Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Personality Tests & Assessments

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One of the challenges a new leader finds going into an organization is that s/he has to assess the new environment quickly. Some leaders have an intuitive sense for other people and their styles, what the politics are, what the pecking order is. Others don’t. Even if they do, it’s difficult to let others in on it, so that you can work as a team.

One quick way is to have everyone in your team take a personality or style assessment.

I’ve used them not only in teams but also for executive coaching, despite the fact that I had concerns about personality tests often used in the work place, such as Myers Briggs, and DiSC. So, first, my concerns about these tests.

  1. Accuracy: It may be that the assessments are not sensitive to populations outside of WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic), a major problem pointed out in science conducted especially by scientists from the West. For Myers Briggs, I sit right on the borderline of their proposed opposing elements (extrovert vs. introvert, etc.). For another test similar to Myers Briggs but whose results were mapped out in a spider web, so it shows how strong your tendencies are in each category, I would have multiple tendencies. I also scored high in 3 out of 4 tendencies for DiSC as well.
  2. Consistency: I have taken Myers Briggs multiple times and each time I’ve gotten a different results. Of course, we “evolve” as people and the mood when we take the assessment may affect the way you answer. But it seems to me that the test should have some consistent results and pose questions in a way that a few answered slightly differently should not swing you from one category to another so easily.
  3. Use: I’ve been asked to take a type of personality test before being offered a job. I did get the job, and I didn’t think the results of the assessment were used to determine if I qualified for the job or to weed me out for specific characteristics, but it did rub me the wrong way. I can see these tests and these results being abused, even by the most well-intended people.

I wasn’t familiar with personality tests being used in a professional setting (sure, I’m from Japan, so I’ve been exposed to plenty of Western and Chinese astrology, personality matches for friends and significant others based on blood type (yup, that’s a thing), so I wondered how “science-based” the professionally used tests were). But I was encouraged to use it for professional development when I first started teaching. More out of curiosity, and because I don’t mess around once I make up my decision, I gave the assessment to the whole class. My own test results alone didn’t help me get my head around my own personality type and how that affected my performance, because it was one of those tests where I scored equally high in multiple categories (or was that an indication that I had some sort of personality disorder!?). But when my students’ results came back, I was onto something. There were two kids in my class that I didn’t feel like I connected with, or didn’t feel I broke through to them. These two kids happen to be in the only category where I didn’t score high! After the test, I made more of an effort to understand where they were coming from, knowing that it didn’t come naturally for me to read who they were.

So when it came time to lead an organization that was underfunded, under-attack, and with dysfunctional team dynamics, where majority of the staff did not respect my leadership, I assigned everyone to skim through the first section of Strengthsfinder 2.0 and asked to do the assessment. I assured them that they can use work time to do it, and made it clear that it was a team building activity vs. being a factor in their performance evaluations.

I specifically chose the Strengthsfinder because I’ve take it myself before (and made my husband take it, too), on recommendation of a friend who had faced a similar challenge, and because it focused on leveraging one’s strengths rather than dwelling on weaknesses. The staff was already exhausted from revolving door of executives and fiscal pressures, that they were ready to receive some good news. The premise of this test is that they polled successful people and categorized their traits that made them successful, and gave these traits names. Some categories identified known concepts, such as strategic. But others were made up words, like ideation. It made sense because they said that our society dwells on the negative and we have many words to describe bad traits but we tend to lump positive traits more generically, like “creative” or “people person”, which may not necessarily help you hone these traits. We then guessed what each others’ strengths would be, and had some surprises when staff members who seemed so different from each other ended up sharing similar strengths.

Strengthsfinder not only helped us identify and put names to the strengths we had, but helped established a common ground with people whom we assumed didn’t have any commonalities because the obvious personality traits were so different.

I polled my friends what tests and assessments they found useful in developing their career. While many were experienced with Myers Briggs and DiSC, some reported they didn’t necessarily help develop their career. It seems that how the individuals used it or the context in which the assessments were introduced and subsequently integrated into other activities and discussions made a big difference.

One key take away reported by many, even if they didn’t find the results helpful, is the recognition that we have different perspectives and approaches, and further, that our understanding and image of ourselves is not necessarily how we are viewed by others. The realization and reminder that “one size fits all” approach to anything rarely works.

Since looking into different assessment to help my own clients, I found several that interested me, mainly because they focus on different styles we have with particular behaviors and/or decisions.

Here are two I found useful but may not be well-known:

  • 4 Tendencies (from Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before): I find this assessment useful in determining how I should guide others when I consult with them. It categorizes people based on their reactions to expectations set by others: whether you tend to uphold the expectations no matter who set it (internally or externally), or only if it makes sense to you, etc. The test itself is very short (maybe too short) but unfortunately hard to parse (there were several where I felt like I could answer them in different ways). But nevertheless, I found it useful in quickly assessing what kind of interaction would be most helpful to my clients.
  • Flip Side: Where Strengthsfinder focuses on your strengths, Flip Side identifies trait(s) that may be holding you back. It’s a series of statements embedded in this book you check off if you think it describes you. The premise is that if there is one thing that you can address that may be holding you back overall, it’s good to know what that trait is. Categories have names that take away some of the judgment surrounding the traits, e.g., short-fuse/ill tempered category is called volcano, and low self-esteem is ostrich.

In polling my colleagues and friends and exploring on my own, I also found out about:

  • True colors (leadership style assessment)
  • 4 Social Styles (social style model)
  • Garuda personality test
  • Scientology personality test (I forgot they do those for free! I anonymously took the test just to see the questions but did not give my contact info so I don’t know what the results were. I thought it was interesting that several questions had to do with being nervous and having muscle twitches)
  • Newcastle Personality Assessor: measures personality according to the “Big Five” model: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism

Here are links to the free tests:

In hearing from my friends and colleagues, one thing is clear. The one-size fits all approach also doesn’t work for assessments. There needs to be clear motivation behind what you want to do, and then find the right assessment tools to get you there, whether it’s finding out people’s communication style or building a common ground among a team.

Photo: New Mexico

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