PERSONALITY STYLE AT WORK
It began with Greek physician Hippocrates, the first to identify personality types — a small set of personality profiles that describes every person in the world. For Hippocrates, writing circa 400 BC, people fell into four categories: the bold choleric, the pleasure-seeking sanguine, the calm phlegmatic and the independent melancholic. As consultant Kate Ward writes in her engaging book Personality Style At Work, “While Hippocrates’ science and labels were incorrect, he was right about the four basic temperaments found in human nature, and so this theory has endured for 2,400 years.” And indeed it has. Our work and personal lives have changed dramatically in the past 100 years and yet books continue to be written and published on the concept of a small set of personality types. The reason for the continuing popularity of personality types is apparent in Personality Style At Work. There is no better guide than personality types to understanding how to work with colleagues and leaders, how to identify and resolve your own personal weaknesses (and exploit your strengths), and how to most effectively lead others.
Four Core Personality Types
Many readers will be familiar with the almost ubiquitous but still relevant Myers-Briggs personality types, based on the various combinations of four pairs of personality attributes (extraversion or introversion, sensing or intuition, thinking or feeling, and judgment or perception). Ward, however, uses a different set of personality types, created by the researchers at the Philadelphia-area training firm HRDQ. These four personality types are based on two dimensions: assertiveness and expressiveness. People who exhibit high assertiveness and high expressiveness are what Ward and HRDQ call “Spirited.” They’re engaged and enthusiastic. The highly assertive but non-expressive people are “Direct.” Those who are non-assertive and non-expressive are “Systematic.” The last personality type, “Considerate,” describes those who are expressive but not necessarily assertive. Ward emphasizes, of course, that no person is purely one personality type, but that most people have one dominant type.
Understanding your own dominant personality type, and understanding and appreciating the dominant personality types of others is key to successful working relationships, Ward writes. The first step is to look for the tell-tale signs that help identify someone’s dominant personality type. The clues can be found in many, sometimes surprising, ways. For example, how people lead is revealing. Direct leaders are going to give marching orders; Spirited leaders will inspire; Considerate leaders will be supportive; and Systematic leaders will be pushing everyone to higher standards.
Ward notes that any personality type taken to extreme is problematic. In her insightful chapter on leadership, Ward shows that Direct leaders may jump to conclusions, Spirited leaders may make a choice before enough information has been gathered, Considerate leaders struggle to make decisions, while Systematic leaders have a tendency to lose themselves in the details. In addition to counter-balancing the weaknesses of their personality types, personality type awareness helps people adjust (or “flex”) their behavior to interact with other personalities.
The HRDQ personality types seem less muddled than the MBTI acronym-based counterparts. Ward’s well-organized book (with valuable “points to remember” sections at the end of each chapter) succeeds in revealing, in full detail, how personality type awareness can be used to help people of all types thrive in the workplace — and in their careers.
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