Gretchen Rubin

Can You Spot the Tendency of Canada’s Governor General?

Can You Spot the Tendency of Canada’s Governor General?

I love seeing the Four Tendencies framework at work in the world.

A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this fascinating article from Canada’s National Post, “Failure to launch: Inside Julie Payette’s turbulent first year as Governor General” with the note that judging from the article, she figured that Julie Payette was a QUESTIONER/Rebel, and did I agree?

After reading the article, I absolutely agree.

Julie Payette was the Canadian Space Agency’s former chief astronaut, former chief operating officer of the Montreal Science Centre, and an engineer—plus she speaks six languages and is a skilled pianist. She’s now in a very different professional role, as Canada’s Governor General. (If you don’t know what this role entails, it becomes very clear in the article.)

So what kinds of behavior and patterns do we expect to see from Questioners? A drive for efficiency and justification. A love of research and information. A resistance to anything arbitrary. A disdain for arguments like “We’ve always done it this way” or “Because this expert says we have to do it.” A belief in their own judgments. A willingness to stick to their convictions about the best way to do something, even if that means conflict with outer expectations.

We might also see a dislike for answering others’ questions or providing justifications. We might see analysis-paralysis.

The article makes a crucial point, and one that we all know from our own experiences: someone can be outstanding in many respects, and yet not suited to a particular role. In my observation, when the core value of a person’s Tendency conflicts with the values of their role, that’s a big problem. If an Upholder works in a place that demands a lot of flexibility and tacit rule-bending, that might be tough. If an Obliger works in a place that requires being a self-starter, that might be tough. If a Rebel works in a place that requires a lot of oversight, coordination, and direction from the top, that might be tough.

And if a Questioner is working in an environment that’s heavily influenced by tradition and is expected to observe and enforce rules that are somewhat arbitrary, that will be tough.

The framing paragraph for the article reads: “Payette is perfectly suited to be an astronaut, but much less so for a job defined by strict adherence to convention, and which comes with constant public scrutiny.

Here are some key passages from the (very long) article:

“Payette called senior officials within the government, sources said, upset over the expectation she rearrange her schedule to accommodate the ceremony and questioning whether she actually had to be there. Could a Supreme Court justice preside instead?”

“Payette has been locked in a year-long battle with the expectations and restraints that come with being governor general: demands on her personal time, expectations of how she should dress, what she can say in public and how she should work with politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats.”

“Payette does not take kindly to the idea of simply rubber-stamping bureaucratic decisions. Unlike her predecessors, she questions much of the advice she receives and the papers put on her desk for signature, they said. It has sometimes been difficult to get timely sign-off from Payette on matters such as approving the awarding of honours like the Order of Canada.”

“Michael Cox, president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, said, “We simply got an email saying Her Excellency could not accommodate us this year.” The organization, which minted brand-new medals this year with a design symbolically representing the royal connection, did not receive any explanation, according to Cox.”

“Some of the tension in the vice-regal community comes simply from Payette’s tendency to question why she should adhere to rules that she considers asinine, and that those surrounding her consider sacrosanct.”

“In late May, Payette wore her NASA Exceptional Service Medal for an international symposium on honours and heraldry at Rideau Hall. In doing so, she appears to have contravened an Order-in-Council setting out what Governors General can display on their person — what some say is a technical violation of the law, and in a room full of the very people who care more about such rules than anybody else in the world.”

“The space medal incident, which has become infamous in Canada’s small circle of honours experts, may seem trivial beyond that community. Given that the entire essence of Payette’s job as governor general is ceremonial, her purpose to uphold protocol, to some observers such transgressions raise the question of why Payette accepted the job in the first place.”

“As remarkable and accomplished as Payette undoubtedly is, it is possible her particular skills, priorities and personality were always going to make her a difficult fit for the role.”

“The Globe and Mail reported last week that Payette has ruffled the feathers of her security detail, which feels she has put her own safety at risk by keeping them ill-informed of her whereabouts.”

“In the first six months, I was like, ‘I want her to succeed,’ ” said one long-time observer of the office. “She looks great on paper, her resume says she should be a great success at this, and be able to connect in a way in which other people have not been able to. But it’s been—it’s just the wrong personality for this job.”

What do you think? To me it sounds like a brilliant Questioner—in a position that cuts against the Questioner Tendency.

If you want to take my short, free quiz, to find out if you’re a Questioner, Upholder, Obliger, or Rebel, take it here. Almost 1.7 million people have taken it at this point.

If you want to dive deeper into the Four Tendencies and learn how to harness the strengths and manage the weaknesses or you Tendency, take my new video course.

icon emailNewsletterLight

Get monthly newsletter updates from Gretchen.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Monthly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free monthly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.