Mister Personality

Applied metrology, when directed at human behavior, offers an endless fount of insight. I recently took the Understanding Myself personality test — a well-validated, methodologically rigorous instrument that offers 10 clusters of 10 questions and then generates a report about how one ranks on the Big Five Aspects of personality.

I reviewed my report. Then I said to myself, “Self, this is interesting.” Not surprising but interesting. So I thought a public reflection is in order.

The Big Five Aspects

Well-established literature among psychologists suggests that all people exhibit deeply ingrained personality characteristics along five dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness.

The Understanding Myself assessment presents your high-to-low score for each trait in terms of a percentile rank, which is how I’ll relate it below. Quotes in this section all source from the personalized report I received as part of the scoring tool.

Agreeableness. I’m more agreeable than 43 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered typical. “People with typical levels of agreeableness are seen by others as somewhat cooperative, warm and considerate. They look for the best in others … and are reasonably interpersonally tolerant. [They] are somewhat forgiving, accepting, flexible, gentle and patient.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — compassion (72nd percentile, moderately high), “interested in the problems of other people,” and politeness (16th percentile, low), “not deferential to authority” and “respectful but only to people who clearly deserve and demand it.” The mean score for men is 38.5.

Conscientiousness. I’m more conscientious than 45 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered typical. The mean for men is 49. “People of average conscientious levels generally do their duty, although they are not sloggers … [they] waste some of their time and have some proclivity to procrastinate. They are reasonably decisive, neat, organized, future-oriented and reliable. They can maintain focus, but have some trouble fighting off distraction.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — industriousness (22nd percentile, low), “focus less on work than others” and orderliness (71st percentile, moderately high) “more disgust-sensitive than average, somewhat judgmental, and have a tendency toward more authoritarian political attitudes … [but] can be good at ensuring that complex, sensitive processes are managed properly and carefully.”

Extraversion. I’m more extroverted than 69 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered moderately high. “People with moderately high levels of extraversion are quite enthusiastic, talkative, assertive in social situations, and gregarious.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — enthusiasm (36th percentile, moderately low), “rarely excitable, not particularly easy to get to know,” and assertiveness (88th percentile, high), “put their own opinions forward strongly and tend to … be influential and captivating.”

Neuroticism. I’m more neurotic than 20 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered low. “People with low levels of neuroticism rarely focus on the negative elements, anxieties and uncertainties of the past, present and future. It’s rare for them to face periods of time where they are unhappy, anxious and irritable, unless facing a serious, sustained problem. Even under the latter conditions, they cope well, don’t worry too much, and recover quickly when stressed. They’re good at keeping their head in a storm, and they seldom make mounts out of molehills.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — withdrawal (15th percentile, low), “rarely suffer from or are impeded by anticipatory anxiety,” and volatility (29th percentile, moderately low), “tend to not to vary much in their mood … express their frustration, disappointment and irritability quite reasonably and not very often.”

Openness to Experience. I’m more open to experience than 97 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered exceptionally high. “People with exceptionally high levels of openness to experience are almost always characterized by others as extremely smart, creative, exploratory, intelligent and visionary. They are extremely interested in learning, and are constantly acquiring new abilities and skills. … They are exceptionally interested in abstract thinking, philosophy, and the meaning of belief systems and ideologies. They live for cultural events…. They are very likely to enjoy writing (or even to be driven to write). They enjoy complex, abstract ideas and deeply love to confront and solve complex, abstract and multi-dimensional problems.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — intellect (97th percentile, exceptionally high), “obsessed by engaging with ideas and abstract concepts, require constant exposure to novel information” and openness (90th percentile, very high), “very open, creative people love beauty … they require an outlet for their creative ability or they cannot thrive.”

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator & Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Over the years, I’ve taken the MBTI a half-dozen times or so. The results have been surprisingly consistent insofar as I flip between INTJ and INFJ. The KTS breaks personalities into 16 categories based on a binary branch over four traits — concrete/abstract, cooperative/pragmatic, informative/directive, and expressive/attentive.

Bucketize the 16 basic personality types and you arrive at four cohorts: Analysts, Diplomats, Sentinels and Explorers.

