4th June 2018 Tony Corballis

Four Tendencies Driving Us

What made you make the life choices you have? What drives you? What drives your team? And what do we know now about this that we didn’t know before?

The grandad of understanding all this on motivation was Maslow. He showed us how when we satisfy lower needs like health, shelter and security, we then enable higher ones like esteem and ultimately ‘self-actualisation’ as we witness the manifestation of our own thinking and dreams through our efforts. Of course, there is plenty of truth in this.

Other experts in motivation talk about the difference between intrinsic motivators (within us) and extrinsic motivators (from outside). Thus, social motivations to align with what our peers may expect might be ‘intrinsic’ while learning or achievement motivations might be imposed by professional or academic pathways we pursue, and hence be more ‘extrinsic’. As an educator, I use this in higher education. University students are easier to read than you may think.

Of course, there are many other ways to see personality, like the terrific Magerison McCann Team Styles wheel. It bands people into four corners on the wheel: advisers, explorers, organisers, and controllers, with a great many subsets, like the ‘assessor-developer’ who comes half way between the explorer and organiser quadrants on the wheel. Percentages tend to be mixed but those with, for instance, high percentage controller may be auditors or accountants, while explorers may be motivational speakers or trainers, and organisers may be project managers, and so on. Practitioners like the former associate and collaborator of Tony Corballis at Corballis Communication, a Doctor Andrew Haigh, a successful CBT-based business coach, are full of praise for the Magerison McCann model with reports of great practical applications in repairing and optimising team performance. As a coach, I have used the model often in discussing competencies in team work, team planning and team building.

Now there is a new kid on the block. Author Gretchen Rubin has built a model called the Four Tendencies Framework. And it seems to hold up well. It relates to personality models and addresses issues around reliance and self-reliance, inquisitiveness, pig-headed contrarianism, teens failing in school, decision-making, deadline-meeting, stress and burnout, and much more besides. Fundamentally, it is about what drives us.

In fact, it is based on how we perceive our expectations. It is all about expectations.

She believes people fit into four groups called tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. These impact on every aspect of our behaviour and lives. The Four Tendencies account for why we act and why we do not.

The Upholder reliably meets external expectations as well as internal expectations. They are disciplined people and adore rules and plans. They are happy to lead when things are unambiguous. They are self-motivated. If your colleague is an upholder, give them structure.

The Obliger, on the other hand, meets external expectations but resists or doubts internal expectations. Their lives are tough. They need to be held accountable by others. Like a personal trainer. Or a mentor. Or a team leader breathing over them perhaps. They articulate their sense of duty to them. They put others first – as a personal value. Yet they secretly feel frustrated about not getting what they ‘deserve’. Their narratives are sometimes around self-sabotage in proving a point!

The Questioner resists or doubts external expectations but meets internal expectations. They seek purpose in what they are doing. And they may have trouble making decisions. If you manage them or are married to them, it is best to explain why you need them to do something. Very thoroughly and often. They will appreciate it.

The Rebel resists or doubts both internal and external expectations. They yearn for the liberty to select exactly what they want, when they want, expressing their individuality, at whatever cost. Often in the face of widely-held reason. Donald Trump springs to mind. If you line-manage a Rebel, give them the specs and the licence to do it their way. Without pressure.

Once we understand this framework and therefore our own nature, we are enabled in reaching our personal missions more smoothly and helping others do so too. We can break habits and even addictions. We can harness our strengths and counteract our failings.

Of course, the four are only tendencies and not absolutes. Everyone is a mix, with some having more dominant tendencies than others. This is not about immovable boxes and labels. It’s about being on continua and being able to change. Gretchen Rubin is not a scientist or academic and no doubt there will be cognitive psychologists critiquing her on such aspects of her work, as time goes by. It will be interesting to see.

Yet personally, I’ve undergone Gretchen Rubin’s questionnaire and learnt that I am a Questioner. It came as a surprise. But it explains a lot about my choices in life. I have begun to apply this framework to one of many others than continue to help me understand my coaching clients as I listen to them. Many thanks to Gretchen Rubin!

Tony Corballis

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