The 8 Foundational Building Blocks to Individual Growth

The Imperatives

by Susan Simpson

PAIRIN is committed to helping people make their work and the world a better place, and we work with organizations to the betterment of their students, employees and customers. Through assisting these organizations, we have identified a set of eight “Imperative” attributes that most strongly support an individual’s ability to grow in more complex areas like Interpersonal Skills and Critical Thinking. If this foundation is not laid properly, efforts to develop other skills that rest on this foundation will fall flat.

i'm-all-about-that-base

PAIRIN applies “hard science” to measure, map and develop over 100 soft skills and mindsets such as Initiative, Adaptability, Persistence and Problem Solving. The relative importance and desirable levels of these behavioral attributes vary according to different occupations. Conversely, the Imperative skills are universal and foundational in that rather than being job-specific, they support people’s abilities to learn, relate and work in general.

The Imperatives are consistent with the exhaustive neurological, psychological and organizational science made prominent by renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence,” 1995). Five of these attributes map to the “Self” domain of Goleman’s EI competencies: Emotional Self-Awareness, Self-Assessment, Self-Confidence, Self-Restraint, and Optimism (Resiliency).

Our research has surfaced three counterpart attributes—Self-Concept, Self-Blame and Stress Tolerance—that provide added lenses through which to interpret the others.

If the Imperatives seem “self-” concerned, they are. We all need the core abilities to realize, distinguish, accept, act, correct, refrain, endure and rebound. The problem is that like foundations, these skills are so ground-level that they often go overlooked. What will happen if we fail to fortify the Imperatives? In the end, we’re left teetering in our ability to function with, or in support of others. Insufficient self-concern can leave us inadvertently selfish.

Of all the workforce development programs we’ve studied, 70-85% of students or adults with employment barriers (disadvantaged backgrounds, lack of diploma, criminal record, etc.) need reinforcement in their Imperatives. Meanwhile, similar gaps appear in only 10-17% of gainfully employed adults and suburban, college-bound high school students of any ethnicity.

The Imperatives are:

  • “Me narratives”—the story I tell myself, about myself: “What do I feel?”, “What is my value?” “What can I do?” and “How will I manage?”
  • Foundational for relating to myself and functioning with and in support of others
  • Required for the development of higher-order skills such as  Critical Thinking
  • Bottom-line universal building blocks to development


Builders will tell us it’s all about that foundation. The higher the skyscraper you want to construct, the stronger a base you will need, or sooner or later the building will collapse. Without solid underpinnings, high rises and humans are vulnerable to stormy times and trying ordeals.

Have you ever seen a lack of steady progress when helping a person develop? Is anyone you care about stuck, repeating the same patterns of ineffectual behaviors without change? Before rushing in to treat the symptoms, take a look at root causes. Be mindful of Imperative gaps that can be recognized in ways such as:

Ineffectual Behavior Related Imperatives
Inability to realize or put words to one’s own feelings beyond “good,” “bad,” or “ok”. Emotional Self-Awareness
Easily “hijacked” emotions or impulses, with resultant self-defeating or injurious actions and habits. Emotional Self-Awareness, Self-Restraint
Lack of self-care, healthy boundaries or a sense of personal worth/meaning. Self-Concept
Poor morale, anxiety or fixation on what can go wrong. Stress Tolerance, Resiliency
Inability to recognize if opportunities are aligned with one’s goals and abilities. Self-Assessment, Self-Confidence
Self-talk that carries demeaning, unduly critical messages such as “I’m at fault” (guilt) or “I am faulty” (shame). Self-Blame

Additionally, take time to understand an individual’s background. Be ready to help tackle problems that prevent people from rising higher—the denials, fears, misconceptions, mental bugs and other inherited and imparted weeds and rubble. Ask questions, listen for patterns, and if you have the ability, measure the foundational attributes when taking them on as a client or placing them in programs.

The PAIRIN system measures intensities using a survey and scales developed by Dr. Harrison Gough, originator of the extensively validated Adjective Check List (ACL). The platform helps you identify scores falling outside (either above or below) the target ranges, which are the identified ideal ranges for a skill based on a job role or program participant. And beyond that, the system offers corresponding insights and questions in everyday language. Here is an example one of PAIRIN’s 300+ behavioral insights:

Self-Blame: The drive to consider oneself at fault or inferior, and thus undeserving or inadequate in relationship or work.

People highly inclined to SELF-BLAME have little ego or pride. They are quick to accuse or belittle themselves—both internally and in the eyes of others. Their self-talk echoes: “I’m at fault” (guilt) or “I am faulty” (shame). While accepting of outside criticism, they try to preempt it by 1.) Apologizing in advance to lower expectations; or 2.) Staying small to avoid attention. This attribute often inhibits expression and creativity. It is a self-defeating drive that poisons our ability to grow. So long as we engage in undue self-blame, we’re in a double bind—both the bully and the victim.

PAIRIN further supports development with actionable tips, curriculum and training programs aimed at progressing an individual using a healthy, bottom-up approach (much like the builders referenced foundational structure). For instance, as a first step to change one must realize what’s happening inside; therefore, Emotional Self-Awareness is the cornerstone which leads to the other Imperatives one by one.

The Imperatives will help individuals in their development of “How am I?”, which is close to, but not the same thing as “Who am I? One’s identity finds its footing in that which lies beneath the foundation. If we live in the reality of our true meaning and worth, we are fixed upon solid bedrock. It is immeasurable—never more or less. Never better or worse. It is stable. Worth cannot be earned, only received. In approaching this deepest level, people may need help in the form of a skillful counselor, coach, or at least a whole-hearted close friend.

As a final (and fun) note, if you want to stick one refrain in your head concerning the Imperatives, this one is right on target. In her 2014 Grammy-nominated viral hit single, singer/songwriter Meghan Trainor repeatedly stresses: “It’s all about that bass, ‘bout that bass…” (If it’s not already spinning, you can find a version here). The Imperatives are guides to establishing that base. Take the time, build wisely and aim for (in Meghan’s words): “All the right junk in all the right places.” That base will always pay off in the long run!