Have you ever taken a personality assessment and disliked the results? Wished you could start over and give different answers, or turn out to be anyone other than who you are?
I have too.
There are so many tools to slice and dice our personalities, behaviors, and aptitudes, and each one paints a different picture of who we are, from the silly to the serious. What 80s rock star are you? What’s you Hogwarts house? What kind of spider would you be? (I did take that spider one, by the way. I’m a daddy long-legs, which is controversial as it’s not even a spider!)
Some personality assessments are designed to make us feel incredible because the results only talk about our strengths or couch our characteristics in positive terms. We get to discover just how unique we truly are. It’s as if someone pulls us aside and says, “Oh, hey, you? You’re as rare as a unicorn!”
Other personality tests frame our strengths and our weaknesses. Those turn out to be much less fun and send us to the Internet to research their validity.
So how much credence should we give these personality tests? Is there something we can learn from them? Why do they feel so uncomfortable, is it simply because they rattle our egos?
I think it’s more nuanced than that.
For one, personality tests force us to reconcile with the meta-view, or the picture from 30,000 feet up. We’re asked to speed up our understanding of who we are versus who we think we are. It can be jarring to see that our complexity can be reduced to a little packaged summary after only a 20-minute test. It flattens the experience of being alive, of being unique, and that can feel disconcerting.
In essence, personality tests are a tool for organizing and sorting. Each one is designed to group us by shared traits into a finite number of categories. In that process, we are asked to reconcile what we have in common with others. But at the same time, we have to make sense of all of the ways we are also dissimilar from the people in our same category.
Let me give you an example. Suppose I organize all of the stuff in my house by color. The green grouping would include my green dress, a ceramic serving bowl, and all of my plants. I don’t know why I’d want all of my green objects in a cluster . . . but the point is to show how little these items have in common despite that they’re all green.
This past week, I took the DISC assessment for the first time. The DISC divides people into four categories: D for Dominant, I for Inspiring, S for Supportive, and C for Conscientious. People can be a combination of two categories, but they can only be a combination of categories that are next to each other on the wheel.
In this rubric, I am an S, or someone who is good at creating structure and stability. I am good at that. In my personal and professional lives, I’m steady, reliable, and follow the rules (even the speed limit, much to the amusement of some people in my life.)
I can pinpoint exactly when I equated steadiness with generating results.
The first newsroom I worked in – my first job out of college – was chaotic. We had talent and drive, but we weren’t organized or efficient. Then we hired a new editor, and everything changed.
This editor didn’t come in with a grand vision or big ideas. Instead, he asked us to be at our desks by 8:30 a.m. on deadline days. He held us accountable to putting the paper to bed by 6 p.m., not midnight. We had editorial meetings every Thursday. We submitted our columns on Monday.
Not only did he impose structure, but he followed the rules himself. It didn’t take long before he won me over, and more importantly, the team produced results. I learned more about writing, editing, and leadership from this experience than any single other.
Today, when I’m leading teams or organizations, I strive to emulate that experience. Steadiness serves me as a writer, strategist, and creator. It’s why I’m good at turn-around environments where we need to build cohesion and collaboration. And it helps me as a coach, creating safe environments for people to explore their potential.
And yet, as everyone who cultivates steadiness knows, sometimes we must shake it up and stretch beyond our capacity. Sometimes we must act with urgency, or even risk getting it wrong. We can trust that people are resilient and will be okay even if life gets messy.
When we have any kind of strength or dominate character trait, it can be very, very powerful to wield its opposite for great effect. It’s like having a secret weapon that you whip out at just the right time.
There’s a coaching exercise in which you identify a persona that is the opposite of your own and then embody it. The first time I participated in this exercise, I was assigned the persona of the “diva.”
I had to introduce myself to the group in my most diva-like way. Can I tell you how hard that was? Even today, it’s tough for me to channel the diva vibe.
If you google videos of “celebrities acting like divas,” you’ll see clips of singers and actors demanding that paparazzi leave them alone as they walk into the swanky restaurant in downtown L.A. And we’ve all heard stories of the diva bands who request an extra level of comfort in their greenrooms.
The thing is this: We want our celebrities to act like divas. It is the contract we make with the famous. On the other hand, when they are out of character – when we see them doing ordinary things like grocery shopping, or eating ice cream with their kids, or being super generous to fans asking for autographs – it paints an even more powerful picture.
It feels weird to lean into our less dominant characteristics because we must do it with intention. So here is the re-frame I’m offering you: The personality test you took? It isn’t revealing your weaknesses but potential super powers. It is identifying your secret weapons.
If you are steady, how and when can you show up demanding for strategic effect? If you are detail oriented, what happens when you articulate the bigger picture? If you are influential, what if you cede the limelight to someone else?
I cherish my ability to build strong, cohesive teams, and to support individuals in their growth and transformation. It is what I do best. But I’m reminded again of the power of my inner diva.
Thanks for reading. Now, go. It’s time for me to strut around my living room and command extra attention. Just for the sake of practice.
I’m Stephanie. I’m a writer, coach, and facilitator. I work with individuals, teams and leaders in creative, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit fields to improve communication, find a true purpose, and deepen connection and meaning. If you enjoyed this post, share it with a friend! And I’d love it if you would subscribe to my email list, below.