Personality and leadership test : friend or foe ?

Have you ever taken an MBTI test or something similar ? I recently did and it got me thinking about personality and leadership tests in general.

These tools are designed to help you understand how you operate and think at work and, taken in the context of a team, how others operate and think, with the view that if everyone knows each other better, team interactions will be easier and more productive.

Whatever happened to plain old team bonding down the pub after work ?

More seriously, these tests can be a thrill !

  • They make you think about yourself and increase your self-awareness : the results may surprise you or on the contrary strike a chord in you. Either way, you will likely reflect on them and use them as an opportunity to improve.
  • They help you accept yourself as you are : You have poor attention to details ? That’s because you are a shooting star and therefore get bored very quickly. Try and get better at polishing stuff but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t, just tap into your strengths and surround yourself with people who can compensate.
  • They help team bonding : they start a conversation and they create bonds between people. That guy you hated ? Turns out you think like him and you have more in common than you think.
  • They help people understand you : and by people, I mean yourself, your team and maybe your boss if they have knowledge of the results. Sometimes, it is helpful to have someone else tell your manager about you.
  • They raise empathy : This can help you better understand how others think and why they may clash with you.
  • They caress the narcissist in you : Who doesn’t love to talk or hear people talk about oneself ?

There is no doubt that these tests can produce an instant boost in motivation and self-improvement. However, I am doubtful of the long-term effects.

In particular, I have observed that the results can actually influence the very behaviour they are supposed to highlight.

In the test I have taken, the results were that I like to focus on the strategy and I have a capacity to inspire people, but that I have limited talent and interest for the execution. In the weeks following the results, I found myself alternatively trying to force my nature and attempt to execute better, and at the same time retreating to the strategic topics. Whilst that is not a bad thing in itself, it did bring some level of rigidity. I wanted to conform to the picture that the tests had painted.

Likewise, I observed the impact on our team dynamics : the people that were identified as the strategists went big on blue-sky thinking  and ideas and the people that were identified at operators retreated into conservatism. You could almost see the clans emerge.

Fundamentally, leadership tests are interesting insight tools, but they do not define who you are and more importantly who you will be. If something they highlight resonates deep inside you, then they may have striked an interesting chord. Otherwise, move on. Fortunately, humans are complex, brilliant entities that cannot be reduced to a score on a matrix.

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