frequencies’ in the conversation: 

  • Content: What are they saying? 
  • Emotion: What are they feeling? 
  • Need: What do they need?  

For example, your co-worker tells you: “If I see another Zoom meeting on my calendar, I’ll throw my computer out the window.” A playback could be: “It sounds like you’re exhausted by virtual meetings. Do you need more 1-1 time? Or is it something else?”  

The Fire Extinguisher

When managers are in this mode, they thrive under pressure and love being needed. In the face of urgent requests or emergencies they default into problem-solving mode. The Fire Extinguisher is both analytical and methodical, breaking down complex problems into manageable parts. They lead by example and bring calm to their team by having their backs.  

How to increase your Fire Extinguisher score

Fire extinguishers readily employ a psychological tool called cognitive reappraisal to reframe their initial reaction to a difficult situation. For example, if an urgent request lands on their table and they feel a strong physiological response (e.g., increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc.) instead of thinking “I’m feeling stressed!” they reframe the response, “My body is getting ready for the challenge!” 

To reframe effectively, Fire Extinguishers ask questions like:

  • How else can I see the situation?
  • What is another reaction I could have? 
  • What’s a useful frame here?         

The Hypeperson

A manager in this mode, ensures team members are motivated and confident in their abilities. They work diligently to create a good fit between individuals on their team and the work they are doing. They believe in the potential of each team member and excel at boosting morale when projects are tough (helping to see the light at the end of the tunnel). They use their 1-on-1s to create individual development plans and figure out how best to help team members with career progression.  

How to increase your Hypeperson score

To create a better fit between the person and the work they are doing, the Hypeperson has what at LifeLabs Learning we call ‘Zoom Out’ conversations with their direct reports. The goal of the conversation is to take a break from everyday work to zoom out and see the bigger picture patterns for each person. For example:

The Wise One

When wearing this face, the manager channels their inner Yoda and offers wisdom to less experienced team members. They do so not by dishing out advice but rather by asking open-ended questions to elicit knowledge. The Wise One encourages team members to take ownership of problems and engender a sense of commitment rather than compliance. 

How to improve your Wise One score

When helping their team, the Wise One defaults into coaching mode. At LIfeLabs Learning, we have noticed that the best managers know how to structure a coaching conversation to get results in a timely manner. They use open-ended questions to bring their team members to a place of clarity and action.

We have boiled the coaching process down to four fundamental categories that we  call the SOON Funnel: questions around success, obstacles, options and next steps. 

  • S: What does success look like?
  • O: What are your obstacles?     
  • O: What are your options?
  • N: What are the next steps?  

The Safety Net 

This manager setting is all about protecting their team from unnecessary problems and creating a sense of hope when things go awry. The Safety Net may find themselves keeping drama at bay, explaining nuanced relationships, safeguarding their team’s time, and developing their people to prevent future fires. The Safety Net is obsessed with creating the best conditions for their team to flourish in.  

How to improve your Safety Net score

The Safety Net protects their team from being burned out. One way to do this is by creating boundaries – via communication norms – around work hours. Dark Time, for example, is a term that we use at LifeLabs Learning to describe times that employees aren’t available to work (e.g., after 6 p.m. or on weekends). 

For the Safety Net, it’s essential to model this behavior and hold others accountable as well (especially when working virtually). Here is a sample prompt to send your team:  

“I’ve noticed that a few people on the team communicate during off hours. I was wondering if we could establish an explicit norm around when we should/shouldn’t expect people to reply. What are your thoughts?”

Face your face

Now it’s time to turn these modes into a diagnostic tool. While you may see yourself in every management mode presented here, take a moment to rate yourself on each using a scale of 1-10. You could also ask your team to rate you. Now circle your lowest score. 

This week, put into practice the skills associated with your lowest score. Aim to increase the score by 1 point each week. If it feels a bit uncomfortable, you are on the right track. For if there is one thing the great and multi-faced pantheon of managers have in common, it is a ceaseless pursuit of improvement.  

For more support in rapid manager skill development, visit LifeLabsLearning.com 


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