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Spotting Secrets of Success in High-Profile Achievers

November 18, 1985|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

Famous people, beware. Jean Lipman-Blumen is watching you on TV.

When she turns on the evening news, the organizational sociologist at Claremont Graduate School is looking for clues to achievement. Public figures, she contends, often reveal how they got where they are by what they say and how they say it.

For instance, Lipman-Blumen, who is the Thornton F. Bradshaw professor of public policy and professor of organizational behavior, is certain that Henry Kissinger is, at least partly, a "personal-instrumental" achiever.

Kissinger earns this label because on television he comes across as one of those who use "family background, financial resources, wit, humor, sexuality, charm, intelligence, or previous accomplishments" to reach goals that are not necessarily genealogical, profitable, witty, funny, sexy or intellectually rigorous. He is a very complicated man, in other words.

On the other hand, Nancy Reagan and Walter Mondale are "vicarious-relational" types, though they hardly have the same personalities--or politics.

Lipman-Blumen gives this tag to the First Lady because she believes Mrs. Reagan tends to submerge her personality in the President's.

Mrs. Reagan "does not ever try to participate in presidential tasks," Lipman-Blumen contended in an interview. "Her accomplishment is being Mrs. Ronald Reagan and she was doing it to the extreme until the press got after her and she decided she was interested in drugs (anti-drug abuse programs)."

A Vicarious Type

In contrast, the former vice president is a vicarious type because of his extensive use of proteges, Lipman-Blumen said. A former special adviser to the White House domestic policy staff during the Carter Administration, Lipman-Blumen remembers that she was constantly running across people whose first loyalty was to Mondale.

When staffers were asked, "Could you please come to a meeting for the domestic policy staff meeting because Carter needs a paper . . . people would say, 'Well, the vice president has just called a meeting' and you would realize that that was someone who worked for Mondale on the Hill. . . . That's what vicarious-relational is all about in organizations," she said.

The ways people achieve--the techniques they use to get things done--are Lipman-Blumen's specialty.

For more than a decade she and a colleague at Stanford University have been developing and refining ways to measure those traits.

What they've come up with is a behavior gauge that seems to explain much without resorting to psycho-babble or brain research.

Using the tests and data she and her partner have gathered over the years, Lipman-Blumen contends it's possible for people to determine the companies where they'll be happiest in their careers, among other things. She also maintains that her achievement calibrations may allow people the insight to change their behavior to deal with crises or challenges successfully.

Essentially, Lipman-Blumen and Harold J. Leavitt have concluded that all people fall into three general achieving-style groups--direct, instrumental and relational. These three "domains" are each subdivided into three groups to create the "L-BL Achieving Styles Model."

"These achieving styles create almost a set of spectacles for people," Lipman-Blumen said in an interview. "They see the world through the glasses of their own achieving styles. . . . Somebody who sees with a predominantly competitive orientation sees everything in competitive turns.

"My favorite example is people at banquets where everybody is eating the same thing--it's the same meal, the same miserable piece of roast beef, a little gray pile of potatoes and sickly green peas. And the person at the table who's competitive is furtively looking around to see who has the biggest slice of roast beef and the most mashed potatoes."

In the Direct Domain

In the first of these major groupings--the direct domain--are those who are intrinsic-direct, competitive-direct and power-direct.

Intrinsic types become "totally absorbed in the task and get gratification from doing the task well," Lipman-Blumen said. "That individual is not looking to the outside world for accolades. . . . The person who has an internalized standard of excellence is our apple pie in the U. S."

People who are competitive-direct feel that "doing well isn't good enough, you have to do better than everybody else or certain other people who are your standards of reference." As an example, she cited "the little kid in the second grade who got an 'A' and was feeling pretty good about himself until he looked over and saw that somebody else got an 'A' too, and the thrill was gone."

Power-direct achievers are those who want to take charge in nearly every situation. "It has nothing to do with intentions or motivation--that's independent of their behavior," she explained, "because you could want to take charge for different reasons, for good reasons or bad reasons."

Different Motives

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