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I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review called “Managing Oneself” by Peter F. Drucker.  I’m not going to summarize the article the for you because there are just too many good points (I am linking to it so you can read it yourself).  Instead I’m going to focus on this one teeny part that took me nearly 5 minutes of scanning to find again.  Apparently when I read it, I didn’t think it was important enough to even mark with my highlighter.

Yet it helped me answer the age-old question that has plagued my household: if my husband is the fast burner of the family (and he is), why is it I tend to get more praise for my efforts than he does?

First, let me reassure you that my husband and I are not career competitors.  But recently we realized I tend to receive a lot of verbal appreciation in my jobs, while he tends to get promotions, but without the proverbial pat on the back.

Is it a gender issue?  Does he just have a knack for getting tight-lipped bosses? 

I think the two treatments stem from the fact he’s more of a leader while I tend to be more of an advisor.   What’s the difference?  Certainly the two roles go hand in hand.  Advisors help leaders think, but are usually uncomfortable with the burden and pressure of making decisions.   Here’s what Drucker has to say:  

There is a reason, by the way, that the number two person in an organization often fails when promoted to the number one position.  The top spot requires a decision maker.  Strong decision makers often put somebody they trust into the number two spot as their advisor — and in that position, the person is outstanding.  But in the number one spot, the same person fails.  He or she knows what the decision should be but cannot accept the responsibility of actually making it.

What really struck me about this passage is that it helps explain why I get more verbal praise.  I’m an advisor, and other leaders really appreciate what I do for them. 

I’m great at synthesizing strategy and asking hard questions–spotlight kind of work that creates the right environment for thinking.  My husband, on the other hand, is a natural leader.  This is really important (especially in the military) but doesn’t impact the day-to-day efforts of his superiors.  In fact, the better he does his job, the less noticable he is.  It’s really easy to take a good leader for granted.  Fortunately, when it comes time to select the next leader, it appears they know the right person to go to. 

That’s good for both of us.  Because I wouldn’t be happy in his shoes, or he in mine.  Because what Drucker is really saying is fulfillment isn’t derived from rank or even praise, but in finding the right place to exercise your strengths.  Or as he puts it, in managing oneself.

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4 Responses to Leader vs Adviser: Who Gets More Praise?

    • On
    • April 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm
    • a.q.s.
    • Said...

    Found your way via the Sun Magazine Newsletter.

    Strangely, on a truly unrelated post to shed light on business models in Africa I read a post on
    “The Collapse of the Business Model” by Clay Shirky.

    When I went to the front page, I discovered a completely unrelated post that I beleive is related to something you are saying. Sort of.

    A Rant About Women” Not really a rant, in my opinion. Check it out. Your post and the article you linked made me think of what I had randomly come across another.



    will be checking out your poetry. lovely.

    • Terrific links, both of them, though I particularly enjoyed the rant. So much so I suspect I’ll be writing about it in the near future. Thanks so much for stopping by, taking the time to leave a comment, and for checking out my poetry, which means a lot. The link from The Sun was a terrific boon–there are just some things that lead to instant connections for me. Any reader of The Sun is sure to be a friend of mine…


    • On
    • April 6, 2010 at 7:05 am
    • reader2rider
    • Said...

    This all makes sense.

    You could also make the case that people in an organization usually, though not always, are more approachable as you move down the chart, regardless of function.

    Also, I am more inclined to praise the customer service rep I just got off the phone with than his or her boss, much less the company’s CEO. We all understand that a good customer service experience is more a function of the personality of the CS rep than it is of the company’s management or even effective training. If I put in a good word for the CS rep it isn’t to praise his or her boss, it’s to praise the CS rep, to put in a good word in the hope that, at the very least, when the layoffs come he or she might be spared.

    • I guess the thing is, my husband and I are in roughly equivalent positions. We’re in the upper middle eschelon. So why the different treatment? I would guess it was the personality of our respective bosses, except this has been true for the last 10 years (and as military, we move every 3 years or so). Anyway, it’s fun thinking about it and the hubby agreed my theory made some sense. Can’t ask for more than that from a leader! LOL