Developing Leadership with Core Qualities

2022-01-17 Ron Eringa

The choices we make as leaders tell others if they will follow our leadership.

If can we improve our ability to make better choices we can become the best version of ourselves and help others, teams and organizations to do the same.

In my previous blog I explained how you can do that by using a Core and a Mission.

In this blog I will explain how we can explore this Core using Core Qualities.

Making Choices

When do I start working tomorrow? What clothes shall I wear? Shall I have coffee or tea? Do I reply to this email? What tone shall I use? The average adult makes about 35,000 decisions each day, each with consequences. When these consequences are impactful we often find it hard to choose.

Our ability to self-actualize and become the best version of ourselves is determined by the strategies we use to make important decisions. Research has shown that up to 45% of the decision we make are habits, taken by the unconscious part of our brains. This part of our brains compares new information with stored knowledge\experience to predict what will happen. Using these habits, intuition or gut feelings are a consciously unaware optimization process that helps us to act fast when needed. This is why we are able to drive a car in the dark while listening to some music and make a sudden steering-adjustments, because the car in from of you has just done the same. Other strategies like compliance, delegation, avoidance, balancing or prioritizing are handled by the part of our brain that does the analytical thinking. Intuitive thinking is described as automatic, fast, and subconscious. Analytic thinking, on the other hand, is slow, logical, conscious and deliberate. We make better choices when analytical and intuitive thinking work in concert. Many great thinkers from the past (such as Da Vinci, Einstein and Marie Curie) acted first on intuition before they could validate their idea through scientific testing and analysis.

Exploring the Core

It is at times when there are many options, unpredictable outcomes and complex tasks where we struggle most to make choices:

  • We only have capacity for 3 months work, but our product backlog is filled with at least 3 years
  • You have the feeling you career stands still, but have no idea what next step to take
  • There are soo many education possibilities, but which one is best suited for your needs

At critical moments like these it helps to understand our unconscious mind: what makes me tick? A number of tactics I’ve used to accomplish this:

  • Exploring qualities
  • 360 Degree feedback
  • Exploring believes, values and culture (probably one of my next blogs)
  • Working with a coach
  • Meditation
  • Listening to strong emotions and understanding where they come from

From this list, exploring qualities is one the most accessible ones to start with.

Qualities & Core Qualities

In this blog we’ll dive a little deeper into qualities.

This is what we find when we lookup the word quality in a dictionary: positive characteristics or character traits, that distinguishes us from others. Very often these character traits are directly associated with perceived personality. What if we could make more explicit how we perceive our own qualities and how other people perceive them. Is there any difference between my own perception and how others perceive me? If not, was does this tell me? And of course, what possible improvements do I gain from these insights? These questions can give you a first glance of our Core: they might even tell me something about the underlying values and believes.

Back in the days, when I was a Scrum Master, I had many of these questions, since I was trying to influence the dynamics in my team. Because of these questions I stumbled upon the work of Daniel Ofman, called the Core Quality model. According to Ofman every individual is born with a number of qualities, for example persistence, caring, empathy, etc. Something is a core quality because we are born with it and therefore it defines our personality. Applying a Core Quality goes effortless with probably everything you do. What is even more interesting is that we are not only born with these Core Qualities, but also with Pitfalls: when your Core Quality is present too much. Whenever we see something in another person that we don’t like, by definition it is always something too much of something beautiful.

Examples:

  • If your Core Quality is determination your Pitfall is probably pushy, because it is persuasiveness being over-present
  • If your Core Quality is helpfulness your Pitfall is probably meddlesome, because it is helpful being over-present

If we would start to look behind what we don’t like in ourselves or another person, we will probably find something beautiful: a quality. When people tell you they don’t like something about you, ask yourself: What is the Core Quality behind this Pitfall?

Self-development Challenges

The positive opposite of a Pitfall is what Ofman calls a Challenge: something that can neutralise your Pitfall and complement your Quality. When your Pitfall is pushiness, your Challenge is probably patience. Self-improvement can be defined as  working on your Challenges to compliment your Core Qualities.

