Independent and in Control: a New Twist on a Familiar IDI Score Combination

The Individual Directions Inventory (IDI) is a tool that never ceases to amaze me. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that it continuously allows me to learn about people’s complexity and how motivational drives manifest themselves in seemingly infinite combinations. Even more fascinating is how these combinations of motivational forces may play out in a person’s world. Simply put, two people may have a similar combination of scores, but what this means for them in the context of their work – and their world – may be something completely different.

A few weeks ago, I was delivering feedback to a gentleman who scored highly in both Controlling and Independence. Controlling speaks to a person’s desire to be in charge, have authority, and be influential. Independence is the desire to move about the world with a sense of freedom, not relying too heavily on others, nor having anyone interfere too much with their world.

Intuitively, the pairing of high Controlling and high Independence seems to make sense; and for some it does. Being in control of situations means calling the shots, which can contribute to a sense of freedom in how one moves about the world. However, this pairing often creates tension for individuals. Why? High Controlling individuals often find satisfaction in leadership because it allows them to exert a degree of influence and authority. To successfully do so, a leader must be heavily involved with others, and share their concerns. A leader cannot be influential without some personal investment in those they lead. This may cause friction in those with high Independence, who frequently don’t care for getting wrapped up in what others have going on, instead preferring to focus on their own stuff. A common sentiment from a highly independent person may be, “I’d prefer not to get involved with that…it doesn’t really concern me.” How many successful leaders do you know have that phrase on repeat? Not a ton, I’d imagine. And so, individuals with this pairing find themselves facing a difficult trade-off…where do they throw their emotional energy?

As I was discussing this challenge with the gentleman, he started to laugh and said, “So that’s why I liked that job so much.” I asked him to elaborate on the reference, and he told me about a position he held years earlier where he was the advisor to the CEO of a large organization; a chief of staff, if you will. This position provided him authority and influence through the CEO, but he did not have to explicitly deal with the concerns of others on a daily basis. He was involved and knew what was going on, but he did not have to take meetings, have discussions, or deal with travel that impeded his freedom. Thus, the position satisfied both his need for control and independence simultaneously… without the trade-off.

The combination of high Controlling and high Independence can work well, but may come with emotional tension as there is commonly a trade-off between influence and involvement. Those who find themselves struggling with this tension may find it helpful to examine how their independent nature impacts their leadership style. Taking some time to explore how being a successful leader may take its toll on emotional independence could lead to finding more balance between work life and personal life. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these things, but self-awareness forms a strong foundation for building balance, and dedicating time to reflect on how one’s areas of very high or very low energy impact their world often leads to important breakthroughs. If all else fails, just find that chief of staff position!


About the author

Drew is MRG's resident I/O psychologist. When not at MRG, he's either with his family (most likely) or in his workshop (less likely). His stack of unread books is commendable.

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