Punching Down the Expert Style Influence on Me - The Balance

The Power of Understanding Yourself: The Key to Self-Discovery, Personal Development, and Being the Best You - Dave Mitchell 2019

Punching Down the Expert Style Influence on Me
The Balance

Wine is like many of the fine experiences in life which take time and experience to extract their full pleasure and meaning.

Douglas Preston, Crimson Shore

Other people shape you. They shape you through mentoring and malice. They shape you by their behaviors and their beliefs. And they shape you through complement and contrast. As we understand more about Experts, here’s my story of an unlikely mentor.

In the spring of 2015, I lost my mind. It wasn’t the first time. In fact, I lose my mind quite frequently. There was that time in 1983 after I left a burgeoning career in broadcasting because I didn’t enjoy it. I was 22 years old and already a producer for the local CBS network’s television news show. In just under a year, I had moved from remote reporter to the head spot on the 10:00 p.m. newscast. Now, it was Terre Haute, Indiana, so I was a long way from threatening Dan Rather’s seat; but I was off to a fast start. But, I lost my mind, marched into the news director’s office and quit. When I told my dad what I did, it went like this:

“Dad, I quit my job yesterday.”

“Why the hell did you do that?” I am sure Dad had a vision of me moving back home flash in front of his eyes.

“I didn’t enjoy it.”

“Of course you didn’t enjoy it. It’s called work. That’s why they pay you. If you enjoyed it, you would have to pay them.” “’Didn’t enjoy it,’ Christ. I didn’t enjoy the Depression, but I was damn glad when I had work. You ever eat a jam sandwich? I have. That’s two pieces of bread jammed together with nothing between it. And I was happy to have it. ’Didn’t enjoy it.’ What in Sam Hill is that?”

Two takeaways: First, Dad wasn’t much for the whole “find your gift” era of career counseling. Second, who is this Sam Hill fella? Dad referred to him a lot, generally when he was mad. I never met Sam Hill, but I am pretty sure that he is not a pleasant person.

My episodic insanity flared again in 1990. My lovely bride was pregnant with our first child, and I was a successful human resources leader at Marshall Field’s, a large department store chain in Chicago, Illinois. From the outside looking in, our life was a perfect yuppy suburban success story. But, I wasn’t happy. I spent my workdays driving to a train station, taking the train into the city, catching a bus to the office, working 8—10 hours, then reversing course. My workday started at 5:00 a.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m. Like most people who live in the suburbs and work in the city, I was part of that walking dead horde that packed the trains. I wanted more time with my family. More time doing the things I loved. I liked work, but I didn’t enjoy it.

There was the weather, too. My God, Chicago weather sucks. It’s such a great city with so many fantastic people and exactly four nice days each year. The rest are windy, hot, humid, cold, snowy, and cloudy. And walking across the Chicago river? Well, I am pretty sure there is a mortality rate associated with that travail, a carefully guarded secret among members of the Chamber of Commerce.

So, I quit. I quit and moved. I moved to Orlando, Florida to pursue a human resources career with Walt Disney World. It was not a smooth transition. Who would have guessed that suddenly moving more than 1,000 miles away without selling your home or having a job would be challenging? Oh, and did I mention that my lovely bride was pregnant? Like really pregnant? Like, we moved in April and Brooke was born in May, pregnant? Yep, insane.

Clearly, losing my mind from time to time is something I do. I have noticed that it happens in the spring. It may be allergies. Anyway, in spring of 2015 we decided to move from our idyllic home in the mountains of Colorado where we had spent 14 years developing friendships, raising our kids, and learning how to navigate life in the mountains and head to wine country. We bought a house on 20 acres of land outside Walla Walla, Washington. Twenty acres of land that would require a lot of maintenance. I had clearly, once again, lost my mind.

The most notable early lesson was that our land was under constant attack by the Russians. Unlike the clandestine actions Russians were taking against our social media channels, this attack was not covert. Oh no — this was an obvious, visible, and malicious assault by a particularly malevolent type of Russian: the Russian Thistle and its sinister weapon — the tumbleweed.

I hope scientists who are searching for the secret to eternal life are investing copious amounts of time studying the Russian Thistle. By my calculations, it is impervious to every single conventional weed killing strategy known to human kind. You know those substances with labels that warn you that merely uttering the name of the active ingredient in the herbicide may cause cancer? Russian Thistle just giggles when you spray it. If you try pulling them, they will turn your hand into a bloody stump. Even hitting them with a propane torch generates mixed results. This plant is badass. If I ever become an agent for the CIA, my code name will be Russian Thistle.

