I was recently interviewed by a long-time friend and colleague, Caryn Lee, on why I chose to use the Big Five Model of personality in my consulting, research, and with my graduate students at Drake University. For the sake of transparency: Over the years I made a clear choice for the Big Five and I have a business relationship with Ms. Lee. That said, I did have various choices of tools and still use such tools when a client prefers them. Frankly, I could have had a successful business with other personality tools. I chose a Big Five personality assessment for serious reasons, including increased accuracy, sound reputation among researchers, less chance to create a "self-fulfilling prophecy," and more connections opportunities for program participants. You'll hear my reasons and story in this brief interview. If you prefer, you may also download and read the transcript.
For an opportunity to learn more about the Five Factor Model and to complete a complimentary e-learning program (worth one SHRM credit), please visit THIS PAGE.
Ok, it sounds simple. Learn how to plan. Focus on efficiency. Follow through on your actions. Develop the habit to specify the steps of your projects and anticipate your future needs. Enhance your own objectivity. Who wouldn’t want to learn to be thorough, efficient, and effective? Who wouldn’t like to use time more efficiently or learn to manage his or her priorities perfectly?
There’s just a little glitch... those competencies, while admirable and useful, will drain the life blood of some of us. Simply put – some of us are not wired that way. Some of us crave the very flexibility and spontaneity that make careful planning (and follow through with the planning!) a real challenge.
I’m talking about personality.
Personality can be defined as a set of observable and fairly consistent behaviors. Personality changes little after about age 30, and impacts our “energy” for developing competencies. For instance, if your personality is flexible and spontaneous you probably have low energy for planning, organizing, and following through on your plans. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn to plan your days or organize yourself better – but it does mean that it won’t be easy. You’ll need to want it really badly, and you’ll probably need some coaching.
Personality researchers such as Bob McCrae and Paul Costa from the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore have agreed on five “clusters” that encompass most personality traits. This “set of clusters” is called the “Five Factor Model” (FFM). The five clusters are:
Of these, the set of personality traits that most impact our ability to plan and follow through on our plans is Conscientiousness. Some of us have “single processor minds” that go straight towards a pre-established goal. People whose Conscientiousness is high are typically efficient, disciplined, and focused.
So – why can’t you just hire people like that? That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would... but then you’ll have a work environment devoid of flexibility, spontaneity, and spur of the moment changes of direction. Can you imagine a step-by-step Improv? Or a carefully planned conflict facilitation? How about a customer service representative willing to switch gears at a moment's notice to help a client? Oops.
Learning organizations require the presence of a multiplicity of personalities, including the flexible and spontaneous free spirits, the organized and disciplined planners, and everyone else in between. It is vital, however, that we all "learn to speak" the personality language. After all, not all personalities learn the same way, have the energy for the same things, or even hope to succeed in the same competencies.
HR Leaders are in the people business. It is virtually impossible to do what we do and not understand people. If you really want to understand people, start learning about personalities.... and never mind whether you plan your learning step-by-step or just swing it!
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is passionate about personality in the workpalce, and recently co-wrote with Caryn Lee, a brief e-learning introduction to Personality at Work worth 1 (one) SHRM credit. For additional information, visit THIS PAGE.
Years ago, a Linked:HR member, Dr. Gordon Curphy, asked an interesting question: Are there personality traits that allow us to find "team killers" - people who destroy the morale of a team? Dr. Curphy's question got me thinking: Are there traits on the Big Five that would allow us to predict organizational gremlins? I'm talking about people whose general behaviors would make most people uncomfortable - perhaps people who are abrasive, rude, arrogant and yes, unethical. Yikes. Have you ever worked with someone like that?
As I attempted to answer his question, however, I hesitated. I could see all sorts of problems in trying to "identify" a nightmare simply using "Big Five" personality traits. Here are just a few:
Nightmares are Relative
Nightmarish tendencies could lie in the eye of the beholder! I could call "arrogant" someone whom others see as "charismatic." A "rude" person could simply be more direct than I am or disagree with me on a variety of key areas. How about unethical? That's tougher but still possibly relative - I could judge as "unethical" behaviors that others would find perfectly reasonable. More importantly, I might be more likely to judge as "unethical" something that might damage my interests. In other words: Possibly, differences between my personality and the personality of the nightmare in question govern my own perceptions.
