Think Your Way is the Best Way, Right? Wrong.

Boring presentation. Group of young business people in smart casual wear looking bored while sitting together at the table and looking away


“The inferior teacher tells you that something is wrong with you and offers to fix it. The superior teacher tells you that something is right with you and helps you bring it forth.” – Alan Cohen

When I was in my early twenties, my company held a team building workshop. We each took a personality test and reviewed our results, which were remarkably accurate and detailed. The personality test I took revealed that, in the workplace, I was more task-oriented than people-oriented. I was more driven for results, logical and analytical, rather than personable and tapped in to others’ emotions. This combination of results meant that while I was a good leader and would produce results in a quick and accurate fashion, it also meant that I could come across as aloof with others. It described me perfectly.

The workshop leader explained to us that there was no “best” personality for the workplace. He said that every personality type benefitted the organization. As he was saying this, I remember being absolutely convinced that he must have been one of those “kumbaya” psychologist types who was trying to make everybody feel better about not having the best personality type. Like mine. After all, wasn’t the Type A personality best for the workplace in general? Didn’t excellence keep the organization going? Wasn’t the bottom line what really mattered most?

Fortunately, by the end of the workshop, it began to dawn on me that maybe our workshop leader had a point. Is it really possible that being people-oriented, for instance, was just as valuable to an organization as being results-driven? How could that be?

Well, here is how that could be.

Enter our office manager, Katharine. Katharine’s personality test revealed what we already knew about her. She was people-oriented. She was a calm and steady presence in the office. She was able to get along with everyone, was a unifying influence in the organization and just about everyone went to her for advice for any problem they were having with colleagues or customers. On the other hand, Katharine could often laugh off important details. She didn’t take the lead and when the pressure was on, she didn’t seem to increase her pace at all.

I honestly didn’t care. I loved Katharine. Everybody did. In short, Katharine was everything I wasn’t. She wasn’t tense and stressed all the time like driven, detail-oriented people can be. She wasn’t obsessive. She wasn’t judgmental. She already knew her way wasn’t the “best” way. She saw everyone for the strengths that they brought – and not for the weaknesses they had. She didn’t offend anyone by being aloof. I certainly wanted to be more like Katharine. I began to understand the power of people skills and to see them as valuable, not something that was useless and distracting to getting all-important well-researched results.

The workshop taught us that individuals tend to unconsciously hire those with matching personality types. Their way is the right way, right? Wrong. Over time, this hiring practice will result in an unbalanced department or organization. The best organizations are those that have a fairly even distribution of all personality types. Organizations with only driven results-oriented people may be too cutthroat and those with only socially-oriented people may be unfocused and unable to deliver on expectations. Instead, if an organization embraces all personality differences so that people like Katharine are in charge of hosting the newest client coming to town and people like me are in charge of meeting deadlines, the organization will run better and its members will feel like they are valued and appreciated.

Recently, I was speaking to a middle-aged friend, who admitted that for his whole career he secretly thought the concept of different personality styles in organizations as a good thing was just a polite way to make everybody else feel better about not having a personality like his. He admitted he now knew differently. Better late than never, but my guess is that a fair number of my friend’s colleagues probably wished he had discovered this much earlier!



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