What I’m working on: Being on vacation!
What I’m looking forward to: Going to the Life is Beautiful festival with my best friend in Las Vegas in September to see The Killers
I often say, “people are complex.” And when human beings are complex, how we interact with one another is also complex. Take, for example, the 6,000 employees in my organization – they are skilled, dedicated, and diverse, and they bring with them a range of world views, lived experiences, values, technical capabilities, and personalities. Some days I am in awe of how this same group of people come together, aligned under our organization’s mission, and show up to serve, support, and provide for our community. And with any such organization, no matter how large or small, navigating this can be… complex. (see…you get the gist!)
One of the most difficult things to do is to hold space for the incredible complexity of human beings with all of our unlimited details. With this level of complexity, we tend to seek simplification through constructs that strive to define human behavior. The idea that human behavior is related to a person’s natural tendencies or temperament has been around for at least 2,000 years. These constructs have been built upon astrology, psychology, and aspects of science from the likes of Hippocrates, Freud, Piaget, Jung, and others. (Shout out to my independent, responsible, disciplined Capricorns who, in the event of the zombie apocalypse, will be your best chance at survival as we remain calm, devise an escape route, gather the essentials, and lay out a strategy to rebuild human society!)
These constructed theories have evolved over the years, getting more nuanced, fitting variables and complexities of human personality into well-defined models. Some believe current models account for our most important personality traits and can predict our behavior with a high degree of accuracy. Others believe these models oversimplify personality, fail to provide context for human experience and personal growth, and can limit an individual in their own eyes or in the eyes of others. I think these models, even with their limitations, are fascinating.
Recently, my department engaged our staff team in an assessment of talents as a tool for team building, which prompted me to reflect on my assessments over the years.
From Personalysis to 16 Personalities (based on Myers-Briggs Indicators), to Clifton Strengths Finder, these programs rely on self-reporting questionnaires that produce an assessment that can provide insight into one’s personal core traits, preferred behaviors and when one is likely to use them, or the themes that make up one’s talent DNA. I’m always curious how a particular assessment provides a bite-sized glimpse into aspects that are very much me.
The Personalysis test provides an assessment of four overarching personality traits organized by color (Expeditor – red, Collaborator – yellow, Organizer – green, and Explorer – blue) indicated by intensity within three distinct motivational contexts (Preferred, Social, and Instinctive) meant to reveal when we are likely to behave a certain way and why.
A summary of my assessment
I definitely associate with some of the behaviors and traits from my assessment:
- Works well under flexible leadership where broad goals are defined
- Values the right to question and understand why
- Gets things done by coordinating and organizing the strengths of others
- Has a distaste for slowing down once a decision has been reached
This assessment was done early in my career and included a booklet of assessment information that helped me learn about my approach to work, how to team with others, what negative behaviors to look out for, and how to course correct if I found myself feeling like I wasn’t contributing. It even included a section for my manager as a road map for engaging me to keep me motivated, which I routinely shared with future managers when I started a new role.
It also says I should not choose roles that require a bureaucratic turn of mind, and assignments that emphasize rigid rules and policies should be avoided. So yeah… no one told the assessment tool I work in local government.
The 16 Personalities test provides an assessment of five personality aspects (Mind, Energy, Nature, Tactics, and Identity), that when combined, define the personality type, with a five-letter acronym meant to show which categories one falls under, and how strong one’s preferences are.
A summary of my ESFJ-A type
I strongly associate with my ESFJ-A (otherwise characterized as a Consul), and as the trait type indicates:
- Consuls can find peace and fulfillment by setting an example of care, consideration, support and responsibility – and bringing people together in the process.
- Consuls are cooperative and practical, always eager to help, embracing and creating order, security, and stability.
- Teamwork is a concept that Consuls have no trouble putting into practice.
- Excellent networkers, Consuls always seem to “know just the person” to bring a project together on time.
- Consuls are altruistic, finding satisfaction in knowing they’ve done something valuable for another person, which is often the driving force behind Consuls’ careers and career advancement, making service work particularly rewarding.
I’ve done this assessment twice, once earlier and once mid-career. This assessment gives a lot of information on strengths and weaknesses, relationships, career path, and workplace habits, which I found to be very insightful. It helps me think about the dynamics of the different styles at play amidst my team, how I can plug my strengths in, my potential blind spots, and the associated areas for growth. I’ve also done this assessment with my staff and with our citywide management team, which was interesting to see where people landed and how many have both similar and different traits than myself.
Also, fun fact: I share the ESFJ/Consul type with Taylor Swift, so I’ve got that going for me.
The Strengths Finder test provides an assessment of what one naturally does best, or what one might need help from others to accomplish, as listed as a unique combination of talents within 34 themes sorted into four domains.
A summary of my Top 5 Themes
A few traits from the themes stood out to me as being something aligned with the way I like to work:
- Has a great desire to learn and wants to continuously improve
- Partners with individuals who possess talents you lack, and returns the favor by sharing your talents
- Creates alternative ways to proceed, able to generate numerous ideas before sorting out the one that makes the most sense in a particular situation
- Has a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively
- People trust you to keep to yourself whatever they choose to share, allowing others to unburden themselves
This assessment includes several probing questions, including one that resonates with me as I reflect:
Out of all the talents in this insight, what would you like for others to see most in you?
I also like to share these assessments with my spouse. He generally thinks my assessed traits sound like me and has named the type “hardcore with a smile.”
He also likes to playfully point out the things notable to him – one assessment said, “Sometimes you listen,” to which I replied, “What did you say?”
These assessments are not gospel, but are tools intended to help with understanding people and how they interact. Like other tools, they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but here are a few things that I have learned from the information these assessments have produced.
The results of each assessment had a high degree of alignment.
As it turns out, I love to learn and am energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. I am a conductor who sets the stage for others to shine and am an example of effective flexibility. I can sort through the noise and find the best outcome, seeing opportunities and patterns where others see complexity. I can find the specialness in people and can bring out the best in others. These are all aspects of myself I work to cultivate as being important.
Each of the assessments suggested areas of growth, which is an important self-improvement opportunity to take note of. For me, these areas of growth include tendencies to become impatient with delays and obstacles, burnout from putting work or others first, and being too direct when the situation may call for a more effective approach, to name a few.
No matter how aligned you might feel the assessment is to your true self, these give you the chance to lean into the question, ‘What can I learn from this?’
As I’ve taken different assessments over the years, some traits have changed with lived experience, new perspectives and learning, and growth as a human being. For example, a previous Myers-Briggs assessment provided a result of ESTJ (T = thinking), but I now assess as an ESFJ (F = feeling), which has a greater people focus. This stands to reason as I have grown in my career, seeing firsthand the value of collaboration, taking care of my team of staff, and wanting the people I work for to see and value me as a whole person.
I like to share these assessments with my team, and from time to time have done assessments with the team for fun. For instance, the managers who currently work for me have very different personality traits than I. So, in my very ESFJ way, I think about how I choose to interact, coach, and motivate these folks. I think about what may be causing misalignment when we are not in sync, and what I may need to do to explain my thought process, how I’m feeling about a particular work task, or painting a picture of the outcome we could be striving for.
There are many different types of traits/characteristic models and assessment tools out there, and they should be used for good and not evil – they are not recommended for promotion or hiring decisions, and should definitely not be used to characterize a colleague as one-dimensional based solely on their assessed traits. Because, as I’ve said from the beginning, (say it with me now) people are complex. And I promise that you’ll never find another like me!