by Edward Prewitt

Is Personality Profiling Truly Valuable in Define Effective Leaders?

Nov 01, 20032 mins
IT Leadership

Natural-Born Leaders, Meet Your Inner Managers

Do personality “tests” such as the Myers-Briggs profile really reveal how people think and work? And if so, can test-takers change their personalities to shore up weaknesses?

In a newly published book, two academics focusing on leadership studies, Roy Williams and Terrence Deal, use Myers-Briggs and another model of cognitive styles to examine leadership and managerial roles. They conclude that, while people are indeed predisposed to think and act in certain ways, the best executives consciously combine different personality attributes. This enables them to respond effectively to a variety of situations.

In When Opposites Dance: Balancing the Manager and Leader Within, Williams and Deal define four types of executives:

  • Rationalists, who value sound thinking and work through organizational structure to accomplish tasks.
  • Politicists, who view group dynamics from a power perspective and are adept at politics.
  • Humanists, who are attuned to organizational moods and regard people as a company’s top asset.
  • Culturists, who consider culture the preeminent force in an organization and communicate through stories, ceremonies and rituals.

Humanists and culturists make natural leaders because leadership is a matter of appealing to individuals, the authors assert. Rationalists and politicists behave more naturally as managers because these types focus on organizational qualities. Whatever the preferred approach, though, success over the long term depends on being able to embrace other styles of thinking. Environments change and new challenges surface.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, built his career on being a tough-minded rationalist manager. In the aftermath of 9/11, though, Giuliani was able to morph into a compassionate leader, a humanist and culturist of the highest order. Contrast that with the examples of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the ex-chairman and ex-CEO of Enron. In an intense socialization process dubbed “Enronizing,” these two culturists led a once-plodding gas pipeline company to a new identity as the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Company.” The financial and managerial controls that would have been provided by a rationalist were notably absent.

Natural-born leaders often want to delegate what they view as annoying details to a COO-type subordinate. That sometimes works, say Williams and Deal, but the best executives recognize the multiplicity of organizational life, and look for their inner leader and manager alike.