From DISC to Insight Discovery to Meyers Briggs, personality typologies are frequently used as tools for leader development. However, after years of exploring and utilizing such tools, personally and professionally, I’ve come to realize that while they can be extremely helpful, when misused (and sadly, they often are misused), they can stifle development and maturation.
Stunted development and maturation of potential leaders, particularly those who have care and concern for life on earth, are NOT what the world needs now! Therefore, to maximize the developmental utility of personality theories, it is imperative to use them as springboards into the developmental journey and not the destination. In other words, to know one’s personality type or temperament is the beginning and not the destination or aim of the leader development journey. Ideally, the aim of leader development is a fully integrated, mature, and whole human being in service to a better world.
Thus, a more optimal use of temperament or personality models is to inform an integrative leader developmental plan and approach that incorporates and balances the head, heart, hands, and will or the four basic temperaments that form the foundation of many personality typologies (e.g., Insight Discovery—Cool Blue, Earth Green, Sunshine Yellow, and Fiery Red).
There are certainly developmental benefits from using personality typing tools to include the increase of self-awareness (including shadow), and greater self-management. Enhanced self-awareness and self-management are no small feat of course and it’s truly empowering and liberating to grow in these areas! The potential for ongoing growth here continues throughout one’s life. As we discover tendencies toward limiting expressions, we are more able to relax the habitual reactions and consider different perspectives and behavioral responses—truly transformational on the individual, interpersonal, and collective levels!
However, while greater self-awareness and self-management are highly desirable and deeply beneficial, if leaders stop there, they may solidify their identity around their personality type or temperament. This type of solidification of personality can be referred to as overidentification which occurs when we orient our entire identity around a descriptive quality or characteristic such as personality type. Overidentification leads to rigidity, defensiveness, hyper-sensitivity, and hyper-competitiveness as if one’s life were on the line because, in a state of overidentification, it is! Consequently, this internal state significantly limits growth, maturation, and wholeness, because it blocks, refuses, or destroys any impressions that contradict the solidified identity.
To overcome these potential pitfalls, leaders can use their understanding of their personality type to inform an integrative or holistic developmental plan that fosters growth in underdeveloped areas. For example, a will-oriented personality (e.g., Fiery Red in the Insight Discovery typology) can engage in transformative practices that cultivate the heart (e.g. lovingkindness meditation), the head (e.g., reading and studying), and/or the hands (e.g., service and activism).
While leaders can certainly work on one area at a time, approaching leader development from an integrative or holistic approach can greatly accelerate development and propel us toward self-actualization (see Ken Wilber’s or George Leonard’s & Michael Murphy’s work on this topic). Of course, the developmental journey does not end here as there are higher peaks available to those willing to engage in the lifelong dynamic dance of stillness and action while also surrendering to the ultimate mystery of personal transformation, Divine love and grace.