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The perplexing world of personality assessments: Guest view

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I have found it valuable to invest a team's time to know each other better. To that end, I have used many popular personality assessments, mainly Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, StrengthsFinder, Keirsey and Classic Temperaments, and Strength Deployment Index (SDI). I've dabbled in the Big Five, aka OCEAN and I've seen tools that categorize by color, by animal and by Houses of Hogwarts.

But, really, are these worth it? Is one better than the other? Should I use a particular one for a particular circumstance?

In short, my opinion is yes. These tools provide a framework that allow us to discuss traits in a common language. There’s great value in that. I have principally used MBTI because it describes how we think, the mental functions of getting information and making decisions, and thus provides a framework to move onto topics like communication and trust.

Are these personality assessments good predictors of behavior? They aren’t, and yet they are. All of the instruments should be classified as descriptive, not prescriptive or predictive. That said, if an assessment describes known behavior to a valid degree, then it’s at least better than a wild guess at future behavior. Prediction is never perfect.

Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.
Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County. - ()

The main purpose of any of these assessments is to provide a language that helps you to know yourself in a neutral context. The real power these assessments provide is an insight on how to adapt your own responses so that you can better communicate and relate to others. A tool that does this would seem to be worthwhile.

Is one better than the other? Admitting to a familiarity bias, my continued use of MBTI with teams is because I like both the underlying theory - that people have many gifts - and its repeated success in providing a comparative way to talk about how we prefer some gifts over others. Its big drawback is that it’s not easy to administer. MBTI results come in a set of four scales, each one having two complementary types, resulting in 16 possible variations. While MBTI’s power is in its depth, it’s not a power that you can easily tap in a two-hour team-building meeting.

Lots of schools of thought are out there, but my distinction is that tools like DiSC and SDI give you a framework that will help people understand how they behave in the context of an environment. And with only three to five descriptors, they are easier to digest than MBTI. For some, the environmental factor adds clarity; for me, it detracts from my belief that, down deep, we are who we are.

Temperament theory is as old as the ancient Greeks. With four descriptors, it can be seen in the children of Narnia and in the Houses of Hogwarts (Harry Potter). I’ve seen the four named by color and by animal. Temperament theory is quick and easy to understand, and is based on the idea that we are who we are. It’s a good introductory tool when all you have is that two-hour window for team building.

StrengthsFinder stands in a whole different category and should not really be called a personality assessment. It’s a talent assessment. Since our talents affect how we approach various challenges in life, one could see how the manifestation of talents to be like behavior.

StrengthsFinder is built on a theory that is a bit counter-cultural. Most of us in leadership positions believe that when we coach our people, we should help them with their weaknesses. That makes sense, as we can’t let weaknesses become a corporate liability. But StrengthsFinder says to do the opposite. As individuals and team leaders, knowing and naming our native talents lets us target opportunities so that, with experience, we will grow those talents into super strengths. The evidence is pretty conclusive. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” reveals this theory at work. If you are looking at true team building, then you may want to investigate this strengths-based approach. But as with MBTI, plan on a lot more than a two-hour session.

Personality assessment tools can be helpful, but like any business decision, know your specific team-building needs and your time constraints, and match the tool to those.

Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.

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