Finally, in the summer of 2017, I called for backup. I decided I would re-structure my entire backyard, about an acre of land, into a beautifully landscaped fire pit and rock-covered oasis. No grass and no weeds. No Russian Thistle. It was my scorched Earth Russian Thistle strategy. Total annihilation. For a plan as bold as this, I would need an Expert — and that Expert was Adrian.

From May until September 2017, Adrian and I spent several days each week — those days when I was not out of town on speaking engagements — digging, measuring, putting in landscaping fabric, digging, moving dirt, shoveling rocks, digging, installing walkways, laying tiles — oh, and did I mention that we also dug? I lost 20 pounds in just over four months.

Most notably, I experienced the incredible gift that is the Expert style. Adrian would measure everything repeatedly. Every part of our yard was level—the fire pit walls, floor, the ground around it, the walkways to and from it. Every time I was ready to take a shortcut, to succumb to my Warrior need to just be done, Adrian would reel me back in and check our work. I would be lying if I told you that it wasn’t frustrating for me. The final product, however, is a constant reminder of how valuable Expert thinking can be. My vulnerability, with an Expert score of 37, is that I don’t pay close attention to details. My desire to get a result puts pressure on taking time to ensure quality. Adrian provided the contrast to my style. He was my mentor.

Complementary Versus Contrasting Balance

If you are an Expert — meaning that your lowest scoring column is A — you are also influenced by one of the remaining three columns. Your second lowest score — your secondary preference — provides your complementary balance. Although it is not your preferred style, it exerts significant influence on your approach and response to life. This is particularly true if your second preference score is below 30. If your secondary preference scores about 30, then it has a slightly more muted influence over your style. Whereas most people will report a clear secondary preference, there are a significant number of people who have only one column with a score below 30. This is most likely the result of a dynamic pattern (see Chapter 5, “What’s My Style”). In these cases, the primary preference is so strong that it dominates the other style preferences.

The other situation that results in only one score below 30 is a nuanced pattern, also described in Chapter 5. Unlike the dynamic pattern, the nuanced pattern is influenced by three or all four of the interactive style preferences. If your patterns do not fall into an obvious primary and secondary preference representation, this would be a good time to re-read Chapter 5, “What’s My Style?,” to consider the impact of your pattern of preference on your true self. The rest of the following four chapters examining each style preference will focus on a common pattern result to the assessment tool.

An Expert with a Secondary Romantic (lowest score A column, next-lowest score B column)

We all have our strengths and vulnerabilities. The more we understand the impact of both, the better we can utilize them to be the best Me we can be. As explained earlier, Experts tend to be thorough, detailed, accurate, risk avoidant and serious in their pursuit of perfection. All these qualities are immensely important in many life pursuits. Had I not experienced Adrian’s leadership during my landscaping adventure, I am certain that the county would have condemned my entire backyard within months. However, the same perspective that makes Experts so important to achieving a quality result can also make them appear stubborn, resistant to change, overly cautious, and stuck in the minutia of policies, procedures, and best practices.

A secondary preference for the Romantic style helps the Expert become more attuned to the emotional reaction they are receiving. That secondary style preference adds diplomacy, tact, empathy and political awareness to their viewpoint. Although the Expert will always prefer to approach tasks with their own knowledge and experience as their guide, the secondary Romantic style allows them more room for consensus building, input, and discussion. In my previous book, I refer to this style as the Voice of Reason. The combination of a primary Expert, secondary Romantic style often reflects outwardly as a teacher or mentor. They exude knowledge, patience, and professionalism. Although they may have a dogged determination to enforce accuracy and compliance, they can soften that expectation with delicacy and consideration.

I am fond of saying that the Voice of Reason cares deeply about others and displays that orientation by providing education to keep them out of harm’s way. I am most impressed by the Voice of Reason’s ability to hold people accountable for doing the right thing without making them feel degraded or scolded. Although I do not subscribe to the belief that a person’s style should guide their vocational choice, I do find that the Voice of Reason people are excellent teachers, combining the desire for best practices with the preference for tact and diplomacy. It is also important for me to note that “doing the right thing” is not a values statement. For the Expert, doing the right thing is a reference to doing the thing that we know produces the desired result. Style and values are two different components of self.

The Voice of Reason people have two contrasting balance components: Mastermind and Warrior. Understanding your contrasting balance gives you a better understanding of your vulnerabilities. A high score (above 30) in the Mastermind (C) column reduces your willingness to take risk. It can also restrict your interest and orientation to concepts, ideas, and possibilities. It would be beneficial to an Expert with a contrasting high Mastermind score to be aware of their tendency to be suspicious of situations, thoughts, proposals, and — possibly — even people for whom they have little or no experience or information. Although these new opportunities may cause some duress for an Expert, embracing them in the face of the risk can help them expand their knowledge. Just as the Expert perspective can add tremendous value to a new idea, a Mastermind perspective can help shove an individual who resists risk into a wonderful new direction.

Another contrasting balance consideration for the Voice of Reason is a score about 30 in the Warrior (D) column. At the risk of oversimplifying this contrast, if the Expert style is about quality, the Warrior style is about quantity. One of the fundamental challenges of most businesses is balancing the quality of the products and services with the quantity sold. There is nearly always a struggle to maintain both. Voice of Reason people may benefit by appreciating that the pressure to produce and to reach a result rivals their own need to be accurate. This contrasting balance is often a key cultural challenge within organizations between sales and operations — sales being measured by production (Warrior), operations by customer satisfaction (Expert).

I witnessed this friction at Mitchell’s Heating and Air Conditioning, the small business owned by my Warrior father. Generally, my father would spend his time selling. He would stay in the showroom to sell appliances or travel to job sites to bid on HVAC projects. Each morning, however, he assigned the three or four repair/installation professionals their service calls for the day. I would watch him as he grew increasingly frustrated with the many questions they would have about the calls. All the questions were legitimate, particularly to an Expert; but in my Dad’s view, it was wasting time. “Do something even if it’s wrong,” was a common retort from Dale. Translated, Dad was saying, “Jesus Christ, I could have driven there, figured it out, fixed it, and been back in the time we have talked about it.”

Of course, on those occasions when my Dad had to go out and do the service work himself, I would also hear him utter the phrase, “Good enough for who it’s for.” Now, to defend my father, he was self-aware of his tendency to get things working, but not necessarily do things right. He would send a service man back out to finish his work the correct way. My Dad’s goal was to get an appliance working again, not fix it the best way. He prioritized speed over accuracy. Taken to an extreme, that would create quality problems. However, the alternative created financial problems. Therein lies the dilemma of quantity versus quality, Warrior versus Expert.

An Expert with a contrasting balance of a high score in the Warrior column can benefit by understanding the importance of productivity. Learning to evaluate the relative merits of the pursuit of perfection against the value of a result will help the Voice of Reason people achieve a fuller perspective.

Finally, how does this score impact resiliency? As a reminder, an internal locus of control is the foundation for resiliency and is unrelated to interactive style. However, our intrinsic needs are also valuable for insulating us from chronic stress. The Voice of Reason excels in environments that feel secure, reliable, consistent, and within which they are appreciated for their knowledge and expertise. This style is generally not prone to flamboyance, preferring the steady and unassuming approach to excellence over flagrant displays of contribution. For this reason, their contribution can be overlooked or taken for granted — a situation that can leave them susceptible to chronic stress.

The Voice of Reason people may also encounter potential for chronic stress in situations that are not sufficiently structured. Like all Experts, the Voice of Reason people do not respond well to sustained chaotic environments. Time pressure can also be detrimental to the stress state of this style. Demands for greater productivity can negatively impact quality, an untenable situation for Voice of Reason people. Being told to “get it done now” versus “get it done right” will cause chronic stress.

If you score as a Voice of Reason person, take care to ensure that you have sufficient sources for personal appreciation and stability in your life. These components will help armor you against the derogatory effects of chronic stress. Table 11.1 gives a short summary of the Voice of Reason style.

Table 11.1 The Voice of Reason Punch Down

Complementary Versus Contrasting Balance

Preferences Versus Vulnerabilities

Impact on Resiliency

· Primary style = Expert

· Complementary Style = Romantic

· Contrasting Styles = Mastermind and Warrior

· Prefers structured, secure situations that can benefit the well-being and emotions of others.

· May avoid situations that they view as too risky.

· May sacrifice productivity for the sake of quality.

· Responds well to environments that are reliable and safe.

· Thrives when being appreciated and respected for their knowledge

· May experience chronic stress when forced to take chances or is the subject of extreme time pressure.

