Maybe it’s just paranoia but don't we see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde everywhere we go, all around us? We sometimes see a transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in our boss, our peers and our direct reports. We also see that behavior shift in our spouse, our children, our siblings and our friends. When you look in the mirror, you also will see Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde staring straight at you.

We all have Dr. Jekyll and we all have Mr. Hyde in us. We may work hard to suppress Mr. Hyde (when we are not at our best) from coming out but sometimes Mr. Hyde will come out. You are probably familiar with the book, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson (published in 1886.) Now I recognize that you don't put chemicals into your body to transform yourself into an evil killing machine like Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego, Mr. Edward Hyde (at least not that I am aware of). For a normal person like you, Mr. Hyde just describes your behaviors that you are not as proud of – a reaction to your needs not being met.

We all know that much of what drives us is instinctive. Whether those instincts are learned or inherited will be debated for centuries. I have used an instrument called the Birkman Method ( for over 20 years to help leaders and team members understand those instincts so they can better leverage their instinctive everyday strengths, as well as understand what they need from others and heir instinctive reactions/behaviors when their needs are not met (including what causes that reaction).

In the early days of explaining the Birkman results, I struggled to characterize the difference between our everyday strengths vs. the behavior change that occurs when our needs have not been met. Then one day (instinctively I might add) it came out of my mouth that when we are at our best, we are like Dr. Jekyll and when our needs are not met, we react in a more negative manner, like Mr. Hyde.

So how do Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impact leaders and teams? I find that when an individual’s behaviors shift from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, it can impact the following:

  • Decisions and Work Pace
  • Planning, Process Improvement and Innovation
  • Key Relationships
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Risk Management

For example, take a leader who generally makes most day-to-day decisions pretty quickly but a shift to Mr. Hyde results in that person procrastinating, avoiding decisions and overanalyzing options. In addition, this leader normally comes across as a highly positive leader that inspires confidence in others but she comes across very tentative and lacking confidence when the challenge seems to be outside her comfort zone.

This leader’s Dr. Jekyll displays the characteristics we often look for in a leader – she‘s dynamic, decisive, confident, action-oriented, etc. She doesn’t want Mr. Hyde to come out because the opposite of her strengths comes out – procrastination, indecisiveness, uncomfortable with a challenge, etc.

This leader has learned not to suppress Mr. Hyde but to recognize the conditions that will keep Dr. Jekyll around. She now instructs her direct reports to give her as much advance notice as possible on recommendations for major changes that will be seen as controversial. She also asks for regular, constructive progress reviews that focus on the facts rather than judgmental, subjective evaluations that feel like personal criticism in the heat of the moment.

As difficult as it may be for an individual leader to adjust his/her style to maximize “airtime” for Dr. Jekyll, the challenge becomes greater with a team that combines very different styles. Take a project team for some of the company’s key accounts. The team members haves very different styles when it comes to Planning, Process Execution and Innovation. The Birkman Method has a component called “Structure” which describes how insistent a person is related to systems, procedures and order. The Structure component is a key driver for an individual and team in addressing Planning, Process Execution and Innovation. The following describes the 4 Birkman patterns related to the Structure component:

  • “Creating Order Out of Chaos” pattern – This is a person whose Dr. Jekyll behavior (when they are at their best) is very insistent on an organized, repeatable, process-oriented approach to work. When Mr. Hyde comes out, things become more chaotic, they leave things to the last minute, they don’t seem to follow-through, etc. What causes Mr. Hyde to come out is too much prescription on how work should get done.
  • “Executing the Plan” pattern – When a person’s Dr. Jekyll is similar to the above – very insistent on an organized, repeatable, process-oriented approach to work but when Mr. Hyde comes out, they become resistant to change and get locked into the established procedure. Mr. Hyde comes out when rules, procedures or processes have not been well-defined.
  • “Change Agent” pattern – This person’s Dr. Jekyll is good at initiating change from an established, repeatable process/system. When there is not a well-defined system or plan, Mr. Hyde comes out with beliefs that there is no time for planning, procedures and organization of the project/task.
  • “Firefighter” pattern – This person’s Dr. Jekyll, like the Change Agent is very adaptable and flexible. Although they can get organized for short-term projects or crises, they naturally don’t think in orderly, repeatable ways. I refer to them as the Firefighter because they thrive in situations where there is a clear goal but a lot of freedom in terms of how it gets done. If there is too much bureaucracy, restriction or control of how to get the work done, Mr. Hyde comes out as not following established procedures or the defined plan.

This project team had 4 people with all 4 of the Birkman patterns represented for the Structure component. But even for those with the same pattern, some were more intense than others. If you think that’s too many personalities for a leader to manage, then just consider that at any one time, one person in each pattern could be in their Dr. Jekyll and one could be in Mr. Hyde.

You can probably begin to see the problems that would occur for this team when a customer would call with a rush project. The Creating Order Out of Chaos team member was ready to take control over putting a quick plan together for delivering on this project so the plan could be used in the future if the customer calls again with a similar project. The Executing the Plan team member wanted to utilize the project plan from some similar projects recently completed. The Change Agent team member wanted to learn about the similar projects recently completed and come back with a proposed recommendation on how to approach this project better. The Firefighter wanted to get started right away and figure out how to deliver this project now irrespective of whether the team had delivered a similar project previously or will deliver another one like this sometime in the future.

Your opposites can be your strongest compliment but can cause the most problems for you. In the example above, the Firefighter saw the Executing the Plan and Change Agent members as wasting time when a response was needed immediately. The Firefighter liked the way the Creating Order Out of Chaos member responded but when it came to delivering for the customer, she was focused too much on understanding current procedures. The Change Agent was frustrated with the Executing the Plan team member because he seemed very inflexible and wouldn’t consider a custom solution for a rapid response.

This team discovered that having 4 different types of people approaching a challenge each in a different way can be difficult. They not only had 4 different styles of Dr. Jekyll (when at their best), but because they were dysfunctional in their collaboration, one or more Mr. Hydes would come out which only made it even more difficult to leverage the collective strengths of the team.

They learned that to realize the advantage of having differences, they would need to increase their trust in each other. They also learned to agree on shared goals by discussing the requirements and the scope of the project together before they started discussing how they were going to deliver. Then when rush projects came up, they began to appreciate each other’s differences by allowing each team member to communicate their recommendation and then as a group, they would identify the unique advantages that each approach offered. It wasn’t long before they realized that their solution tended to combine the unique advantages from many if not all of the recommendations by individual team members.

Robert Louis Stevenson used the contrast between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to make his point - every human being contains opposite forces within him or her. I use the Birkman Method as one of my key tools in team and leadership development because it describes the contrast between our instinctive behaviors - when we are at our best and when our needs are not met. The success of leaders and teams depend on the ability to understand and deal with the conditions that cause stress reactions in others.

So the next time you see what seems like an evil alter ego (Mr. Hyde), in an angry boss, in a co-worker that seems to be undermining you, in a direct report that is not delivering on their commitments or even in your own mirror, remember it may just be that one or more needs are not being met.

Strangely enough, we wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t have Mr. Hyde within us.

© Michael R. Goodfriend, Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2006

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