With corporate leadership facing new and complex challenges in today’s world, can personality assessments help leaders understand themselves and their work better, to improve management systems?

Personality assessments provide a structured framework to understand a person’s possible reactions to a situation. A lot of research, including for example a landmark study of naval officers, has shown that more self-aware leaders are more effective.

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John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, says leaders can use personality assessments to understand how similar or different they are from their peers and junior colleagues. Without such a framework, leaders can find it difficult to understand other people, or can assume that everyone else is just like them — neither of these is likely to end well.

How it helps
Samra Rahman, Head of People and Culture, Hero Vired, says, “Personality tests like MBTI (Myers–Briggs Type Indicator) offer valuable insights into a leader’s communication preferences, decision-making styles, and adaptability to diverse work cultures. In all my previous experiences, tests like MBTI have illuminated stress management and provided a nuanced understanding of leadership dynamics. I believe these tests should complement and not dictate leadership development. MBTI insights complement a comprehensive approach to leadership development, including emotional intelligence and adaptability. Leaders can use MBTI for self-awareness and team dynamics, tailoring communication to enhance effectiveness. While cultural considerations are crucial, flexibility is key.”Being promoted into a leadership role or joining a new organisation as a leader can throw up new challenges. Building self-awareness can be a key part of adapting to this new situation and personality assessments have a role to play in this. Indeed, research suggests that they are one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways of doing this.

The MBTI model
Hackston says that the MBTI model looks at four sets of personality preferences: whether we focus our attention on the outer world (“Extraversion”) or on our inner world of thoughts and feelings (“Introversion”); whether we prefer and trust information that is solid, factual and based on the evidence of our senses (“Sensing”) or on looking at the big picture and possibilities (“Intuition”); whether we prefer to make decisions on the basis of objective logic (“Thinking”) or on the basis of our values and on how people will be affected by the decision (“Feeling”); and whether we prefer to live in an organised, structured, planned way (“Judging”) or a more spontaneous, emergent, unplanned way (“Perceiving”). A combination of these dimensions describes how we interact with people, how we approach tasks, and other aspects of our leadership style. Our personality type shows our likely strengths, but also our possible development needs in a leadership role and so provides a good basis for leadership development.

How it works in a practical context

“Here’s an example, using the MyerBriggs Type Indicator model,” says Hackston. “Around half the population have a personality preference for ‘Thinking’. They like to be recognised for the results they have achieved after completing a project or task. Around half the population are different; they have a personality preference for ‘Feeling’. They like to be appreciated for the effort they are putting in as they work through the task. If a ‘Thinking’ leader waits till the end of a project to tell a ‘Feeling’ subordinate that they have done a good job, it’s too late. The subordinate is already demotivated. If a ‘Feeling’ leader keeps complimenting a ‘Thinking’ subordinate on how hard they are working before the task has finished, that subordinate will wonder why — after all, there are no results yet. They may start to wonder if the leader has an ulterior motive, is insincere, or too incompetent to realise that there are no results. But if a leader knows their own personality type, they will understand their default style, and be able to flex their approach to best meet the needs of their reports and get the most from them.”

Where it does not help
Rahman says that to achieve optimal outcomes in learning and development, organisations should integrate additional tools for IQ testing and retain personal interactions for a comprehensive understanding of both personality and cognitive abilities, ensuring a more effective talent management strategy.

Hackston adds that in development contexts, the issue is less of bias in assessments than of bias of individuals or of organisations — is this person the “right sort” to “fit in” here? Personality type assessments in particular can help people to see those who are different from them in a positive way, and thereby reduce these biases.


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