An INTJ is an analyst. This role type is an architect or a mastermind — people who are “imaginative and strategic thinkers with a plan for everything.” INTJs “are introspective, logical, rational, pragmatic, clear-headed, directive, and attentive. As strategists, they are better than any other type at brainstorming approaches to situations. Masterminds are capable but not eager leaders, stepping forward only when it becomes obvious to them that they are the best for the job. Strong-willed and very self-assured, they may make this decision quickly, as they tend to make all decisions. But though they are decisive, they are open to new evidence and new ideas, flexible in their planning to accommodate changing situations. They tend to excel at judging the usefulness of ideas and will apply whatever seems most efficient to them in accomplishing their clearly envisioned goals. To Masterminds, what matters is getting it done — but also learning the principles of how to get it done efficiently and well; that is, at a professional level of quality. However, they may not give much thought to the social cost of getting there, ‘focusing so tightly on their own pursuits [that] they can ignore the points of view and wishes of others.'” (Wikipedia)

An INFJ is a diplomat. This role type is an advocate or counselor — people who are “quiet and mystical, yet very inspiring and tireless idealists.” An INTJ is “introspective, cooperative, directive, and attentive. They have a strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others. Counselors are gratified by helping others to develop and reach their potential. Counselors often communicate in a personalized manner. They tend to be positive and kind when dealing with others. Counselors are good listeners and can sometimes detect a person’s emotions or intentions even before the individual is aware of them. This ability to take in the emotional experiences of others, however, can lead Counselors to be hurt easily. Counselors usually have intricate personalities and rich inner lives. They tend to understand complex issues and individuals. They are generally private people who keep their innermost thoughts and emotional reactions to themselves. This quality can make them difficult to get to know. Counselors value harmony, which they work to maintain at home and at work. They may lose confidence, become unhappy, and even become physically ill if subjected to a hostile environment. Counselors may be crushed by too much criticism, though they may not express their feelings to others. Counselors desire harmony in their homes and find constant conflict to be extremely destructive to their psyches. Their circle of friends is likely to be small but deep and long lasting.” (Wikipedia)

I tend to flip on the T/F dimension (cooperative vs. pragmatic, idealistic diplomat vs. strategic rationalist) while the three other attributes have proven remarkably immutable over nearly 20 years of periodic assessment.

IQ Test

An IQ test doesn’t measure how “smart” you are. Rather, it measures short-term recall and computational ability. High IQ correlates to processing speed, verbal ability, working memory and a capacity for solving multi-step or abstract problems. It’s not a stand-in for having a large store of facts. Very high-IQ people can suck at trivia games, for example.

Years ago, I completed a proctored IQ test as part of a complex admissions process. Later, I took a university-administered IQ test online. Those two tests came in at 133 and 131, respectively. Split the difference and call it 132. The mean IQ is 100 and the standard deviation is 15, so I’m a bit better than two standard deviations above the mean. If I were in a room with 100 randomly selected people, I’d have a higher IQ than 98 of them and a lower IQ than one of them.

360 Review

In late 2016 I took a 360 Review assessment as administered by the Human Resources team at Spectrum Health. In it, I, my upline leaders, my direct reports, and a small selection of peers rated me on several business categories, then compared me against the 6,285 data points from other 360 Review assessments conducted by the organization over the years.

The results:

  • Roughly in line with the population average for business acumen, decision making, and inclusion & diversity
  • Significantly better than the population average for developmental leadership
  • Significantly worse than the population average for flexibility & results focus

I’m particularly pleased with this result because the peer group included five people selected by my vice president (whose scores also factored into my mean). At the time, she was looking for reasons to get rid of me and my boss. I survived that round; Bob didn’t. So the fact that I didn’t suck in every category was well-nigh amazing. A 360-degree review is a powerful weapon of workplace terror if it’s deployed with ruthless efficiency by a senior leader who knows how to influence the results.

Tying It All Together

I think that these assessments, provided that they’re validated instruments and not Buzzfeed-style quizzes, serve as an effective mirror for thinking about yourself in a holistic way. I don’t think that these assessments should “reveal” any new information. A person who’s surprised by his or her results on any of these tests should reflect carefully about their degree of self-understanding.

Yet each instrument, in its own manner, says certain useful things from a specific frame of reference. Considered at a 50,000-foot level, they can and should color your strategic thinking — how your actions should shape your goals and preferences.

When I tie everything together, I get a sense of myself as a mix of strengths and weaknesses. And each strength and each weakness, in turn, offers its own mitigation strategy.

For example, put me in a situation where I have to deal with complex de novo problems without regard for institutional hierarchy, and I’ll move the world. Put me in an environment where public measures of success subordinate to private webs of interpersonal networks, and I’ll consistently struggle to thrive. I know this. So were I ever to seek a “normal” 9-to-5 job again, my questions for a prospective employer must relate to culture and leadership styles.

Another example: Ye olde bucket list. What do you want to do, and why? Do your bucket-list items, and the reason they’re on the list in the first place, commensurate with your personality type? If you score low in openness, for example, is writing The Great American Novel really a helpful goal? Or will it just be an opportunity to feel bad later about your perceived inability to achieve your dreams?

A bit of self-knowledge goes a long way. But remember — tendencies in populations aren’t prison sentences for individuals. You are more than your results.

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