Navigating The Personalities

Multi-ethnic group of university students smiling in a classroom

I’ve been doing a lot of personality profile training these days within my leadership communications workshops. That one component of the workshop seems to add the most value to the leaders I train. Lightbulbs go on all day long as we apply the understanding of the various personality types to the teams we’re leading.

The beauty of this training is that you don’t have to have a doctorate in Psychology to derive benefit. A basic understanding of the four gross classifications of personality are enough to facilitate better team communications and productivity.

The first lightbulb that I often see going on is the understanding that we are all unique individuals but at the same time highly programed by our personality. That’s the dichotomy within the human animal. The second bulb to go on is the revelation that Sally doesn’t often follow our lead because she doesn’t speak our language so we need to learn hers (the very essence of leadership).

When this lightbulb burns within the training group the energy in the room becomes palpable. Leaders see at a much more personal level that they need to work at bringing down communication barriers if their team is going to engage and reach the desired objective.

The era of “command and control” is closing, with most leaders today acknowledging that leading the “whole worker” is much more effective. We aren’t “personal” or “professional.” We’re one whole being: each sphere influencing the other. A proper understanding of our team member’s personality (and our own) will facilitate healthier and more productive work relationships, which will in turn produce a more effective and engaged team.

Leadership Essential For The Road Ahead

There’s no doubt that things in the business world are changing. Relative to leadership, the age of command and control is waning, and a new age of authentic leadership is rising. The skillset for this new age is different from the old one. Many leaders are sensing it and making adjustments to their leadership style.

Why is this happening? The age of command and control was born out of the industrial and information ages. People (read: workers) were largely seen as machines (human capital) to be moved around and manipulated. But people aren’t cattle and we’re learning that if we want to increase productivity with our teams, we are going to need to lead the whole worker (#wholeworker), taking into consideration their thoughts, feelings, and contributions.

This transition has caught many leaders off guard. Many are learning the hard way that the old leadership skillset is not as effective on the new 21st century worker.

Chief among the resources needed in this new skillset is the practice of empathy. Empathic leadership is required if we are going to engage workers and increase productivity. But many leaders, especially those entrenched in command and control, are in need of some training in order to inculcate and employ this skill.

There are actually three types of empathy that a leader needs to employ in the guidance of their team’s activities: cognitive, emotional, and empathic concern.

Cognitive empathy is the skill of understanding how another thinks. It’s the understanding of their mental model. Awareness of their personality type is one way we train for cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy helps us relate to teammates in ways they understand, typically using their vocabulary.

Emotional empathy is the immediate felt sense of what’s going on in the teammate. It’s the human connection. It’s feeling what they feel. It’s relating to our teammate on an emotional level. This is a severe departure from command and control, which was not concerned with the concept of the whole worker. The hitch is that we’re people, not machines, and we need to lead the whole worker if we’re looking for better outcomes.

Empathic concern is the result of the leader taking into consideration the data gathered from the first two forms of empathy, and then taking action. It’s making the leadership move. It’s saying to yourself and your teammate, what can I do to help? What resources can I make available to you to release the stress, relieve the bottleneck, and remove the chokepoint?

If we’re going to make advances in team productivity through 2018 it’s going to be by moving toward a more authentic and empathic model of leadership. Employing these three forms of empathy is one of the ways to get there. Bringing our teams into greater engagement, professional satisfaction, and productivity is the goal of authentic leadership and the outcome of better leadership practices.

*I’m indebted to Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) for the delineation of the three forms of empathy.

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