Over my 11 years of coaching professionals, five years as a therapist, and 18 years in corporate life, I’ve worked with and seen every type of person with every type of challenge you can imagine. Through the process of coaching and studying professionals, I’ve observed that there are six dominant action styles – six key ways in which humans naturally and preferentially take action towards a goal and approach change.
I’ve discovered too that these six styles shape what people deeply want, need and dream of in their work and personal lives. Our preferred action style influences the type of people we get along with, the impact we long to make, the outcomes we care about, and who we’ll allow to help us.
If our dominant action style isn’t respected, appreciated or allowed to be exercised fully in our work and personal lives, we often feel misunderstood, undervalued, thwarted, disconnected, and unfulfilled.
The impact of our preferred action style is significant, but we aren’t trained to recognize it, so we pursue jobs that are wrong for us, and careers that fail us.
I’ve found that our preferred action styles have roots in our hardwiring, but are also nurtured throughout our lives and experiences. In addition, our dominant action style shapes how we see life, how we envision success and happiness, and why we so often have painful conflicts with (and negative judgements about) others who demonstrate a different action style.
In each of us, there is some crossover among styles, and a certain style might emerge at a given time to address a particular kind of problem. But overall, there is one main style that represents who you are at your core.
What are the top six action styles and why do you need to know?
I’ve observed these six categories that reflect how humans take action to a goal:
(For an illustration of how these styles are different, let’s use as an example that all of the individuals below have identified a goal of taking a road trip this summer from New York City to Los Angeles):
This individual is motivated keenly by achievement and accomplishment – by setting goals and doing what’s required to clear the pathway to achieve those goals. Strivers work hard consistently to overcome their challenges, and won’t hesitate to get outside help, advice and support from others to achieve their visions. They are deeply driven by accomplishment and by getting to the other side of their goal as expeditiously and efficiently as possible, as if to make a “check mark” on their to-do list that represents “Done.”
The strength of this style: The ability to move toward a goal continuously and proactively, without letting outside obstacles and distractions get in the way.
The potential limitations of this style: Strivers sometimes prioritize achievement and accomplishment over other important dimensions of behavior and human experience, such as empathy, compassion, interconnectedness and patience. The Striver is often a “perfectionist overfunctioner” striving to do more than is necessary, more than is appropriate, and more than is healthy, and driving to get an A+ in all of it. The Striver has been known to “leave body parts” on the floor in the wake of achieving what they believe is important.
The journey will look like this: This individual will actively plan his/her road trip, choose the date, find the best companion for the trip, and make it happen in the most efficient and effective way possible, without much question, concern or deliberation. The ultimate goal is arriving at the destination.
The Seeker is motivated by expansion, learning and growth, and sees evolving and learning as the key objectives of experience. Seekers may change directions frequently, embracing the idea of “going with the flow,” and are more than fine with modifying their dreams and visions based on what new “material” shows up in their lives at any given time.
The strength of this style: Incorporating input from many different sources (including their gut and intuition), Seekers listen to their mind, body and spirit to guide them and are fluid in determining the best goals and approaches to having the fullest experience of life.
The potential limitations: Seekers place such a strong emphasis on intuition and internal guidance that they sometimes fail to design practical goals that will support them, or follow proven methodologies and approaches to the goal. They sometimes can rely too heavily on positive thinking as a strategy, failing to take concrete, action-oriented steps toward specifically-defined visions and goals.
The journey: The road trip for this individual might not end up in Los Angeles at all, or occur at the designated time. The Seeker may decide to detour to Santa Fe or somewhere else, and end up staying weeks longer than originally planned because of who they met or new experiences they engaged in. The Seeker cares most about growth and learning, and relies on a great deal of other input and information that flows in through experience to evaluate if the goal – and the approach to the goal — as originally outlined is the most desirable.
The Researcher is deeply motivated by the process of study, research, exploration and evaluation – assuming a wide range of angles and perspectives in order to understand the best goals to pursue, and the best avenues to achieve these goals. The researcher needs to turn an idea or concept over and “peel the onion” to investigate, dig deep, explore and uncover as many alternative approaches and options in order to arrive at the best plan.
The strength of this style: The researcher brings to the table a keen ability to explore new ways to achieve a goal, and new ways to conceptualize the way we operate around a goal. Through mining data, brainstorming new questions, and uncovering vital information that informs our decisions and visions, the researcher can bring to light game-changing information and perspectives that shape our decisions.
