Leaders need the right team around them. Lucinda van der Hart investigates whether personality profiling tools can help
I have just discovered that I am purple. I am half way between being an energetic, fiery red, absorbed by action and outcomes, and a cool blue, with a tendency to set high standards for myself and others. I am accommodating and yet focused.
Or so says the report that popped up in my inbox a few moments ago, courtesy of Reveal, a personality profiling tool provided by the relationship support charity, Relate (relate.org.uk).
My self-discovery is even more exciting when it comes to exploring the results of my Myers Briggs Personality Type - another personality assessment tool that, like Reveal, requires an online questionnaire. As an INTJ (Introvert, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging) my corresponding animal would apparently be a snake (see p41 for more on Myers-Briggs types and their corresponding animals). Were I a Disney character, I would be Milo Thatch from the lesserknown Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Thomas Jefferson, Sir Isaac Newton, Eisenhower and Nietzsche were supposedly all in the INTJ camp too.
Personality assessment tools have been popular for a number of years both within secular and Christian circles. But can they benefit the Christian leader? Or do they merely tap into our tendency for introspection, providing a way to excuse our mistakes as being determined by one of our inherited character traits?
‘God has given us all unique gifts,’ says leadership development coach and founder of Tentpeg Consulting, Jill Garrett. ‘What psychometric assessments are about is trying to understand more of who you are – those dominant attributes or gifts are things to use to serve other people and God.’
To identify a strength may of course also flag up a potential weakness. ‘We often interpret strength as a good word, but strong tea and strong coffee isn’t necessarily good – unless you want it that way,’ says Jill, who has trained teams from numerous charities including Spring Harvest, Open Doors International, Tearfund and Livability, as well as theological students from Moorlands, in the use of the StrengthsFinder tool.
‘It’s the same with our dominant attributes. They are usually the thing that will get us into trouble. Look at Paul in the New Testament. He was determined, fast-moving, courageous, focused on destroying the Church – then he had an encounter with God and became determined, fast-moving and courageous in building it up.
‘God doesn’t rewire our brains when we become Christians; he goes to work on our fallen human condition. As a Christian, a psychometric assessment helps us to understand our unique sin profile as well as our strengths profile.’
‘Character formation begins with vulnerability, and vulnerability begins with the willingness to remove our masks and really understand ourselves’, says Rev Pete Wynter, director of HTB’s Leadership College London, which trains Christians in their 20s and 30s to become exceptional leaders in every sphere of society. Pete, who is also executive director of youth leadership charity Onelife, continues: ‘The Church, and society, needs Christian leaders with the ability to call the best out of themselves as well as the best out of those around them. Personality tests will aid us in that cause.’
CLARITY IN THE WORKPLACE
Jo Rice, managing director at Resurgo, a church-based charity that works to help young people into the workplace, uses the Reveal personality profiler that I recently tried out with her entire staff team as well as with many of the young people that the charity coaches.
This is about taking responsibility for who God has made you
Completing the profile involves filling in a multiple choice questionnaire, taking around 30 minutes and setting me back £19.99. Within a few days I was emailed a PDF report, which uses a fairly easy-to-grasp colours-based system (rooted in Jung’s personality theory) to make sense of your strengths and weaknesses. ‘Most people would say that this is 90% accurate’, says Jo.
It was when Jo used this particular personality profiling tool herself a few years ago that she finally made sense of a challenging relationship she’d had with a manager in a former workplace. ‘I’m yellow – an extrovert feeler,’ she explains. ‘I left a job once because I had a boss who was blessed with loving the precise numbers for everything; but I am not a detail person…I thought she was controlling and difficult, she thought I was slapdash and inattentive.
‘My boss was good at the process, planning and delivery. But because we didn’t understand we had different preferences, I thought she was wrong, and she thought that I was wrong.’
