What is the point of all of it?
Millions of dollars are spent each year on personality assessment tests. But, nobody can express a clear reason why.
“Two and a half million Americans a year take the Myers-Briggs. Eighty-nine companies out of the US Fortune 100 make use of it, for recruitment and selection or to help employees understand themselves or their co-workers.”
Almost 90% of Fortune 100 companies perform these tests. This is amazing to me.
I have taken these assessments. After receiving my results, my first thought always is: interesting, but so what?
I see a lot of commentary and articles on how to assess leadership styles and roles.
- Are you a democratic leader, authoritarian, or somewhere in between (here)?
- What is your personality type (FIRO-B, MBTI)?
- What is your role as a team member (Belbin)?
Are these useful tools? Can we use them to predict behaviors or successes?
We do it because it seems like science
I am the first to agree that self-reflection is important. The more you are aware of you own strengths and weaknesses the better you are able to affect change. But even though popular, the validity of some of these tests are challenged by psychological professionals. So we expend effort in assessing ourselves and you need to ask “to what purpose?”
Sadly, everyone who takes these tests has no choice. They must do it because it is a hoop to jump through in many hiring processes. If you don’t take the tests, you will not be considered for a position.
From the recruiters’ side, the assessments give numbers to the recruiters that quantifies some quality. The number can be interpreted as something in favor of a candidate or something against.
So, to answer the first question: are they useful tools? If your goal is to assess leadership potential or team incompatibilities, I say “no”. The interpretation of advantage or disadvantage of the results is completely up to the reviewer and their biases. There is no basis to say that one personality type is better than another for a given position. One recruiter’s opinion of a INTJ for a position may be the exact opposite of another recruiter’s opinion of a INTJ. There are no rules, guidelines, or studies to substantiate any interpretation.
Can we use the aforementioned assessments to predict behaviors or success? This is a quick one… “no”. To be fair, they are snapshots of a situation. But, my follow-up question would be: why measure something that has no value? You can’t use the personality assessments to create team compositions because there are no theories that support the concept.
So why do we waste time on something unscientific; unscientific in the validity of data and in its ability to predict success?
What should we do?
My focus is on leadership. We have to reframe how we view leadership and how it is applied.
Assessments suggest the assumed premise that we can measure an individual’s personality and derive a leadership style to fit that personality. If we cannot accurately measure personality and we cannot say which personality types can predict good leadership, why are we wasting our time?
A better approach is to view leadership as a functional toolset. A single leadership style is not suitable for every occasion, the trick is to know when to be a hard-ass and when to take the time to be wholly democratic. One of my favorite references is Daniel Goleman’s “Leadership That Gets Results” (HBR March–April 2000 Issue). Goleman defines six styles of leadership:
In broad terms, under the differing circumstances each style is more effective than the others. The drivers of the circumstances are usually related to resources with time as usually the most critical resource. For example, in an emergency it may be necessary to tell people what to do because there is no time for discussion or explanation. If you rely on coercion to implement common daily tasks, people will leave as soon as is practical.
I am by nature an affiliative leader, I know that about myself without an assessment. My biggest mistakes in my earlier leadership roles was to somehow force everything into the affiliative paradigm which did not always work. By understanding the different leadership styles and when to use them, you have a better, more flexible tool selection.
According to 2014 McKinsey review:
- Two-thirds of 500 executives polled listed leadership as their number one human capital concern.
- Only 7% of executives believe that their company develops leaders effectively.
There is obviously a gaping disconnect. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on personality testing, but the senior executives are still concerned about human capital in general and in leadership development specifically.
It feels to me like a waste of time and effort to measure personalities for potential employees. A better use of the money is in developing effective leadership programs to manage the employees. Train the leaders to more effectively engage and motivate their portion of the organization’s human capital.
Leadership style is not one size fits all. Asking what personality makes a better leader is like asking what personality makes a better golfer, it is a ridiculous question to raise. A good golfer, like a good leader, selects the right tool at the right time and uses it in the most effective manner.
The best leadership style is the style that best fits the job. You should not pick a leadership style that you think fits you. Instead, pick a style that fits the occasion.