Flowing artesian well in the meadow near the *Laghi di Fusine-superiore*, Valromana, Italia. (c) 2009 Michael Gäbler (CC BY 3.0). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Imaginist, Systemicist, and Getting Myself Wrong

E. Forrest Christian Decision-making, Underachievers 4 Comments

In late November, while talking to my old partner about how the Seven Decision Making Approaches (or “languages of achievement”) are relevant to his current work problems, I suddenly realised something startling. For several years, I have been selling myself as either Imaginist or Empiricist, but delivering Systemicist results. The disconnect has been startling. It cleanly explains many of the issues that I’ve seen over the past eight years since leaving business process design and going into, well, everything else.

There are implications that follow, of course.

[If you are coming late to this party and have no idea what the seven decision-making approaches are, you may want to read the first chapter or so of Warren Kinston’sStrengthening the Management Culture. You can do a search for it — but the copy that I have is much clearer and much smaller than anyone else’s. I just redid it for Warren himself, but his website is still in beta. Leave a comment below and I’ll send you a private link to my copy.]

Take, for example, my Human Patterns results. Human Patterns is a psychometric on which I am certified, and which I genuinely think is useful. I had what they call a “switch” that was pretty strong in mine, a change of almost 5 standard deviations. When I am relaxed, I am over 2.5 standard deviations more “coachy” than the norm. But under stress, under pressure, I am over 2 standard deviations less coachy than the norm.

Blackbeard's Battle

This shows itself by how I have treated my subordinates in various jobs. Let’s take a particular example, a process design job that I took with “CompSci” where I managed a small team of three writers who had to do in 45 days what a team of internal experts hadn’t been able to do in six months. CompSci had gotten an outsource contract for the IT of a mid-sized investment firm. One of the contractual obligations was for CompSci to document the processes for getting IT done at the firm. CompSci was using the same personnel who had recently been employees of the investment firm, so the firm had never really had any standard ways of doing things.

My team was tasked with completing and getting approved half of the outstanding process design documents. To do this, we had to work with the CompSci IT staffers and the firm employees riding herd over them. The politics were brutalizing and animosity ran high. Since there were no standard ways of doing things, we would have to create ones that generally fit the current varied practices, get them agreed by the CompSci staff, then get the firm staff to approve them. I put my team together in mid-November and had a December 31 deadline.

For the first few weeks that we were working, I was the great tender boss. “Let me help you understand how you can succeed” type of thing. All that changed when the deadlines started looming. Then it became “Shut up and do your job. And if you can’t, there’s the door.” My attitude was we had to get this done and we had no time for anything but getting things done. (It probably didn’t help that in order to get the work done, I also completed a third of the processes, along with running the team.)

My brutal behavior probably got us done (no one ever imagined that we would finish on time) but it required me to apologize and make amends for days. If I had always been a hard-nose, no one would have thought much about it. It was the switch from supportive to demanding that bothered people.

It turns out that in Human Patterns one’s “relaxed” numbers are what you wish you would be. Your “stressed” scores show more of what your personality really is. I want to be someone who helps people be all that they can be, to see their full potentials. That’s a pretty Imaginist value.

The problem is that I don’t deliver Imaginist results as a subordinate. I lead heavily using Imaginist, which explains why I constantly talk about Exodus and creating something new. But as a subordinate, I primarily use the Systemicist approach, seeing things as wholes.

That Systemicist approach has several drawbacks, not the least of which is that the transition to success in it requires assistance (according to Warren and Jimmy), something that is highly unlikely.

The Imaginist approach has its detriments, too. The worst is that you are more or less unleadable. That’s pretty obvious if you know me: I don’t except leading easily. I do Supportive Catalyst extremely well, coming into leaderless situations to provide the whole group with that special something that helps them get to the new place. What it is I do, exactly, seems to remain a mystery to them, but it feels so important. But that’s in leaderless groups, not under someone else’s leadership.

The Charismatic Leader is also leaderless, in that everyone is following just one person, and that’s you. It’s not a hierarchy. It can’t be. Hierarchy can only be achieved by institutionalization, which in many ways kills the movement because movements can’t be organized. The Tea Party movement in America is a great example: there can be instigators but they eschew the efforts of “leaders” to forced followership on them.

In its root use, the leadership using the Imaginist approach is leaderless, or at least very flat. This is why, as our society moves from Empiricist dominant to Imaginist dominant, we see so many people decrying work hierarchies. Those who use the Requisite Organization of Elliot Jaques will likely have to adapt. In the end, the spirit of our organizations will be leaderless, even if the actuality will include the Structuralist ideas of clear hierarchy, accountability and roles.

