Are you an anchor or a balloon?

I’m willing to bet you know which Hogwarts House you belong to (I’m also willing to bet you skewed your responses to make sure the answer was Gryffindor). You can’t scroll through a social media site these days without coming across a handful of quizzes that purport to reveal your true nature on the basis of your favorite shade of blue or self-proclaimed spirit animal. Too bad the outputs are just as random as the inputs. They’re fun, but not especially valid. While it’s oddly satisfying to navel-gaze in this fashion, the information is pretty useless.

Luckily, psychologists know quite a lot about what makes people tick. After decades of research, we know that people predominantly vary along five broad dimensions of personality. We can leverage this knowledge to understand and predict how people behave. The way people vary on these essential elements of personality, combined with other life experiences, can give rise to interesting behavioral patterns. Understanding and appreciating these differences can help us function more effectively, as well as work better with others.

One such pattern has to do with people’s tendency to be either macro or micro. This can manifest in various ways. For example, do you tend to take a long-term, big-picture view, or to take a more near-term, granular view? Do you prefer to think about things in terms of your vision and values, or in terms of pragmatics and practicalities? Would you rather brainstorm about what might be possible, or come up with a list of specific action items? These proclivities affect the way you think, speak, and act when confronted with a problem to solve or a goal you want to achieve.

Most people have a tendency to hang out at one end or the other on this continuum. I myself tend to be a bit more pie in the sky. Luckily for me I am surrounded by people who help ground me in reality – because to be most effective, we need to able to bridge the distance between earth and sky. What happens if we float along dreamily, coming up with grand plans and lofty goals, without anchoring them in reality or translating them into actionable steps? Nothing! Visions are empty unless they’re cascaded to a level that people can act on. What happens if we focus on the doing, and neglect the being? We get zombies. Well, maybe not zombies, but we get meaningless work, which can turn people into zombies. We need our tasks nested in context and purpose for them to be meaningful and engaging.

Being aware of our own patterns affords us the opportunity to get clarity on how we can best contribute and where our potential blind spots lie. Do you tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees, or are you more likely to let crucial details fall through the cracks? What can you do to ensure you balance your approach? Working with complementary others is a good way to avoid neglecting neither the elements of vision, values, and strategy nor the fundamentals of action, context, and tactics. This can also be a source of friction, however. Two people can talk about the same topic at such different levels it almost feels like you can’t quite connect. It can also manifest in team meetings where half the team is still exploring the nature of the problem and potential solutions, while the other half has already moved on to fleshing out the action plan. Having a clear, agreed-upon team process for keeping everyone on the same page can help.

Human dreams lead to inspired action; actions absent meaning lack vigor. But dreams need to be tethered to the tangible world if they are to be realized. Whether you’re establishing the direction of your organization or simply setting personal goals for the quarter, creating alignment between the whys, whats, wheres, and hows will contribute to your success.