Nightmares have Mirrors
Maybe I'm the nightmare... or at least part of it! For instance, if two people are equally low in agreeableness (challengers, people more likely to stick to their goals) and equally high in neuroticism (in other words, both are rather nervous), they will probably disagree vehemently. Who is the nightmare then? Both of them?
Nightmares bring Gifts
A "nightmare" could actually bring something good to the table. For instance, a tad of arrogance could work well if it translates to the outside world as rightful pride in the organization. The same person who is perceived as "abrasive" to the team could sell this same team beautifully to outside clients. Unless the situation is extreme (or perhaps even pathological) a combination of personality traits is unlikely to be all bad under all circumstances.
Nightmares are Complex
Finally, a "nightmare recipe" may require more than traits. Instead, nightmares may require an explosive combination of traits, values, and motivations. Case in point: Consider someone who is ultra high in neuroticism (i.e., reactive, nervous, and prone to anger), ultra low in agreeableness (a challenging "limelight seeker"), ultra low in trust and tact, somewhat dry and unfriendly, and ultra high in need to "take charge" and in perfectionism. Before you say "ouch," however, consider the possibility that this same person is exquisitely self-aware, having participated in countless coaching sessions and in 360 exercises. As a result, this person may have learned to compensate for his/her tougher tendencies. Further, this person's goals and values could serve as powerful motivators to control his/her behaviors. After all, the relationship between traits and behavior is not that perfect - two people with similar trait tendencies may still behave differently (for a better review of "additional layers" impacting behaviors, the reader is directed to the fabulous work of Dr. Dan McAdams).
In summary - diagnosing nightmares is far from simple. Even if everyone in the team agreed that person X is a nightmare he/she could still have important redeeming values - or, alternatively, something in the system could be exacerbating someone's natural tendencies. Perhaps, therefore, our thinking on this topic might go beyond "how to diagnose a nightmare." We could also figure out how to diagnose nightmarish conditions (does the system bring the "worst" in everyone?) and relationships (how incompatible is this particular team?). We might also learn how to best communicate about nightmares. How can a team member approach a colleague and say "Houston, we have a problem, now let's talk"?
When I first started conducting research on employee engagement I had a conversation with my mother about engagement and rewards. I told mom that my own engagement did not depend on the opinions of others – it depended, instead, on my how committed I was to my mission, how passionate I felt about what I did. In other words: Engagement is about me and about what I was born to do for a living.
Mom then reminded me of an old and favorite poem called “The Man in the Glass.” She found it for me on the Internet. The first part of the poem goes like this:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in you life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
My mother is right. The Man in the Glass has everything to do with engagement. Those who are engaged do not excel in their work because of external rewards – bonuses, gift cards, or “employee of the month” certificates. They do not go above and beyond because someone out there will give them a medal. Instead, they do it because of their own sense of purpose.
Don’t get me wrong – recognition is likely to help. Recognition gives us a sense of being valued and valuable. Recognition calms fear and uncertainty. Recognition tells us there is someone who cares that we worked so hard or for so long. In order to improve engagement, however, recognition has to mean care. It has to involve true appreciation. Otherwise it’s not recognition – it’s just compensation.
Even the best kind of recognition, however, will not be as strong or as powerful as our own recognition. That person in the glass does more for our engagement than anyone else.
And perhaps… that is the message we need to send our colleagues. Stop expecting others to engage you. Stop waiting for others to cheer you up.
Instead, start focusing on that person in the glass.
According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about 70 percent of U.S. professors are not in a "tenure" line. Of these, about 40 percent are adjunct or part-time faculty members. Sure, many may choose to work as adjunct faculty. Those who adjunct by choice are likely to be experienced professionals in other fields, holding full-time jobs elsewhere or leading their own businesses. Not all adjunct faculty, however, do so by choice. Many have not been able to locate academic employment and see themselves falling behind in academic studies (see Glenn, 2016). They have no benefits or job security and often receive low pay.