Examples:

  • If determination is your Core Quality, you can avoid your pushiness pitfall by developing your ability to be patient
  • If helpfulness is your Core Quality, you can avoid being perceived as meddlesome by developing your ability to be discreet

Our ability to self-actualize starts with the acknowledgement that we all have our pitfalls that are a result of an over-presence of our Core Qualities. Once we can accept this, it is our Challenges that can help us move forward.

Developing teams

One way to find balance between Core Qualities and your Challenges is to partner with people who own your Challenge as their Core Quality.

Examples :

  • When determination is your Quality, a patient team member or partner can help you avoid being pushy
  • When help-fullness is your Quality, a discreet team member or partner can help you avoid being meddlesome

Research has proven that diverse teams are a great driver for progress. Using this approach can help you quantify and develop the quality gaps in a team. In this way we enhance the best in each other. It also explains why we often (unconsciously) look for our Challenges in other people.

At the team level you can use a number of facilitation techniques to discover qualities at the team level (you can either use the official card deck from Daniel Ofman or the team Feedback Game that we developed for multiple purposes). Once all qualities are known, you can start looking for possible team Pitfalls. Another approach is to start with known Pitfalls and work backwards to discover underlying Core Qualities. The goal would be to define the Challenges that a team could work on. In the best case someone in the team has these Challenges as a Quality while nobody knew. The alternative would be to find someone outside the team that can help solve these Challenges.

Solving conflicts

There is also a downside to partnering with people who ‘own’ your Challenges: when they fall into their Pitfall. This is where it becomes an allergy.

Examples:

  • The Pitfall for someone who is patient is passiveness, which might be an allergy for someone who is determined
  • The Pitfall for someone who is discreet is to become invisible, which might be an allergy for someone who is helpful

By adding Allergy to the mix we have a clearly defined relationship-model.  This relationship between Quality, Pitfall, Challenge and Allergy is what Ofman calls a Core Quadrant. The Core Quadrant can be used to learn more about your own Core, understand others better, but also to improve relationships and solve possible conflicts.

Irritation

In one of my previous jobs I was having frequent conflicts with one particular person. We were able to get past these conflicts, the moment we had a mutual understanding of our Core Quadrant: One of my qualities is being pragmatical. When I cannot predict the outcome of my actions I just try new stuff, until I find something that works. My colleague was very analytical. According to him, decisions should be made based on reason and data. When we started exploring our conflicts, it often came down to:

  • me being frustrated by his slow decision making
  • him being frustrated about my unfounded and reckless decisions

With this double ‘irritation’-quadrant we can make our irritations tangible.

Admiration

When we started exploring what we admired in each other:

  • I was impressed by his willingness to find answers (well-founded & analytical)
  • He was impressed by my ability to act on intuition (pragmatic & decisive)

Rather than focusing on our irritations we decided to focus on our admirations that we visualized with this double ‘admiration’-quadrant. By drawing these double quadrants we both found challenges in our collaboration:

  • I started providing him with more well-founded data and explanation on my assumptions and how to measure possible outcomes.
  • He helped me by splitting decisions into smaller chunks, so we moved step-by step towards more bigger decisions.

Conclusion

The ability to construct a few of our Core Quadrants helps us to understand better what makes us tick and become a better version of ourselves. It’s one of the steps to define our Core and helps to gain more insights on the dynamics in a team. By focusing more on qualities and challenges we also build our ability to better recognise where frustrations come from and better accept our pitfalls.

More info

You can get started with Core Qualities in your team by purchasing the original Core Quality Game from Daniel Ofman’s website.

Read more about self-actualization and leadership development in my previous blog on this subjectThe Professional Agile Leader.

Ron Eringa

Ron’s mission is to create organizations where people love to work and create value to the world. As trainer for Scrum.org, writer and frequent speaker he is enthusiastic about leadership development. Ron has helped many organizations to develop learning journeys for their Agile Professionals. Founder of Agile Leadership School.

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