Now with a new level of selfunderstanding, Jo says that she would approach that situation very differently. ‘I’d ask: “What is important to my boss – that may not be within my own preferences – but that I need to do in order to keep her happy? And how could she accommodate for the fact that I need high relational interaction in order to stay alive?”’
INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE BENEFITS
Understanding how you tick means you can put yourself into situations where you can play to your strengths. This can apply to the roles you select in a church serving context – ‘I would be better suited to being on a welcome team than in production,’ says Jo.
Your own self-awareness may also lead you to reshape the way you put together church services or events – ensuring that these are not always tailored to your own preferences. At Resurgo, Jo grapples with questions such as, ‘How do you plan effective youth work, bearing in mind that not all young people are yellow?’ and ‘How do you encourage a blue person on your team to come to the Christmas party?’
Lynn and Andrew Penson run training days for churches using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Pensons have received feedback from church members on how following their leader’s use of Myers-Briggs, they have changed the content of their services. ‘Tonight in our service of prayer and praise, the minister used a variety of approaches catering for the different personality types. When I thanked him afterwards, he said that he had become very conscious of the need to work with the different personalities’, wrote a member of a church in Wales, following one of the Pensons’ training days.
If you run a church without some understanding of personality profiling, you make life a lot harder for yourself
If each individual on your staff or volunteer team has better selfunderstanding, the team is likely to benefit as a whole. ‘Sharing an understanding of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses can help teams to be more gracious and caring with one another,’ says leadership development coach Jim McNeish.
Jim says he has seen some of the best breakthroughs in teams when they notice that collectively they have a particular bias in approach, and then seek to address it. ‘One board I was working with discovered that they were predominantly a “get it done – and quickly” group of directors and had low tolerance for detailed reflectors. What they most needed in their thinking was a helicopter view of what was changing in the market and someone to provide detailed analysis of how to fix it. Sadly, their judgement of the missing personality type as a “non-deliverer” stuck and they eventually had changes imposed on them by the central holding company, as they were not regarded as strategic enough.’
A year ago, Jez Barnes, vicar of St Stephen’s, Twickenham, used Relate’s Reveal profiling tool with his staff team of 20. As a result they have recognised their collective preferences as a team, and made some very practical changes to the way in which they run their various staff meetings. ‘We ask: is this a green meeting, where we are looking to catch up and see how everyone is doing? Or is this yellow, with lots of space for creative thinking? Or blue, where we are trying to nail down lots of detail?’ he says.
SELECTING YOUR TOOL
If you want to try using a personality assessment tool yourself or with your team, where do you start? Mark Thomas, CEO of global leadership and development consultancy MDN Fusion advises starting out by having some conversations with people who have strong experience in the use and interpretation of these tools. ‘Be sure that your team around you are on board – people can be sceptical. If you try to impose something, you could have a disaster on your hands,’ he says.
Jill says you also need to consider carefully what you want to gain from using the tool. ‘Be clear about why you want to use it, and what you want to get from it,’ she says. Jo, for example, decided to use the Reveal colours-based tool over Myers-Briggs, because of Reveal’s simplicity. Jo has found that often people can’t remember exactly which Myers-Briggs type they are; the series of letters is hard to hold in your head.
It may be that a more detailed tool is exactly what you are after, however – perhaps for use as part of your discipleship programme. Leadership coach Liz West explains that the Enneagram (a tool that has its roots in the Christian spirituality of the desert fathers) offers greater detail than Myers-Briggs. The Enneagram, she says, is more ‘subtle’ and takes longer to learn.
Liz has recently delivered training in using the Enneagram in the Anglican Oxfordshire diocese. ‘Instead of a one-day training it has been a four-day training, spread across a year. It’s more of a commitment – but what you get for that is not only an understanding of your own and other people’s personality types, but also a discipleship tool, because it is a growth model.
Finding your strengths
Phil Knox is director of resources at Youth For Christ and manages a team of eight. Following the arrival of a new CEO at the charity, he and the team recently had a day’s training with Jill Garrett in using StrengthsFinder
StrengthsFinder was first mentioned to me when I arrived at YFC ten years ago. It is a really helpful tool for managing people.
One of Neil’s strengths, as CEO, which was highlighted by the report, was deliberative. This means he will think and reflect and will want to know all the information before he makes a decision.
So when Neil asks lots of questions, its not because he is digging to see if something is wrong, it’s because it’s one of his strengths.
One of the people I managed had communication as one of her strengths; I knew that she loved collecting information, and she wanted to talk about it all the time. So when I caught up with her – where with other people I might have given them a ten-minute slot between meetings – I knew that with her I needed to book a 45-minute slot in my diary.
I had another chap in my team who was a strategic activator. I knew that when I needed something done quickly, that he would deliver.
We are all wired relationally…being interested in how God made us is a good thing – it helps us relate to people and help them to be the people that God has created them to be.
‘What makes the Enneagram unique is that it helps you explore the influence of your personality on your relationship with God. It’s a tool for life. It’s a much deeper journey,’ Liz says.
Archdeacon of Buckingham, Karen Gorham uses the Enneagram with her staff team. ‘Understanding the way we process information and cope with life helps develop a more measured spirituality, which is more intentionally formed and enables a peaceful acceptance of self and other people,’ she says.
Christ calls us to avoid judging others – and we need to guard against personality assessment tools becoming a subtle way of doing this. ‘Human beings are an evolving organic relationship within themselves,’ says Jim. ‘Judging someone as a snapshot in time is hateful. When we start to pigeonhole people and believe that 7 billion humans can be squeezed into five personality types, we diminish our awareness rather than enlarging it.’
The main complaint Pete has heard aired about personality testing is that people can feel ‘boxed in’ by them. But he says this may be due to the way in which a particular tool has been taught. ‘If that’s their experience then they’ve probably been in a badly taught session’ he says. ‘When taught well they launch people rather than limit them.’
Jim also points out that it can be tempting to justify our sinful behaviour by our personality type. ‘“They said I was a INFP [Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving] – this is how we roll.” That won’t fly in a marriage and it should not be ok in church,’ he says. ‘Or people use it as a way of writing off a relational difficulty as a character flaw in the other person. “That’s them being a big type 3 – who can work with that?” These two dynamics can cause real issues in a church.’
As long as we work to avoid their potential pitfalls, using your preferred form of personality assessment yourself and with your team can be a powerful tool in a church leader’s kit. ‘If you run a church without some sort of understanding of personality profiling, you are making life an awful lot harder for yourself,’ Jo says. ‘Because it is such highly relational work, I would go as far as to say that it is almost irresponsible not to have some understanding in this area.
‘This is about taking responsibility for who God has made you,’ says Jill, who cites Galatians 6:4-5, which concludes, ‘Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.’ (The Message).
‘It seems to me that that’s what good psychometric assessments enable you to do: take responsibility for making the creative best you can with the life that God has given you.’
Which animal are you?
The personality types on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have been likened to several animals
INTP (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Perceiving)
Owls are solitary creatures often viewed as possessing wisdom. INTPs are inward looking, analytical, logical and (like owls) rare!
Strengths: Imaginative and independent
Weaknesses: Socially rebellious and uncomfortable in social situations
ENTJ (Extraversion, iNtiution, Thinking, Judgement)
ENTJs are strong, straightforward and practical. Like lions, they’re natural leaders who like to be heard.
Strengths: Family-orientated, enthusiastic
Weaknesses: Occasionally scary and intimidating
INFP (Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perceiving)
Peaceful and easygoing, INFPs are just like Swans.
Strengths: Caring, supportive
Weaknesses: Overly sensitive
ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgement)
Described as genuine and authentic, ESFJs bring out the best in those around them and are good listeners.
Strengths: Loyal, nurturing
Weaknesses: Dislikes change, aversion to moving outside of a comfort zone