The problem is not limited to universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 5.9 million people held temporary jobs in the US in 2017. Sure, this number represents a relatively small percentage of US workers (3.8 percent). Other workers, however, report "alternative work arrangements" including contract work (10.6 million or 6.9 percent), on-call (2.6 million or 1.7 percent), workers employed by temporary help agencies (1.4 million or 0.9 percent) and 933,000 (0.6 percent) workers employed by contractor firms. And, while most contractors choose to work independently (about 80 percent), most workers from the other alternative categories do not.
My question, today, is: What are the consequences of non-traditional and contingent work arrangements on the remaining employees and for the organization? I can think of several potential impact areas:
For item three, note the emphasis on the word "could." According to William Kahn, engagement relates to one's feelings of safety. A contingent worker could experience less safety, knowing that he or she could easily be let go. The story, however, is complicated, as contingency workers are quite diverse. The Gallup Organization found that while independent contractors are more engaged than the general population, on-call, temporary, and contractor organization workers are not (only 19% of these workers are engaged).
My final point: Both in and outside Academia, having a certain percentage of contingency workers may make sense. In Academia, experienced professionals could bring "real life" and practical examples to the classroom. Outside universities, independent contractors could bring to their client organizations special expertise and outsider perspectives. At the very least, however, the issue deserves thoughtful debate.
What have your experiences been with contingent and non-traditional work? Please share!
Today is my first day in a series of research projects. As always, I struggle getting started: Do I move first to completing the Institutional Ethics Review Board forms (IRBs)? Do I write my goals on a to do list? Do I start with the literature review? My main problem: I have three projects and no clear direction. The sheer amount of work to get these projects completed seems daunting.
Not knowing where to start, I chose something I love to do: Setting up a research Pbworks wiki, where I can upload my literature, tag all articles, organize my to-do list, link my research journal, etc.
I guess my main lesson today to procrastinators is just that: Look for something you love. Procrastination is just your brain letting you know you are afraid. The best way to curb it is by doing that which may not make you scared as long as you choose a task related to your end goal.
Some may say that's a bad idea. By creating a research wiki I am just postponing the pieces of my puzzle I do not like. My retort. Sure. However, by picking a piece of the puzzle I do like, I am also conquering the worst of all demons: Not getting started at all.
Of course, I wouldn't recommend that you start your project by doing something entirely irrelevant. My wiki is a helpful research tool. The page gets me organized, and lack of organization kills any multistep project. My point is that you should get something done, even if that something is not the most important component of your project. Even if it's just something you love.
Today is day 1 of a daunting mission - and I will conquer this demon.
I teach Ethics at a graduate leadership program. One of my challenges is to help our leaders understand the impact of lack of fairness. Specifically:
Of course, these discussions are hardly new. One of my favorite philosophers, John Rawls, argues that a fair society results from a "Veil of Ignorance." This "Veil" forces future society members to make blind decisions, without knowing whether they will be rich or poor, intelligent or unintelligent, members of a top or a lower class. They do not even know their personality traits or abilities. Under those "ignorance" conditions:
To help leaders experience inequality, I use a game called "The Kingdom Tycoons." I assign participants to three groups (upper, middle and lower class), provide different resources to each group and then observe the resulting group dynamics. Here is how you can reproduce the game:
Good luck! If you come up with a different version, how about sharing what you did? Also, let me know what happened!
Countless leadership authors encourage leaders to be inspiring, visionary, and brave. Followers are attracted to these powerful and charismatic leaders like moths to a flame. That is hardly surprising: Who can, after all, resist a hero?
Interestingly, the image of a leader painted by these authors seems to lack common human emotions. Nowhere do I see fear, reluctance to lead, or insecurity. The leader knows he was born to lead. The leader knows she will be followed.
Or does she?
Enters Katniss Aberdeen, the heroin of the Hunger Games series. Katniss had no intention to lead. As she told President Snow in a moving scene from Mockingjay: "I only wanted to save my sister and keep Peeta alive" (if you know nothing about the Hunger Games Trilogy, you may catch up in this brief summary).
So why then does Katniss lead? As I reflected on the answer, I came across three clips. In the first, we hear about the origins of the "Mockingjay" (a mutant bird who imitates human sounds, a symbolic pin Katniss wore early in the series for protection).
