You.Life.Business.Growth.8.1: On Snake Oil

You can’t have business growth without personal growth. That’s because both come from finding unity between you, your life and your business. I previously developed a series of seven articles on this theme, based on the following model:

Breakthrough Growth

Over a series of articles, I’m going to unpack the edges of this model, outlining the nine ‘accelerators’ of growth that surround the core of the model. The present article and the next look at character and its intimate relationship with personal growth.

Personality and Character Strengths: the Foundational Traits Growth

Personality and character strengths are foundational to who you are and your outlook on life. They vary across time. Don’t ever believe anyone who classifies your personality or character strengths as fixed. You can change, although some personality disorders are difficult to treat successfully. Your outlook on life strongly influences your capacity to grow, as do the personalities of the people you interact with.

Now, I’m off on a bit of a tangent here. Before turning to how we can best understand the relationship between personality, character strengths and growth, we need to deal with some unpleasant realities and to throw away some present day snake oil.

Psychopathic Managers: Manipulative and Charming

As is illustrated on an almost daily basis at the time of writing (in the behaviours of so-called ‘world leaders’), personality and character are defining characteristics of leaders. Sociopathic and psychopathic, ‘weak’ characters sadly abound in politics and business at present.

The political or workplace psychopath hides in plain sight. Only interested in themselves, they’re manipulative, charming, carefree, and aggressive, and they lack empathy. What separates them from the psychopaths who assault or murder others? They’re less irresponsible, impulsive, and negligent. Their common tactics include intimidation, outrageous behaviours, stories that attempt to cover for their actions and the domination of workplace settings. Psychopaths easily deceive the unsuspecting through their manipulative charm and their carefully ‘cultured’ aggressiveness. Owners, boards or executives looking for ‘hard-driving leaders’ commonly appoint psychopaths to managerial positions customarily associated with leadership. Unfortunately, this frequent success in business means psychopaths often enjoy the capacity to inflict misery on many more than their murderous alter egos.

It takes authentic leaders to spot these creatures and counter their worst excesses.

Authentic Leaders: Open and Virtuous

Authentic leaders are empathic, strong characters. They’re difficult to intimidate and stay calm in the face of outrageous behaviour. They commonly refuse to accept ‘cover stories.’ Authentic leaders are capable of developing conversations that counter the smothering dominance of psychopaths.

Authentic leaders are open to new experiences. With this openness, they balance:

  • honesty and humility,
  • emotionality,
  • extraversion,
  • agreeableness,
  • and conscientiousness with being.

Authentic leaders put the virtues of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence into action in work and politics. They consciously or subconsciously deploy their signature character strengths. Success comes without the collateral damage that is a common consequence of psychopathic managers.

The question is, how do we distinguish between authentic leaders and psychopaths?

Beware the Character Building Snake Oil

In leadership, management and business writing and training, psychometric personality tests are the most common means of assessing the impact of an individual’s character in the workplace. We all know the most common ones: Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and DISC. There are others. Unfortunately, despite their widespread popularity and use, they have no scientific validity, having been debunked over and again. Science doesn’t support them. People have been trying to classify personality ‘types’ since Hippocrates time, but the scientific literature demonstrates most of it to be nonsense.

This issue also extends to another aspect of assessing personality: character strengths. The most commercially popular test, Gallup’s Strength Finders, again has no scientific validity. It has not been subject to peer review and the results logged by Gallup are held by Gallup.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me as to why people place such faith in these tests. They’re a triumph of marketing over science; sadly not unusual in this day and age. They are in many senses the modern equivalent of ‘snake oil.’

What Can We Do?

The ‘answer’ to this issue lies in science, and I’ll explore that in my next article.