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Management Do your tendencies make you an upholder, questioner, obliger or rebel?

Gretchen Rubin, author of the book The Four Tendencies.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

When Governor-General Julie Payette was slow to find a charity to serve as patron and seemed uncomfortable with the restrictions on her personal freedom the role traditionally has demanded due to security needs, the ensuing dust-ups last year caught the attention of New York writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies.

She describes Ms. Payette in her blog as a classic “questioner” – one of the four personality types – in a role ill-suited for such instincts. Ms. Rubin’s book classifies people based on inner and outer expectations. Understanding your tendencies may help you avoid the wrong jobs.

  • Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations.
  • Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they feel it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations.
  • Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

“Our tendencies are hard-wired," Ms. Rubin writes in the book. "They’re not the result of birth order, parenting style, religious upbringing, gender. They’re not tied to extroversion or introversion. They don’t change depending on whether we’re at home, at work, with friends. And they don’t change as we age. We bring these tendencies into the world with us.”

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Questioners – perhaps including our Governor-General – drive for efficiency and justification, love research and information, and disdain arguments such as “we’ve always done it this way.” In some cases they succumb to analysis-paralysis. All wonderful qualities in the right job – Ms. Payette was previously a scientist-engineer and astronaut – but not ideal for a Governor-General.

In a related blog post, Ms. Rubin warns that if you have trouble making time for yourself – putting your needs before others – don’t assume that everyone struggles with that issue. You are probably an Obliger, determined to meet outer expectations but struggling to meet inner ones. Accept your tendency, and create obligations that force you to care for yourself, such as joining a book club to read more or hiring a trainer to exercise more.

Reassessing ideas and entrepreneurial success

Brilliant new ideas are usually considered the key to entrepreneurial success, but entrepreneur Derek Lidow says that’s not true. “Ford did not think up the combustion engine or automobiles, Edison did not think up incandescent light bulbs, Larry Page did not think up search engines,” he writes on Tanveer Naseer’s blog.

They succeeded by taking existing ideas and shaping those to excite consumers. The key is to understand the emotional mindset of potential consumers and get them to plunk down money for your product or service. So producing and marketing, not idea generation.

Andrew Forman, co-founder of the online charitable donation platform Givz, says the fixation on revolutionary ideas can also create a problem when we come across a good but obvious notion. The instinct is to drop it as too routine. But he notes on a Harvard Business Review blog that “obvious” answers aren’t obvious to most people, partly because most people aren’t thinking about the question.

He points to a study on the creative process’s five stages indicating there is actually a stage – illumination – when various factors line up and it becomes obvious how the idea can work. And he backs that with a 1996 comment by Apple founder Steve Jobs: “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

So reassess how you assess ideas.

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Quick Hits

  • What’s the most significant thing you have learned in the past 10 days, asks leadership consultant Jennifer V. Miller? To increase your learning, ask someone to show you how to do something new. Or, perhaps even tougher, whenever a colleague offers an opinion that you find irritating, ask, “What brings you to that conclusion?” and listen.
  • Most team meetings are at the beginning or end of the week. Consultant Michael Kerr suggests a quick, stand-up, mid-week Hump Day Huddle, in which everyone shares their biggest accomplishment so far that week and one thing they hope to finish by Friday.
  • Instead of guessing how to dress for a job interview – and perhaps overdressing or underdressing – ask the person co-ordinating your interview for tips on the dress code, says Karen Friesen of the JobJenny coaching service.
  • How many business cards should you have on you at all times? Seven, according to networking expert Darcy Rezac. Most business or association functions have tables set for eight, so seven covers everyone else at your table.
  • How many words should there be in your résumé? Between 475 and 600 words, according to research by TalentWorks. Beyond that, your chances drop almost by half.

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