Psychologist Ron Warren opens workshops with a six-minute video of an airplane cockpit depicting the interactions that can lead to a flight accident.
The personality dynamics between the pilots scream out at onlookers because the mistakes are so obvious. One person is dominant; the other senses something is awry, but is afraid to speak.
"They are conversations, like the ones we have every day as personalities intermingle. But in the cockpit, it can have catastrophic consequences," he says in an interview.
For more than three decades, Dr. Warren has been devising computer-based personality tests – the latest, LMAP 360, is used by top educational institutions and corporations. For most of us, formal personality analysis probably started and may have ended with the popular Myers-Briggs tests. Informally, these days, we have encountered discussions about emotional intelligence (EQ), social intelligence and grit being useful personality features. But in his book, Personality at Work, he says the core of success is not grit or EQ, but grit plus EQ.
His schema has personality organized into four parts:
Social intelligence and teamwork: This covers the emotional intelligence part of his formula, specifically three traits – openness to feedback, helpfulness and sociability. It's important that leaders seek out and use feedback from others, rather than avoid it. A low score on this trait indicates narrow-mindedness while a high score signals the person is in line with the much-applauded growth mindset that psychologist Carol Dweck has identified. Helpful people are usually patient listeners, optimistic and encouraging to colleagues. Sociability measures an interest and ability to maintain warm interpersonal relationships. He stresses that you might be an introvert but are still helpful and open-minded with other people.
Deference: This involves approval-seeking, dependence and tension (the tendency to worry and feel anxious). It's negatively correlated with leadership – people who are too deferential won't speak their mind when they need to, like someone who sees something going wrong in an operating room but is afraid of the domineering surgeon. "Human error accounts for most medical and aviation accidents and it stems from deference," Dr. Warren says.
Dominance/domineering: This is about getting things done, and can be good or bad. Drive, decisiveness and passion can be assets for a leader while self-centredness and inflexibility are a liability. He singles out four traits for focus: Rigidity, hostility, need to control and competitiveness. He calls Apple guru Steve Jobs "the dominant personality of our time" – the archetypical hostile, domineering leader – who fortunately had an abundance of grit and vision to overcome these negative traits.
Grit: Here, Dr. Warren measures conscientiousness, achievement drive and innovation, which combine to allow us to master tasks. "Conscientious people work incredibly hard and have high standards. They get high scores on communicating and accountability. That's one mode to high performance," he says. High achievers love intellectual challenges and enjoy working collaboratively with others to accomplish things. When stuck, innovative people come up with unusual workarounds, and ways to leap over apparent barriers.
High performers tend to have high grit and high emotional-social intelligence.
Dr. Warren recommends getting feedback from others you work with, since you may underestimate or overestimate your abilities. Interestingly, he says that "people who overestimate their traits are the least effective. People who underestimate traits are often the most effective. So there's a humility factor."
As for low effectiveness, he warns you could have a serious problem if you hear from people who tell you that you don't listen, or that you don't speak up, or have good ideas but don't push them. These could signal either domineering or deference tendencies (or both, which happens in 15 per cent of the profiles he develops, a passive-aggressive approach). "Get curious. Inquire about how others people see you and why they do," he says.
You should be alert to seven derailers he identifies, since they can destroy your effectiveness: Needing approval of others; being dependent; tension, anxiety or nervousness; rigidity; hostility, which he calls "the killer trait for yourself and others," hurting your health and other people you associate with; need to control; and competitiveness. Competitiveness is often prized in organizations, but Dr. Warren stresses that applies to actions beyond the firm; inside the organization you must be collaborative.
He considers personality a person's most valuable asset. But too often, we are on auto-pilot, not paying attention to the impact of personality on our effectiveness, instead craving some other boost to our career. Manage your personality and you can get ahead.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter