A couple of years ago my employer took the leadership teams from the various business units to an off-site strategy day. The day seemed to revolve around the results of the Myers-Briggs questionnaire we were asked to complete the week before.
At the start of the first session we were split into groups of 'extroverts' and 'introverts'. The results of my testing revealed I was only slightly an extrovert. As I enjoy my own company and often prefer to be alone, I have always believed that I am an introvert. I shared my view with the testers and one suggested that my type of work may have pushed me across the line. The extroverts in the room were definitely more outgoing, and just happier, than the introverts so I wasn't complaining about the company I was in. But it did make me wonder about the impact of the career you choose on your personality.
Then the cards were shuffled again and we were placed in groups of 'sensing' and 'intuition' - polar opposites. My personality testing placed me in the intuition camp, which suggests I am focused on the future and big picture, rather than the detail and the here and now. It couldn't have pegged me better.
We were asked to participate in an exercise to demonstrate how this dimension manifests in each group. The challenge was to explain to a tourist how to get to the airport from our location at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. I immediately offered that I would indicate the direction of the airport and then suggest the tourist take a taxi going that way. "The driver will be able to get them there." One of the other managers in my group said they would simply tell the tourist to look up in the sky and follow the direction of a plane. My group contained every creative director in the room and I soon realised that I was possibly the most practical member.
At one point I looked across to the other group and noticed they were involved in a debate. The conversation was centered on the starting point for the directions: "Would the tourist take George Street or Pitt Street? And then wouldn't they turn left at Bridge Street rather than Market Street?" I was shocked. It hadn't occurred to me to be so prescriptive with the directions. Not surprisingly the managers who started out as accountants were in that group.
Next it was 'thinking' or 'feeling'. I am a feeling person which means that rather than analyse actions and act accordingly, as a thinking manager will do, I respond to how other people might feel or react to a situation. We were asked to imagine a situation where an employee had not turned up for work but also had not called in sick. Each group was asked to discuss and write down a plan of action for how we might deal with this. A man in my group immediately said he would sack the person. I suggested that the employee might have a sick child or a serious issue that we should try to uncover before jumping to conclusions. The same man in my group shook his head and said that the employee had broken the rules so should be sacked. I felt so uncomfortable that I said out loud, "I must be in the wrong group". One of the testers who was observing us laughed, checked the man's name and then informed him that he was in the other group. I felt so relieved when he left our group. Imagine working alongside him or in his team. And yet he was a manager in our company at the time.
For the final dimension of 'judging' or 'perceiving', it would appear that I am in the judging category, but only just. That means that I like some order to my planning, rather than simply hoping for the best. This is the area where I am most torn. I have to plan for my job. I have been a manager for 25 years so I have had no choice but to present a sense of order for my team but it doesn't come naturally to me. And when I am at home I prefer not to pre-plan anything. My natural state is at odds with my oldest son who needs to know plans well ahead of time. Without having him tested I can see that he would be at the extremity of the judging dimension. No wonder I felt so exhausted when he was younger. I was always having to plan every activity well in advance. It may be tough when your child is an extreme J but it is handy to have someone like that on your team, especially if you are a big picture futurist like me.
The Myers-Briggs tool has been as widely rejected as it has been embraced. It's not for everyone. But it did help me examine my own leadership style and recognise the types of personalities that I need in different roles to complement me.
Have you ever used similar psychological testing for leadership and team assessment? Did it work for you?
Marina Go is GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is also chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of Odyssey House McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders.