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Questioner, Obliger or Rebel? Know yourself better to reach your goals

By developing our social leadership capabilities we can increase our impact for our teams, beneficiaries and sector. But the journey of leadership development is far from easy.

It’s hard to find time for learning and development when the immediate needs of the social sector are so great. So how can we commit to (and stick with) our own leadership development? This blog post explores how understanding our personal tendencies can help us stick with our leadership development goals.

Know yourself and your tendencies

Leadership development must start with self-awareness, which is why our programmes start with “Know yourself, be yourself, look after yourself”. But for a leader, self-awareness is about more than knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also about understanding how to make time for your leadership development and what strategies can help you stick with your development goals.

The question we should ask ourselves is: How do I respond to expectations?

According to Gretchen Rubin the question we should ask ourselves is “How do I respond to expectations?”. In her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too), Rubin explains that we all face two kinds of expectations—outer expectations (meet work deadlines, answer a request from a friend) and inner expectations (keep a New Year’s resolution, start exercising). Our response to expectations determines our “Tendency”—that is, whether we fit into the category of “Upholder”, “Questioner”, “Obliger”, or “Rebel”.

“Upholders” respond readily to outer and inner expectations. They keep the work deadline, and the New Year’s resolution, fairly easily.

“Questioners” question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense and meets their inner standards — so they follow their own inner expectations.

“Obligers” meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. An Obliger journalist has no trouble writing when she has an editor, colleagues, and deadlines, but struggles to write a novel in her free time.

“Rebels” resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want, in their own way, and if you ask or tell them to do something, they’re likely to resist.

Four Tendencies Four Interlocking Circles

Developing strategies according to your tendencies

According to a nationally representative sample for the US, Rubin’s research found that, the US population roughly breaks down along the four tendencies:

  • 41% Obligers,
  • 24% Questioners
  • 19% Upholders
  • 17% Rebels

If we have some insights into what our tendencies are, it’s easier for us to make a leadership development plan that we actually stick with. Understanding other people's tendencies can help us understand how to best support them in their development. Here are some strategies to consider for different people with different tendencies, that can help them stick with their development goals.

Scheduling (most important for Upholders)

Scheduling is a powerful tool for Upholders. They love to keep a schedule and march through every item. They can make time for leadership development by putting it on the calendar. Upholders can meet inner expectations, but only when those inner expectations are articulated. This means that it’s important to schedule a time for self reflection or coaching to help articulate their development goals.

Clarity (most important for Questioners)

For Questioners, creating Clarity is key to starting a new habit. They want to know exactly what they’re doing, and why. They won’t meet an expectation if they don’t understand the reason. They need robust answers and must clearly see and trust the authority and expertise of the person asking them to meet that expectation.

Identity (most important for Rebels)

For Rebels, the most effective habit-change strategy is to connect the new habit to their identity. Because Rebels place great value on being true to themselves, they can embrace a habit if they view it as a way to express their identity. Creating Clarity is also helpful to Rebels, because it focuses on why a habit might have personal value for them. The more Rebels think about what they want, and why they want it, the more effectively they pursue it.

Accountability (most important for Obligers)

All Four Tendencies (even, under certain circumstances, Rebels) find accountability to be useful for developing habits, but Obligers absolutely require structures of external accountability. If you (like me and 41% of people) are an obliger, it can be difficult to meet your goals in the absence of external accountability. That means you need to build that external accountability into your leadership development.

One programme that taps into people's need for accountability to help organise their development is Clore Social’s new programme called Peer Journey. Recently, a cohort of social leaders have kicked off their journey. They’ve all picked a leadership challenge they are faced with that they will work to address over the next 10 weeks. They are grouped into smaller peer groups that they’ll regularly check in with to help support each other, learn from each other and (importantly) hold each other accountable.

The Peer Journey Programme can work for Upholders (if they schedule time for it), Questioners (if they understand why) and Rebels (if they identify with it) alike - but it’s especially helpful to Obligers. One of the previous participants put their finger on it by saying:

I just know that if they hadn't been there waiting for me, I never would have finished the things I had planned.

“The accountability of the peer group was huge to me. I just know that if they hadn't been there waiting for me, I never would have finished the things I had planned.”

How do you respond to internal and external expectations?

How can you use these insights to create the conditions needed for you to make time for and stick with your leadership development.

To learn more about building habits and understanding people’s tendencies watch the talk: Gretchen Rubin: The 4 Ways to Successfully Adopt New Habits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBNEVXg2CNU

Take the four tendencies quiz to identify your tendency: https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/four-tendencies-quiz/

Click here to see Clore Social’s programmes that can help you take your leadership to the next level: https://www.cloresocialleadership.org.uk/programmes

Blog by Nora Dettor, Digital Transformation Manager, Clore Social Leadership

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