The second clip requires an introduction, especially if you are not familiar with Suzanne Collins' books. When the leaders of District 13 ask Katniss to help inspire the revolutionaries, they plan a series of propaganda clips (called "propos"). Katniss tries to recite inspiring words written by someone else. The result is a total disaster, as fake and empty as the set. Watch as Katniss' friend and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, explains the problem.
Finally, Katniss is allowed to go to the front lines. She talks to the revolutionaries, witnesses their pain first hand. Fueled by anger and passion, she delivers an inspiring and game changing speech, warning President Snow: "If we burn, you burn with us!" (watch the final official trailer, with a brief clip of this speech).
The story of Katniss is not one of charisma or vision. Instead, Katniss becomes a leader through a powerful combination of survival and protective instincts, passion, and, above all, authenticity. Katniss can only be a leader when she is allowed to be real.
Perhaps most of these leadership books have it wrong. One can't really "learn to be a leader." Leaders are as different as the people who follow them or the causes for which they fight. Instead, we should focus on helping leaders find their core. Their passion. Their cause. Their personal Mockingjay.
What is yours?
Last week a friend posted on Facebook a beautiful "Flash Mob" video. A group of students from the vocal group Academia da Voz (Voice Academy) performed an impromptu rendition of "Somebody to love" at a university in the state of São Paulo, Brasil. Watch the video below. It will make you smile!
The video got me thinking about collaboration and community building lessons we can learn from flash mobs.
Total Immersion: Flash mobs don't take place in sterile stages, isolated from the audience. Performers are right there where the action is, unafraid to recruit new members and train them "on the spot."
Joy: Flash mobs are often joyful events, a beautiful culmination of hard work and preparation. Performers work for free, as a gift to the audience. Just look at the faces of the performers in the "Somebody to Love" video - they seem to be having an amazing time.
Collaboration: Flash mobs are no different than any other perfectly executed team project. The main job of each team member is to make other members "look good."
Planned improvisation: Something as beautiful as this "Somebody to Love" performance is the result of hard work. I can only imagine the number of rehearsals and planning sessions to get the performance just right! Flash mob participants, however, must be ready to improvise. After all, they will be performing in a public place, coping with the unpredictable reactions of the public. The whole experience reminds me of teaching advice I received from colleagues from University of Minnesota once - "Plan like crazy, then let it go!"
Courage: It takes courage to perform unannounced and unexpected. What if someone doesn't like the performance? What if someone is just busy and feels like the performance is an inconvenience? Flash mob performers ignore what ifs. They just do it.
What does all this have to do with community building? Well, first, one does not build a community from a sterile place. One must be willing to engage with community members, interacting with people in their natural settings. Joy is a critical ingredient - I can't imagine growing a community without a sense of energy, excitement, and pure fun. Collaboration and planned improvisation are vital for founders and early members, who must work together in the background to make things happen. Then, collaboration becomes critically important as the community grows. Finally, courage is an invaluable final ingredient. Everyone must be ready to take risks, tolerate some level of failure, and move forward when things don't work.
What are your own best practices for building a community?
In the young adult movie "The Maze Runner" a group of young boys are sent to a place surrounded by a mysterious "Maze." The Maze is impenetrable, dangerous, and populated by "Grievers" (robotic beasts). As the protagonist - Thomas - finds out early on, no one can leave this prison - or enter the Maze. Watch this clip, when Thomas is introduced to the Maze.
Now - Thomas' prison is not that bad - that is, it's not that bad as far as prisons go. It works. The boys have learned to cooperate and trust one another. They grow their food and have shelter. They may hate their imprisonment, but they are alive. And then - as you can imagine - Thomas tries to convince them to leave. He is strongly opposed by another boy - Gally. Gally plays the role of the staus quo keeper, rule protector, efficiency manager. Gally desperately wants things to be as they were.
I wonder when we are Gally. We try so badly to keep things as they are that we fail to see that we live in a ticking bomb. We see rules as sacrosanct and fear anarchy is we ignore them for good cause. We become guardians of someone else's ideas, defenders of policies that used to make sense and no longer do. We think we're defending the organization - and could, instead, help destroy it.
What do you think? Can you find other parallels between leadership and The Maze Runner?
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.