Better Leadership: Managing and Leading Different Personalities in the Workplace

office-politicsMost of us have already been, or will at some point in our careers be, subject to at least one personality test. According to Bersin by Deloitte, the use of personality tests at work is on the rise. Tests are now used on 60%-70% of prospective workers in the US, compared to 30%-40% in 2009. By understanding personality types, organizations are able to better staff their teams by selecting the right mix of personality types that will best complement the organization’s culture and goals.

Take the well-known and globally utilized Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as an example. MBTI was developed by two housewives during World War II as a means to align women who were entering the workforce with jobs which suited their personalities. Its output: extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, judgment versus perception. Understanding your personality traits as a result of such tests is useful, but perhaps more important is the ability to understand the personality types of others. How can you use the output of such tests (although sometimes questionable) to effectively shape the way you deal with your employers and colleagues?

Meet the five personality types…

The first step is to identify the personality types. It is debatable just how many personality types there are; some say 4 (four temperaments), others claim 9 (nine corporate personality types). Interestingly, psychologists will tell you that personality disorders such as narcissism show up in leaders more commonly than we would like to admit since these people with these tendencies have a strong desire for unlimited success, but are ignorant to the feelings of others.

Here we look at 5 (based on the Five Factor Model).

1. Bring it on (openness): These individuals are open to new experiences, curious, creative, and prove invaluable in organizations with a focus on innovation. The number of colleagues you come across with a consistent ‘bring it on’ attitude will be industry dependent, but they tend not to thrive in slow moving industries and those where creativity is stifled. Their “can do” approach is necessary in times of uncertainty, but their associated fearless approach to risk could make them difficult to rein in.

2. No – it’s not in the plan (conscientious): You will have come across these characters before; they bring structure to organizations and keep the house in order. Such individuals may be best utilized during organizational change or short term, high intensity projects. Discipline and preparation are their strongest assets; however they can be difficult to deal with when spontaneity is needed.

3. So “out there” (extrovert): This can be one of the easiest traits to spot. Extroverts are not afraid to share ideas and opinions, be assertive and generally put themselves “out there”. While great in situations where action is required, there is a risk that they drown out the opinions of their colleagues.

4. Yes, yes, yes (agreeable): These are the agreeable colleagues who sympathize and empathize with others, invest time in people, and are seen to be both trusting and trustworthy. While the quality of their relationships tends to be stronger than those of a disagreeable nature, their ability to lead can be put to the test during difficult times.

5. Rollercoaster (emotional stability): We know this type all too well. Individuals in this group tend to go through emotional rollercoasters, feeling negative emotions acutely. They tend to get easily worked up, irritated and upset in the workplace. While difficult to keep up with their frequent mood swings, their focus on negative aspects of tasks could potentially highlight gaps and areas of improvement which would otherwise have been missed.

How to how to deal with each personality at work

Once identified, being clear on how you approach different personality types is important.

1. Embrace, or at least acknowledge, the value in all personality types: While not always the same or complementary to your personality type, the most successful teams are made up of a mix of personalities. Gender also plays a part; according to a 2001 study, most women reported themselves to be higher in the rollercoaster, “yes, yes, yes” and “bring it on” groups. Although the emotional stability trait in extremes may not be desirable, the benefits of working with an agreeable and creative colleague should not be discounted. A balanced team is important.

2. Get the right person assigned to the task: Asking a conscientious individual to lead in a volatile environment is not setting the individual or the team up for success. Use the strengths of each individual by allocating the right job where she or he can excel.

3. Remember, there is a spectrum: While personality tests can enable you in trying to understand the personalities in your organizations, it is important to see them as a framework and the majority of individuals aren’t either agreeable or disagreeable, but rather somewhere in between and dependent on the situation. The approach you choose to take with individual should align with their personality.

The most unconstructive thing to do would be for you to avoid certain personality types completely. Each person brings something to the table, and disharmony in teams and organizations is experienced when individuals and leaders do not acknowledge this.

Leaders: recruiting and managing multi-personality teams

Based on his research, Dr. Robert Hogan of Hogan Assessments, has developed a set of tools to help leaders understand the personalities of those they employ and how the individuals approach problem solving and difficult situations. According to Hogan, organizations are increasingly seeing the value of such understanding: workplace personality testing has become a $500m a year business and growing.

Nicki Gilmour, CEO of theglasshammer, who is also a qualified organizational psychologist and coach, comments about the use of tools for personal development at work,

“Personality tests are most useful when they are taken in context of the ‘coachee’s’ direct working culture since behaviour is a product of both personality and the environment that the person is surrounded by. It is so useful to know yourself and using tools like the Hogan suite, you can honestly see your potential triggers that can happen when any of us have our backs against the wall.”

The increasing diversity of our workforce demands that leaders understand how to recruit and manage multi-personality teams. Without understanding the personalities in your workforce, there is a limit to how successful any leader or manager can be.

By Nneka Orji