We’ve been doing quite a bit of teaching about personality recently, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and DISC profiles as the basis to lead self-discovery among individuals and teams. This work is inspiring and insightful, and we see the difference it makes as people begin to understand facets of their personality and how it drives certain behavior. It is always amazing to watch individuals realize why each of their team members behaves the way that they do – and to see them forgive one another for irritating habits and accept each other’s differences.

That’s the good news, or the fun stuff. What I’m wrestling with out of this work, though, is to what degree we should accept behaviors that don’t seem to “fit” on a team or in our workplace, when they may well be chalked up to innate personality preferences. Asked another way – does your personality, or the way that God made you, let you off the hook for some things that are traditionally expected in your work place?

To explore this a bit, take this example:

An employee on your team has a high rating in Perceiving on the MBTI lifestyle continuum of Perceiving (P) versus Judging (J). High Perceivers want to live a spontaneous life with flexibility, staying open to new information and possibilities. They tend to want to “go with the flow,” let life happen, and avoid anything that feels too structured or orderly. They may act as if they have all of the time in the world – where others with a higher score in Judging may view Perceivers as lacking a sense of urgency, being messy or disorganized, and not being very structured.

It seems that in the field where we work, public accounting, having a high sense of urgency (deadlines are prevalent) and a commitment to order and accuracy (keeping work papers in a certain order, ensuring that documentation exists for each position taken, and making sure everything ticks and ties) are characteristics that are valued. Does that mean that a person can’t succeed in public accounting with a personality that includes the characteristic of being a high P? Or, does it mean that the firm should accept the person’s tendency to gravitate away from structure and find a way to augment them with some “J-like” assistance to enable them to meet the structure and timing-driven requirements of the job?

Using other examples, what about people whose personalities are seriously conflict avoidant? Should they avoid positions in customer service or management where conflict is prevalent? Should those who prefer a moderate, thoughtful pace avoid working in a stock exchange or an emergency room?

I don’t have hard-and-fast answers to these questions, but they are weighing on my mind. I have a few beliefs I’ve formed as I’ve grappled with this:

  • Ideal teams have people with different personality attributes and preferences so that some will lead and others will follow, some will sell and others will deliver, and some will take risks, while others will express caution and temper any volatility. We have to have differences in our families and on our teams to have the possibility to see and have it all.
  • Certain personalities are better suited for certain work, and we should strive to match a person’s position and responsibilities to their strengths, which include personality or behavioral strengths. For instance, some people are just better business and people developers than others, and those who are not capable of taking on these activities – due to skill or preference – should not be “forced” to do so. That said, the ability to develop new business and/or mentor and develop people are highly valued skills. Those who are able to do these things well are typically paid more and ascend to positions of higher leadership than those who cannot.
  • All people should be given the opportunity to modify their behavior and improve to meet the norms of your culture and the expectations of their position. Regardless of a person’s personality preferences, each person should be allowed to prove that they are capable of fulfilling their role and be told, with open, honest, and constructive feedback, how they need to adjust their behavior or results to meet the position and firm requirements.
  • Not all personality tests are 100% accurate for each individual, and we cannot “knot hole” someone into an expected set of behaviors and outcomes based solely on their assessment profile. People are the product of a combination of many things unique to them – their birth order, cultural background, family norms, the age of their parents, their generational affiliation, their gender, their socioeconomic background, education, prior jobs, and more. Using personality assessment tools as the sole basis for making judgments about a person’s potential with your firm would be a serious mistake. These tools aren’t the only data points to consider, so we must look farther than personality type when assessing our people for the right fit on our team.
  • There are expectations and needed results from every position on a team. If a person on your team is not meeting them, and you’ve given them the opportunity to turn their performance around, your choices are to find another role for them in your firm that is suited to their skills, abilities, interests, and behaviors or, if none is available, to consider moving them off the team.

So, I guess my current answer to my title question is a wish washy, “Yes and No.” Yes, we might let someone off the hook for being themselves, but we’ll ask them to shift any needed behaviors to meet their position’s requirements or help them find another role more closely suited to their personality and skills. No, we can’t completely let people off the hook for their personality-driven behaviors, as the way each team member is or prefers to be doesn’t excuse them from meeting the expectations of the position they accepted with the firm. If the individual is not meeting the expectations of their role, and requests for change haven’t worked and/or an alternate role isn’t available, your only choice may be to amicably part ways.

Those are my musings on this subject. Do you have some thoughts about personality and performance? If so, please post your replies as I could certainly benefit from some other viewpoints on this tough subject. Thanks in advance for sharing!


This popular blog from December 2008 was updated and posted today because of its relevance to our many readers.