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.