No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Problem with Personality Profile

Every person is unique. That's a cliche, but it's also true and it's hard for leaders to remember. We like to pigeonhole people, to lump them into manageable groups so that we only have to figure out how to deal with a small handful of personalities.

The Myers-Briggs personality test may be the most widely used of its kind worldwide. It pinpoints where you are on a 70-point spectrum in four areas, the ends of which are represented by letters. So, four scales, eight letters, 70 possible ratings per scale for a total of 280 possible scores.

Those 280 points of variability, though a gross simplification of the complexity of our personalities, boil down to only four points of comparison based on just eight possibilities, which folks who use the Myers-Briggs depict with the four letters that represent the halves of the scales.

The problem? Take my score, for example. I'm an INTJ. The first letter indicates that I'm introverted; in fact I was only two points from center on the I side of the scale. That means my personality is a lot closer to that of a moderate extrovert than a strong introvert. But I have been permanently tagged as an introvert, even though I am socially comfortable and like people.

What you need to take away from this is that attempts to generalize your people can easily lead you to mis-understand them. Human beings are just too complex. 

It may be helpful in some contexts to talk about idea people and action people, or starters and finishers, or organizers and creative types, or being data or anecdote-driven. But to lead a person day in and day out, you have to see him or her as one of a kind. You have to learn about that person, not about a personality type. 

After all, you don't want your boss to pigeonhole you, do you?

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