If you try to lead with (not just use) the Imaginist approach, you become leaderless yourself. It’s not good, this leaderlessness, for it easily deteriorates into morally bankrupt anarchy if not shored up with strong ethical choice. Being led isn’t bad and is actually necessary.

While I lead using Imaginist approach, I do work using the Systemicist approach. This presents a bit of a bait and switch problem, and it’s caused a lot of strife. The Systemicist approach, in its pure form, is essentially “jerk” in most people’s eyes. Worse, it’s not something that has any job potential whatsoever.

A long explication to avoid getting to the point. I got myself wrong, and have been doing things that aren’t going to work over the long haul. There are several obvious changes that I have to make to get back on course, and those are coming over the next few weeks.

Hopefully this long meander was useful as you reflect on how the decision approaches affect your own work life.

Image Credit: “Flowing artesian well in the meadow near the ‘Laghi di Fusine-superiore’, Valromana, Italia.” © 2009 Michael Gäbler. (CC BY 3.0)

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 4

  1. Interesting self-reflective post. I’m going to respond just to the part about the meaning of Human Patterns’ relaxed vs. stressed scores.

    Whether my proactive (relaxed) numbers reflect my desired self, I don’t really know. Maybe some of it yes, some of it no, but I’m not going to dive into that now.

    As for reactive (stressed) scores. Rather than be indicative of our ‘true selves’, I tend to see those as patterns of adaptation to stress that we’ve developed over our lifetime up to the point of assessment. On some level, those are the responses that we feel ‘work’ for us. They result from a mixture of inborn temperament and environmental response to our behaviors over time. There are reasons we behave as we do under pressure – some obvious to us and some subconscious.

    The main reason I make this distinction is because if we view our reactive profile as “how we truly are”, it becomes hard to convince ourselves that change and further adaptations are possible. If we view our reactive profile as “how we’ve adapted to react to stress over a long period of time,” then we have a shot at making tweaks in our patterns if we do the work.

    Stan may or may not agree with this, I don’t know. I haven’t discussed this precise point with him.

  2. Post
    Author

    (Anyone notice that I spelled “Imaginist” wrong in the title?)

    The who you want to be vs. who you are idea was from Stan in our class. I could have gotten that wrong. It seemed more like the façade that you wish falls away and you are left nakedly exposed under pressure. However, I think you position makes good sense.

    Even then, Stan has always said that the HumPat numbers can be changed with effort. Just not a lot very quickly, and not too many at one time. This is different from maladaptive behaviours I’ve picked up.

    Besides, one’s personality profile has almost no bearing on what you will do, just on how you will frame something. My training included interpreting for a woman whose results looked entirely touchy-feely, caring for others deeply and non-logical. “Well, to start with, don’t work with numbers,” I said. At which she and our “coach” burst out laughing: she was a very successful accountant. It’s not about the work or the job but how you can successfully frame it. So one’s personality doesn’t have as strong affect on action as we would like to think.

    This could be easily tested by having someone who is outgoing developing a high score (say, 3+) for something like Quietness. I’m not sure how one would undertake this. It’s not about developing the habit of silence but the strong need for it.

    Stan had some interesting thoughts about the high scores (>3) that are regularly appearing on younger people’s test results. He thinks that the more personally-focused society doesn’t force us to mitigate our strong predilections. So if I’m gregarious I’m allowed to continue on that and not ever checked socially.

    On changing, one of the things that I like about Stan’s and Warren’s perspectives is that they both believe that there is no “best” type. Stan sees your Human Patterns as simply who you are, and that there is no good or bad result, although you may need to compensate for some of them. Warren’s seven decision styles have no overarching, “I’m better than you” type. All are necessary in decent sized organizations at all times. I think both would agree that some types (personality for Stan, decision style for Warren) work better in a particular situation than others, but that does not mean that you cannot achieve with the others. Understanding the others is very helpful and can give you more options. Changing yourself isn’t necessary, although I may want to do the social equivalent of dying my hair and changing my fashion to better fit in with a certain social group.

  3. I do recall the topics you mention from Stan’s admin course. It could be a matter of differently framing the same ideas, but I feel more personal affinity to the way I’ve presented reactive preferences. I believe that preferences do change over time whether we try to influence or not, although the degree of change is more nuanced than what most people think of when it comes to change. Also, I’m firmly in the camp of “no best type” and “preferences frame behaviors but don’t determine them.” You are right to correct me in that it is the behaviors that get the development focus rather than the preference. Preferences just inform how to frame and execute the behavior change for that individual.

  4. Pingback: Why There Is Never Going To Be A Silver Bullet – Requisite Reading — Requisite Reading

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