This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My executive coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.

Personality types

June 10, 2023
I loved Lencioni's book The Advantage, so when somebody mentioned this week that they were using his new personality assessment The 6 Types of Working Genius, I was excited to read the book.

Lencioni describes how he was getting drained and irritable when doing some kinds of work, and came up with this system to classify the 6 types of work that need to be done throughout a project. Guess what? Some people get energized by certain types of work and drained by others, so your teams work best when you have people focus on their areas of "genius" and minimize the time spent on their "frustrations".

I also had a conversation with a client this week about the Enneagram, where I used the different types as a way of explaining to him the underlying emotional agendas of his fellow executives, and how they differed from what he cared about. While I'm not an Enneagram expert, I like the description of the different types with their basic fears, their basic desires, and their key motivations.

Another friend was telling me about Myers-Briggs personality types and how it helped him understand different people he was dating.

Some people dismiss personality typing as unscientific bunk, on par with astrology. They say "I can't be defined by a single personality type! I'm me! I'm far more complex than that!" And I mostly agree! People are complex and individual. It's not as simple as somebody "is" this type or that type, because there's always nuances not captured by the system.

The value of personality typing to me is to remember that other people aren't like me. We often assume that everybody sees the world exactly the same way we do, and are motivated by the same things we are. And that's just not true.

Different people react differently. They are energized and drained by different things than you are. They have different fears, different desires, different emotional motivations.

I see the personality typing systems as maps to that complex territory of humanity. Like all maps, they are simplifications of reality, and don't cover all situations. And just like you should stop following a map if it's clearly wrong (don't drive into the water no matter what the map says!), if the individual in front of you does not fully align with their type, accept them for who they are, rather than try to force fit them into a generic type.

If you are struggling to understand why people aren't behaving as they "should" be, looking at personality types might give you insight into the ways that different people think and respond differently. And with that insight, you might find a new map to guide how you interact with that person.

The systems also often provide a guide to being more effective in the world. One thing I like about the Enneagram is that it provides a development path for each type, giving them exercises and practices to interact with the world in a healthier and more aligned way. The Working Geniuses model is similar in offering a path to building happier teams that work better together.

In other words, I don't use personality types as classification systems where somebody is this and not that, and can never change. I use them as maps describing how people might be responding differently to a situation than what I expect, and as guides to interact with them more effectively (and to help myself be more effective).

P.S. For what it's worth, my "working geniuses" are Discernment and Enablement, I mostly identify with type 1 on the Enneagram although I sometimes show up as type 9 or type 5 or type 3, and I mostly show up as an INFP in Myers-Briggs. I'm also a Gemini on the cusp of Cancer, born in the Year of the Tiger.
And now for the normal personal development content…
  • Creating Collective Intelligence. I've been noticing a pattern across several domains, where how people organize and interact matters more than who the people are. From Google's research around psychological safety driving team effectiveness, to urban planning, to indigenous tribal practices, the same pattern keeps showing up. I think it's because that's how we create collective intelligence; it's less about individual brilliance, and more about creating a structure to share communications and insights.
LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience.
  • Repair the relationship. When we do something that impacts another person, moving on without acknowledging that hurt affects the relationship.
  • Tell your story. Other people are advocating for themselves or their teams. If you're not, they are setting the discourse, because your work won't speak for itself.
  • Communicate proactively to anchor stakeholders on the story you want to tell, and the results you expect. This gives you "first mover advantage" in setting the stage for the work you plan to do.
  • Show compassion within boundaries. Avoid the fundamental attribution error, where we attribute the failures of others to their innate characteristics, but justify our own failures due to external factors.
Here's a few links about kindness, inspired by this Experience Institute post.
  • The Unexpected Power of Random Acts of Kindness. "People who perform a random act of kindness tend to underestimate how much the recipient will appreciate it." Take the time to do something kind even if it seems small.
  • The Science of Kindness, featuring the research of Dr. Kelli Harding. From the article, "medical care, while critical, only accounts for about 10-20% of our overall health status. Instead, much of good health depends on creating supportive relationships in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and communities. This means every person’s kind or unkind choices in their daily lives makes a difference in the health of others."
  • Vivek Murthy interview on On Being. I valued Dr. Murthy's book on loneliness, and was delighted to learn he is now serving again as the US Surgeon General. This interview with Krista Tippett of On Being shares some of what he's learned since writing his book. I particularly loved his closing exhortation that "small acts of kindness are radical acts of defiance".
Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks!
Lake Tahoe is one of my happy places
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