Spotting Secrets of Success in High-Profile Achievers
Famous people, beware. Jean Lipman-Blumen is watching you on TV.
When she turns on the evening news, the organizational sociologist at Claremont Graduate School is looking for clues to achievement. Public figures, she contends, often reveal how they got where they are by what they say and how they say it.
For instance, Lipman-Blumen, who is the Thornton F. Bradshaw professor of public policy and professor of organizational behavior, is certain that Henry Kissinger is, at least partly, a “personal-instrumental” achiever.
Kissinger earns this label because on television he comes across as one of those who use “family background, financial resources, wit, humor, sexuality, charm, intelligence, or previous accomplishments” to reach goals that are not necessarily genealogical, profitable, witty, funny, sexy or intellectually rigorous. He is a very complicated man, in other words.
On the other hand, Nancy Reagan and Walter Mondale are “vicarious-relational” types, though they hardly have the same personalities--or politics.
Lipman-Blumen gives this tag to the First Lady because she believes Mrs. Reagan tends to submerge her personality in the President’s.
Mrs. Reagan “does not ever try to participate in presidential tasks,” Lipman-Blumen contended in an interview. “Her accomplishment is being Mrs. Ronald Reagan and she was doing it to the extreme until the press got after her and she decided she was interested in drugs (anti-drug abuse programs).”
A Vicarious Type
In contrast, the former vice president is a vicarious type because of his extensive use of proteges, Lipman-Blumen said. A former special adviser to the White House domestic policy staff during the Carter Administration, Lipman-Blumen remembers that she was constantly running across people whose first loyalty was to Mondale.
When staffers were asked, “Could you please come to a meeting for the domestic policy staff meeting because Carter needs a paper . . . people would say, ‘Well, the vice president has just called a meeting’ and you would realize that that was someone who worked for Mondale on the Hill. . . . That’s what vicarious-relational is all about in organizations,” she said.
The ways people achieve--the techniques they use to get things done--are Lipman-Blumen’s specialty.
For more than a decade she and a colleague at Stanford University have been developing and refining ways to measure those traits.
What they’ve come up with is a behavior gauge that seems to explain much without resorting to psycho-babble or brain research.
Using the tests and data she and her partner have gathered over the years, Lipman-Blumen contends it’s possible for people to determine the companies where they’ll be happiest in their careers, among other things. She also maintains that her achievement calibrations may allow people the insight to change their behavior to deal with crises or challenges successfully.
Essentially, Lipman-Blumen and Harold J. Leavitt have concluded that all people fall into three general achieving-style groups--direct, instrumental and relational. These three “domains” are each subdivided into three groups to create the “L-BL Achieving Styles Model.”
“These achieving styles create almost a set of spectacles for people,” Lipman-Blumen said in an interview. “They see the world through the glasses of their own achieving styles. . . . Somebody who sees with a predominantly competitive orientation sees everything in competitive turns.
“My favorite example is people at banquets where everybody is eating the same thing--it’s the same meal, the same miserable piece of roast beef, a little gray pile of potatoes and sickly green peas. And the person at the table who’s competitive is furtively looking around to see who has the biggest slice of roast beef and the most mashed potatoes.”
In the Direct Domain
In the first of these major groupings--the direct domain--are those who are intrinsic-direct, competitive-direct and power-direct.
Intrinsic types become “totally absorbed in the task and get gratification from doing the task well,” Lipman-Blumen said. “That individual is not looking to the outside world for accolades. . . . The person who has an internalized standard of excellence is our apple pie in the U. S.”
People who are competitive-direct feel that “doing well isn’t good enough, you have to do better than everybody else or certain other people who are your standards of reference.” As an example, she cited “the little kid in the second grade who got an ‘A’ and was feeling pretty good about himself until he looked over and saw that somebody else got an ‘A’ too, and the thrill was gone.”
Power-direct achievers are those who want to take charge in nearly every situation. “It has nothing to do with intentions or motivation--that’s independent of their behavior,” she explained, “because you could want to take charge for different reasons, for good reasons or bad reasons.”
Two examples, she said, are “a grass-roots organizer who goes into a community and wants to take charge for purely altruistic reasons. Or you could have a Hitler who wants to take charge because he wants to take over the world.”
Next comes instrumental. The three subdivisions here are personal, social and reliant.
Persons who fall into the personal-instrumental category, in addition to Kissinger, are perhaps the most complicated of all, Lipman-Blumen said.
“People who are instrumental often have a crossover of means and ends whereas other people use means that seem to be directly related to ends,” she said. “If they’re trying to accomplish something intellectual they use intellectual means but instrumental people oftentimes cross over. They’ll use intellectual means to accomplish social goals, they’ll use social means to accomplish work goals. They’re more complex, they’re hardest to understand.”
Social-instrumental types are likely to use relationships rather than abilities to attain their ends.
“It means targeting specific relationships for specific ends,” Lipman-Blumen said. “For example, a lobbyist is the quintessential social-instrumental achiever. He or she will say to himself, ‘All right, that legislative aide is the one I really need to wine and dine because that person’s senator is the one I want to vote a certain way.’ ”
During her years in Washington, she recalled, a lobbyist she knew broke up with a girlfriend because he wasn’t getting enough out of the relationship. The girlfriend told her, “I don’t understand him, we were so happy, but he’s so strange. He keeps saying to me, ‘What have I gotten out of this relationship since I met you? To whom have you introduced me? What good has this relationship been to me in my work?’ ”
Reliant-instrumental types are dependent to a fault. They “use all relationships, look at everybody as being there to help that person,” Lipman-Blumen said. “They don’t establish a relationship to accomplish a specific task but they use all the relationships they are in. They depend upon other people to carry out the goals that they set for themselves.” Reliant individuals are likely to be teachers or consultants, she added.
In the relational domain, Lipman-Blumen has pegged these three types--contributory, collaborative and vicarious (the Nancy Reagan-Walter Mondale example).
Of the other two, collaborative types are the easiest to explain. They are team players, they achieve through “contributing to relationships in either an active or a passive way.”
A contributory person “identifies with another achiever, takes that person’s goals as if they were usually her own and through helping another person feels he or she has accomplished her goals.”
Lipman-Blumen’s TV-watching supplied another example--former First Lady Rosalyn Carter.
“She never, never uses the pronoun ‘I.’ She always talks about him and what he’s doing and how he’s doing it,” she explained. “ ‘Jimmy loves you and he is going to do this for you and he did that for you.’ Up to this point she has made her ego adhere to his; there is no ego boundary.”
How You Rate
The way to find out how you rate on the achievement scale is to take a test loaded with questions about how you like to get things done and deal with others. The results are then charted on a circle graph divided into the three major and nine sub-areas. Eight is the maximum score in each area. The points in each area are then connected with pencil lines. The result looks like an asymmetrical spider web. The high points indicate a person’s preferred methods for operating with others.
In a comparison of middle- and upper-level managers of the same age, Lipman-Blumen’s results showed that the higher-ranking managers had high scores in both the direct and relational scores. However, the middle-managers scored highest only in the direct area. Lipman-Blumen attributed the difference to the fact that upper-level managers have learned or instinctively know that using persuasion, charm, or other diplomatic skills is as important as giving orders.
The mix of styles used by the high-level executives illustrates a point Lipman-Blumen stressed several times. “Nobody uses just one of these sets of styles all the time. They use sets of styles, patterns.”
By now Lipman-Blumen has become so adept with her scales, she can sometimes look at one of her spider webs and tell who’s represented by the lines.
“Every time I look at a group and I see that it’s down on competition, I know with .999 accuracy that there are women in the group or it’s an occupation that really has feminine, service kinds of characteristics,” she said. “They’re social workers, they’re teachers, they’re roles that have traditionally been female roles. I suspect that as women move into the labor force, their achieving styles do change because they’re forced to by the press of circumstances.”
To Build Teams
Lipman-Blumen said there are several ways in which achieving styles can be used. Team-building is one. Her research shows that a team should have people who are strong in all nine areas rather than mainly in cooperative traits, she said, so that the team will have “access to different kinds of achieving styles.”
Perhaps the largest potential, she said, lies in conflict resolution.
“In organizations there are conflicts between and among people and most of the time people see them as personality conflicts,” she said. “But if you begin to think in terms of achieving styles, it gives you a handle for dealing with these problems in a way that promises the possibility of change . . . I think that there are personalities that get along better than others. But I think in organizations most of the time what we’re rubbing up against are divergent and antithetical achieving styles. It’s much easier to change your achieving style because you don’t see it as such a cut.
“If somebody says to me, ‘Jean instead of taking charge all the time, why don’t you rely on so and so for a while,’ I can relate to that. I can take that advice a little bit more easily than I can someone saying, ‘Jean, you’re the most controlling human being in the world and you’re making everybody miserable.’ ”
The data Lipman-Blumen and Leavitt have compiled is currently available to Stanford University business school students who can match their profiles with potential employers that have also been rated on the scale, she added.
And some of her students at Claremont have talked about setting up an achieving styles dating service, she said.
But Lipman-Blumen said she and her colleague have maintained tight control over their research because they don’t want it misused. “One way I would not like to see it used is as a means of sifting through (job) candidates,” she explained. “I don’t know myself how one keeps it from being abused except by keeping tight control.”