The potential limitations: The Researcher’s need for data, validation and research can at times impose obstacles to efficiency. Sometimes life requires a leap of faith where data on the potential outcome is not available, which is difficult for the Researcher to tolerate, and sometimes fear-inducing.
The journey: The road trip for this individual will involve a great deal of investigation, research, questioning, discussion and testing out, before the journey even begins and before a course of action can be charted.
Pacers will get to their goal, but they’ll approach the process very slowly, methodically, and often in a plodding way. The Pacer is like a great giant turtle with a hard, protective shell. When events or situations emerge that threaten the Pacer, s/he will submerge under the shell until the threat has passed. The Pacer will reliably plod to the goal, but often others have to move around the Pacer if they wish to speed up the process or take the most expedient route.
The strength of this style: The Pacer has a strong, steady and reliable approach to moving from point A to point B, and is not easily pushed off the track or distracted from the goal.
The potential limitations: The Pacer can sometimes be stopped in his tracks by experiences that appear to threaten his status quo. Change is very scary to the Pacer, and his/her fears have to be mitigated before they can move forward.
The journey: The road trip for this individual will be slow, steady, paced and very well plotted. Progress may not happen as planned (if something emerges that makes the Pacer fearful of proceeding), but the Pacer will not give up until he arrives at the goal that was set.
The Challenger feels the urge to challenge everything – asking questions, disrupting conventional thinking, and not taking any advice, authority or direction given as definitive. The Challenger thrives on being able to turn a goal or a belief over on its head, and questioning why it exists. He is motivated by following his own, authentic answers to deep questions, and views himself as the highest authority on what is the right, or wrong, way to approach a situation or goal.
The strength of this style: The Challenger doesn’t take anyone’s word for it, so he often brings completely new solutions to the table through his skepticism and questioning of what’s in front of him.
The potential limitations: The Challenger can expend more energy than necessary or helpful in challenging for challenging sake, exhausting his energy and resources (and everyone else’s) before forward action can be taken.
The journey: The process in planning for the road trip, and engaging in it, for this individual will be full of questions and challenges that need to be addressed, including: Why now? Why this? Is it worth it? What will I get from it? Who should come? And who says this is a good idea?
Finally, the Advocator drives to a goal only when it has “juice” and excitement for her – when it holds a deeper meaning and purpose, usually around advocating for some desired transformation – for herself, others, her community or the world. Advocators need to have deeper meaning and purpose in their work and in their goals, and long for outcomes that will bring forth positive benefit to everyone involved.
If there isn’t some form of championing an idea or supporting a cause for positive growth embedded within the goal, the Advocator tends not to be fully satisfied or motivated to complete it. Advocators aren’t motivated by personal gain – they are motivated by transforming some aspect of the world for greater good.
The strength of this style: When the Advocator is motivated toward a goal, she can be highly compelling and convincing, enlivening everyone around her to support her vision, paving the way for a great deal to be accomplished.
The potential limitations: The Advocator has a strong “warrior” sensibility, and sometimes can be myopic in her views and approach, which can alienate others who aren’t as aligned with the advocacy aspect of the goal.
The journey: With the Advocator’s strong belief in transformation, she won’t be stopped on her journey. She’s able to cut through red tape, make the impossible happen, scale mountains, forge rivers and get to the destination when all others before her have failed.
Why do you need to know your preferred style to build a happier career?
There are five key reasons that knowing your dominant style is critical to your success:
• Gaining greater self-awareness of your dominant action orientation will help you choose the right work and career that will leverage and honor your preferred style.
• Understanding what motivates and drives you will help you make better, more satisfying decisions in terms of what career and lifestyle choices and relationships you pursue.
• Learning how others are different in their action styles will help you get along better with (and manage/lead) others whose styles are different than yours, and develop a greater appreciation and respect for diversity and difference in styles.
• Seeing the potential blind spots of your preferred style will help you bypass the inherent challenges and pitfalls of that style, and encourage you to surround yourself with individuals who have complementary styles.
• Understanding how you like to take action means you’ll understand what you need to do in any new situation, in order to navigate it more successfully to achieve what you long for authentically (including how to build a happier career).
Which of these six dominant styles best reflects you? And is there another action style of the six that you wish you had? Why? Share below.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Photo courtesy of WOCinTech [FLICKR]