An Expert with a Secondary Mastermind (lowest score A column, next-lowest score C column)

Those of us who have been exposed to interactive style preference assessments — which is practically everyone — have grown comfortable with the quadrant approach. This application characterizes individuals as either conceptual or factual — an Expert or a Mastermind. However, it has been my experience that one can be influenced by both facts and ideas. This is one of the primary differentiators of my assessment. An Expert with a secondary Mastermind lives in both the world of the known and the unknown.

I refer to this style as the Detective. A detective must determine the unknown by pursuing what is known. The search for clues will yield a greater understanding of things that we do not currently understand. This person is the consummate researcher, compulsively sifting through data to piece together the information necessary to determine what has yet to be discovered.

Adrian, the star of my landscaping story, strikes me as a Detective. He combines a rigid commitment to quality with a substantial level of risk tolerance. Not only is he an entrepreneur; he also eagerly accepts projects for which he has little experience but will research thoroughly to understand. These are some of the common qualities of the Detective — an uncommon commitment to quality combined with a significant risk acceptance. If this sounds like you, that interesting paradox may well inform your style. I think that the Detective provides an extremely valuable perspective to any sort change — both personal and organizational. Their secondary Mastermind style makes them open, even eager, to accept new ideas and ways of doing things, while their primary Expert style will quickly recognize the structural, procedural and pragmatic challenges that may be involved. If I were assembling a team to implement change, I would start with the Detective.

Although the rigidity associated with many Experts may be less overt in the Detective, there are other potential vulnerabilities that exist in the contrasting balance. Detectives are not renowned for their tact and diplomacy. They are often depicted in movies and television shows as being interesting — even sometimes neurotic — loners who solve crimes, health challenges or global crisis with their expertise. Think Columbo, Sherlock Homes, Monk, and Iron Man. Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory is a great example. In all these cases, the lack of the Romantic preference is essential to the characters. They are not mean or brusque so much as matter of fact and oblivious to how their statements may land on the emotions of others.

As with the Voice of Reason people, Detectives may also struggle to balance their desire for quality and thoroughness with the need for a result. The relative lack of the contrasting Warrior style can remove the pressure of time. Here’s an example:

My brother-in-law Russ is a Detective. Before retiring, Russ worked in a segment of technology that was rapidly becoming outdated and extinct, but many of his clients tried to postpone investing in expensive new equipment. His knowledge of the equipment was unparalleled, and he was fearless in finding new ways to deal with challenges of aging technology and equipment in his efforts to keep his clients happy. He would literally invent processes that kept these older products functional. Although Russ and I were as different as two people can be from an interactive style perspective, we shared a love for music, wine, and the occasional cigar. We spent many an evening sitting by his pool in Central Florida contemplating the mysteries of the universe while listening to some wonderful blues, jazz, or rock.

We also shared a love for high fidelity. High-end audiophile enthusiasts understand that this is a hobby that can get expensive. We enthusiasts tend to fall into two categories, (1) save your money and spend it on really cool equipment that you will listen to a lot because you now have no money to do anything else or (2) build your own. I was a category 1 audiophile. Russ was a category 2. For years, Russ would talk about building some amazing floor speakers. For another several years, Russ researched how to build some amazing floor speakers. Then, finally, Russ built some amazing floor speakers. The entire process lasted a decade. No Warrior in human history would have contemplated and researched a process for that long without a result.

The Detective’s resiliency is based on both security and excitement. A consistent, reliable, and well-structured life will be great for some periods of time, but they also need the occasional project. The project will eventually become structured, reliable, and consistent and give way to the next project. Adrian is a great example of this. His landscaping business could be successful based on weekly mowing clients alone. Arguably, the business model is less risky and easier to execute. But for Adrian, the thought of doing nothing but rudimentary landscaping does not offer the entire recipe for his resiliency. He needs to mix the foundation of security with the excitement of new projects. Conversely, new projects alone would create too much potential chaos in his life.

The Detective may experience greater stress when forced into situations that require consensus, diplomacy, and the navigation of organizational politics. Perhaps that is why they are depicted as loners. Finally, like their colleague, the Voice of Reason, applying time pressure on the Detective can risk chronic stress. Although Detectives are among the world’s great problem solvers, (it’s elementary, my dear Watson!), they prefer to work in a methodical way. Rushing a Detective can risk poor quality or inadequate ideas. Table 11.2 gives a short summary of the Detective style.

Table 11.2 The Detective Punch Down

Complementary Versus Contrasting Balance

Preferences Versus Vulnerabilities

Impact on Resiliency

· Primary style = Expert

· Complementary Style = Mastermind

· Contrasting Styles = Romantic and Warrior

· Seeks depth of knowledge and will apply it creatively.

· Researches thoroughly before taking chances.

· May be a bit quirky or interpersonally clunky.

· Responds well to environments that are reliable and safe.

· Likes freedom to invent and experiment

· May experience chronic stress when dealing with social situations or extreme time pressure.

An Expert with a Secondary Warrior (lowest score A column, next-lowest score D column)

One of the cognitive struggles that is common to most people is the balance of the pursuit of perfection with the desire to be done. I believe that we all exist along this continuum. For me, the desire to be done is stronger than the pursuit of perfection. For my friend Adrian, it is the opposite. That is why we work well together. I apply the time pressure; he ensures the quality. But for some people, the search for this balance is a particularly defining characteristic. Such is the case for the Specialist.

The addition of a secondary Warrior style creates a heightened awareness of time/value ratio. The Expert style alone does not place a time limit on the value of accuracy. With a secondary Warrior, now the Expert faces a finite period within which to pursue perfection. Things must be done right and on time. Driven by both quality and deadlines, the Specialist is the closest to a perfectionist of any of the twelve combinations of styles.

I have done seminars with many project management teams over my career. Learning to understand how people think, what motivates them and how to best communicate with a wide range of team members is especially valuable to professionals who are responsible for managing a work product that spans many types of contributors and contributions. With the caveat that any style can succeed in any job, provided the organization supports that approach, the most common pattern I have experienced for project management in the construction industry is the Specialist. It makes perfect sense.

For example — taking a very macro view, the success of a construction project hinges on three elements: quality of work, adherence to budget, and on-time completion. Given all the “moving parts” that are involved in, say, the building of a high rise, achieving those three elements is no small order. The successful project manager will require an attention to detail, unwavering commitment to quality, and will continually manage the pace of process to ensure timely delivery of the final product. This plays particularly well to the Specialist’s strengths. Specialists are the cognitive embodiment of kaizen — a Japanese term used by business to mean “continuous improvement.”

Although Specialists are often driven to perfection, their lower preferences for Romantic and Mastermind styles can create some challenges. The high Romantic score (low preference) combined with the urgency of a low Warrior Score (high preference) can conspire to reduce communication to “need to know” directives. Specialists can sometimes appear overly task focused. They can tend to be hypercritical, given that perfection that meets deadlines leaves little room for variance in the expectations of this style.

The high Mastermind score (low preference) also may limit flexibility. Again, a project manager trying to do things right, on time, and on budget won’t want to “experiment” with new ideas midstream. The Specialist style is known for the quality and timeliness of the result—not how creative it is or if everyone enjoyed the process.

There are specific style combinations that pose the biggest challenge to resiliency. The Specialist is one of these patterns. Because of the natural tension between quality and quantity, people who value both are likely to struggle to find a balance. It is important for Specialists to feel secure and independent. Proper training, thorough communication, consistent and dependable situations are all important to their success. Also, the ability to apply their impressive knowledge in an environment that is free from micromanagement will be important. Too much time spent in meetings, engaged in “unproductive activities” like socializing, conference calls, or red tape will create stress. Likewise, chaotic, unpredictable, or poorly structured environments can create excessive duress for Specialists. Table 11.3 gives a short summary of the Specialist style.

Table 11.3 The Specialist Punch Down

Complementary Versus Contrasting Balance

Preferences Versus Vulnerabilities

Impact on Resiliency

· Primary style = Expert

· Complementary Style = Warrior

· Contrasting Styles = Mastermind and Romantic

· Prefers structured, efficient situations.

· Perfectionist who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

· May seem resistant to change and intolerant of mistakes.

· Responds well to training and structure.

· Thrives on independence to do things their way.

· May experience chronic stress when forced to take chances or build consensus with others.

Extracting Me Worksheet

Take some time to complete the What’s My Style? section of your worksheet. Since you are an Expert, I expect this to be thorough and detailed! And remember: there are no right answers, so don’t overanalyze this. Take time to consider how your style preferences contribute to whom you are. Also consider how the styles that are not your primary or secondary preferences affect who you are. Remember, the most obvious component of who we are in the minds of others is our style. Since I know you like resources and are good with research, check out Chapter 15 for an example of punching down your style.