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The Wiggler, The Stickler, and The Hermit

Lady Holding Files

The Wiggler, The Stickler, and The Hermit

By John Grubbs


Understanding the tendencies of managers can be very entertaining and humorous.  Learning to identify the common challenges faced by many managers can enlighten us to the point that we improve our own performance.  Labels can help us identify both the success and failure we all experience when assuming a leadership position within an organization.  As you read this, I encourage you to examine these labels for both intrinsic and extrinsic value.  In other words, do you sometimes exhibit behavior that can be indentified with each label?  Have you worked with others that fit these descriptions?

The wiggler is very common among managers.  They cannot seem to be “nailed down” to anything concrete.  There is no sense of value in an organization managed by the wiggler.  Every day seems to ebb and flow with each new challenge. 

Employees of the wiggler are very frustrated because decisions and behavior must be guessed daily.  There is no consistency of message or action.  The daily perspective changes and team members opt to do nothing until the wiggler makes a wiggle.  This isolating environment lacks leadership because the follower has no clue what direction to move. 

Wiggler organizations are very susceptible to “flavor of the month” programs that lack continuity with the organization as a whole.  Employees view each new program as another attempt to fix the many problems faced by the team, yet hold little hope the solution will appear.  And worse, when solutions are evident, the wiggler lacks the discipline to see them though to implementation for change.  Wiggling “it” just a little bit allows the Teflon coating on this manager to work its magic.  Statements like “I never said that” or “I didn’t mean it like that” are very common.  Changing viewpoints during organizational challenges are the norm.  The wiggler liking something today and hating it tomorrow makes the team unsure of how they should view anything new. 

If you work for a wiggler, documentation is your best friend. Manage these managers very formally by following up and requesting clarification of expectations constantly.  Hold them strictly accountable for both actions and words to minimize their impact on the team.  Never assume that they will remember what they said or asked you to do for them.  Place them in a very small communication box by utilizing witnesses, journals and follow-up emails.  Get them to sign everything you can in order to minimize the coming wiggle.  They will not do this easily so you may have to be creative.  The wiggler has wiggled for a long time and is very hard to “lock-down” for any concrete position.  Wigglers blame bad memory, bad luck and even bad taste for the challenges facing your team.  Understand that your success is incumbent upon catching this greased pig and holding it still in order for the team to meet its objectives.

The stickler on the other hand has either never had the wiggle or has lost it somewhere during life’s journey.  The stickler is a very rigid manager that lives in the shadows of the black and white ink on your policies and procedures.  In the stickler organization, rules dominate and regulations have only one interpretation.  Perspectives only exist though the eyes of the stickler.  Think “Groundhog Day” and you have the picture of life in the stickler organization. 

Change is not only avoided, it is feared by the stickler.  Employees must follow a strict adherence to policy and routine.  Any derivation of this routine is ridiculed and scorned by the stickler.  Every leadership position becomes occupied by like-minded sticklers since they cannot imagine another point of view.  Outside thinking is very limited and a strong “not invented here” mentality exists. 

Many organizational policies have become outdated since subordinates are afraid to recommend changes and updates.  Occasionally, you may even find a typewriter in the stickler organization to be used “just in case” it is needed.  Appearances change very little and projects are kept to a minimum.  After all improvement implies change and what is the value in change?

If you work for a stickler, information is your best friend.  Even the most obstinate of sticklers can be sold but the effort required is great.  The most influential of sales techniques require the sellers to make the buyer (the stickler) think the idea was theirs in the first place.  Seeds of change must be planted early and tended often so the stickler doesn’t realize they were sold.  Eventually the stickler sees the change as their own idea and slowly the change may be adopted.  Be careful, the stickler has a very sensitive “change” whisker and can revert back to the methods of the past very quickly. 

In the stickler organization, bureaucracy rules the roost.  Subordinates must make every effort to minimize the corporate red tape that prevents decisions from gaining traction.  Every action must be scrutinized, analyzed and “committeeized” before being implemented.  Sticklers have no bend and will remain rigid to the point of breaking.  There is certainly no gray between the “yes and no” of your policy.  Every situation is simply “do or do not”.

The hermit is the most elusive of managers in the contemporary workplace.  By nature the hermit likes to remain isolated from the organization.  Hermits hide behind closed doors and closed schedules.  Access to these managers is often prevented by “stickler” gatekeepers that are analogous to the shells occupied by the crab.  Isolation is often disguised by perceptions of work and being far too busy for subordinate access.  Hermits like to manage by directive and offer little direct involvement in the execution of activity. 

If you work for a hermit, look for another job.  I am just kidding (not really) but there are specific things you can do to minimize the reality of isolation from the hermit.  Since direction is speculative and relationships are minimal, the risk of working for hermit is greater.  In other words, you cannot rely on a clear understanding of expectations.  And, there will be little emotional connection with the hermit manager.  Be willing to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.  This risky proposition will allow you to retain your sanity in an environment that produces very little feedback.   Actions will not be scrutinized as much as the results that occur.  Hermit managers measure trailing indicators (results) and pay little attention to leading indicators (actions).  This autonomy can feel liberating at first; however the risk of making a mistake is much greater.  This “failure pain” can eventually restrict the subordinates desire to make any decision that involves risk.

The wiggler, stickler and hermit are all management tendencies that limit organizational leadership.  They prevent followers from following and stifle leadership.  Depending on the situation and circumstance, we have all responded like these managers.  Personal development and intentional effort can minimize our being characterized as a wiggler, stickler or hermit.  Understanding these behaviors is the information you need to avoid being labeled as such.  Understanding your boss gives you the information you need to manage up as we all do and have done in the past.

Micromanagers have always been my least favorite to deal with. I’m very thankful that I currently report to a great manager that is open to ideas, wants to be on the leading edge of positive change, supports our efforts, and is a strong advocate for NOT doing things the way we’ve always done them.
(October 13, 2014 ~ 2:20 PM)
By Anonymous

Been there
As I read the article, I thought of specific managers that I've worked with in the past. The manager not discussed, is the micro-manager. The ones that I've had to deal with pull traits from each type that John mentions in his article. Most of the time they're too involved in everything to excel at anything specific, and they tend to have a strong "self preserving bias" as well. When failure comes, they blame the incompetency of others. Sadly, they're usually right, because, they've overmanaged their "underlings" to the point that no one was allowed to develope their skills. Great article, John.
(July 12, 2011 ~ 4:21 AM)
By tdowler

Liked the content but looked for more robust ending. Our organization has a wiggler, maybe a stickler (not sure), and a hermit (perhaps one but not as clearly defined - just a person who prefers to manage by email rather than in person). So where does the "solid ground manager" come in, the person or persons who inspire, guide, and lead?. We have those too. Love u John
(July 11, 2011 ~ 7:49 AM)
By Glenda Burt

Thank you!
Thanks for the feedback - I fixed the typo!
(July 09, 2011 ~ 5:30 AM)
By John Grubbs

Great article
Excellent article! I work for a wiggler myself, the suggestions for coping were very insightful. Might want to check on "illusive" vs "elusive" though in the eleventh paragraph
(July 09, 2011 ~ 3:22 AM)
By Anonymous

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