Do I Really Need to Take Another Test About Myself?

Discovering the dark side of your leadership personality traits

Taking the enneagram seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity these days. In just one week, I had several people ask, “do you know your enneagram number?” “Why, I didn’t even know I was supposed to have an enneagram number!” I replied. Not wanting to be left out of all the fun, I found an assessment recommended to me by a colleague who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and eagerly took the test to find out what all the buzz is about. Now keep in mind, I already know my Myers Briggs type (I am an INTJ for the record) and my Strengths Quest strengths (#1 = “input”, with “maximizer” a close second). Now I was about to find one more way for the psychologists of the world to label me. I found the website, dutifully paid my $14.99, took the 144-question test , and was treated with a novel length readout just for me (and the millions of others just like me). What did I learn? Drum roll, please—I am a “9 with an 8 wing.” Don’t ask—if you really want to know, you are going to have to plunk down your own $14.99 and invest the time to answer 144 questions yourself. 

So, now the entire picture of Frank Markow is complete. Not only am I an INTJ, an Input, I am also a 9 wing 8. No need to get to know me as a person, just look at my psychometric scores and you will know everything there is to know about me. At least this is how those who develop and believe in these tests would have us think. The entirety of our personality can be boiled down to a cute label, an acronym, or a number. Can’t wait for the next new trend in psychological analysis to hit the marketplace so I can keep adding to my email byline in hip and culturally relevant ways.

But lest one think I am cynical about all this, I do think there is value in taking these tests. As leaders, becoming truly self-aware is job number 1. If we do not know ourselves—our strengths and weaknesses—we may become trapped by our own peculiar personality. I believe that we owe it to ourselves to see ourselves accurately. Further, we must be able to see ourselves as those we lead see us, not just the way we see ourselves in our own heads. Many a leader has been derailed by not having an accurate self-understanding and allowed their shortcomings as a leader infiltrate into the entire organization. Leaders to a large extent color the culture and personality of an organization, and thus their own personality is reflected in myriad subtle ways. For example, consider the executive pastor who is a bit nonchalant and carefree. We all love to sit in this guy’s office for a half-hour to chat about the latest show we’ve been binging on. But, is this leader truly maximizing the effectiveness of the church? (See how I analyzed this through my own personality?!)

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in an article entitled, Could Your Personality Derail Your Career? (Harvard Business Review Sept 2017) gives some challenging insight for leaders who may be overtaken by what he calls the “dark side” traits. These are the “flip side” of personality. We all have some wonderful personality traits that make us good in our leadership roles. That executive pastor above is clearly a leisurely, warm, and engaging personality, all good leadership traits to keep the organization “chill.” But he may be a tad too lax in his discipline, or be stubborn or uncooperative when needed, not to mention squandering time with less than work related conversation (the “dark side”). No matter what your personality strengths that make you a good leader and attractive to people, there are some corresponding and ever-present side effects which, if unnoticed, can unintentionally wreak havoc on those around you. I learned from my enneagram that being a “peacemaker” comes with a cost to my leadership. In seeking to make peace, I can be too deferential and self-effacing. As a leader, there are times when I need to do better at speaking up for my team’s position and interests. One more tidbit of self-insight that will serve me well as I seek to grow as a leader. Thank you, enneagram! 

Learning all we can about our personalities, in whatever way we can, can only benefit us. If you are not keen on paying your hard-earned cash on answering 144 question tests, consider simply asking a trusted coach or close friend questions like, “so what do you think my personality strengths and weaknesses are?” And be prepared for some wonderful insight that will help you see yourself more honestly—and will no doubt humble you in the process, one way or the other.

Remember, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Further, latter in this same Psalm, the eager-to-be known psalmist declares, “Search me oh God and know my anxious thoughts.” There is no need to be afraid of what we might learn from digging deep into the world of our own personality, even if it leads us to some dark corners we would rather ignore. No matter how you learn—by tests, feedback, or just honest self-reflection—do what you can to become self-aware. Doing so can boost your leadership effectiveness immensely. And not doing so can sideline you for a long, long time. That executive pastor we referred to? He is now chatting it up all day long—with his customers at Starbucks.