A person completes a personality assessment. He or she then receives individual feedback on his or her personality profile. If the assessment is worth its salt, the person probably agreed with much of the interpretation and was challenged or surprised by the rest. For the feedback that resonated with him or her, the likely response was, “Yep, I knew that about myself. Now I have a test that validates it.” For the surprising feedback, the likely response was, “Interesting. I didn’t know I was being perceived in that way.” Now what? What does this person do with that information? The way I see it, the person now has an excuse for that behavior or an opportunity to improve it.
Purely for academic purposes, let’s say that I scored low on the Prudence scale from the Hogan Personality Inventory. This means that people tend to perceive me as someone who is flexible and open to change but also someone who is not always detail-oriented and can be impulsive at times. What do I do with that information? One approach would be to use it as an excuse or a crutch. When I overlook a detail and it affects the outcome of a project, I can simply say, “Yep, that’s my low Prudence coming out!” and laugh it off. People will come to expect that Kevin is not a details guy and may expect me to focus on bigger picture issues instead. However, what will also happen is that people may begin to not trust in my ability to deliver a high-quality, well-proofed work product, and I will miss out on opportunities for challenge or advancement. This would ultimately affect my career success.
Continuing with this hypothetical example, a second approach to using this information about my lack of conscientiousness (not to be read as conscience) is as an opportunity. If I am serious about having a successful career, I should use the results of my personality assessment to leverage my strengths and develop my shortcomings. If I am working on a project with a tight timeline and I notice my natural propensity to cut corners or fudge over details starting to rear its head, I can seize the opportunity to take extra care and create the highest quality product I can. By intentionally changing my behaviors to do what may not come naturally and what others would not expect me to, I am effecting change on my reputation, which will ultimately have an effect on my success.
All of this being said, the irony is that the choice between Excuse Avenue and Opportunity Road is largely based on personality. People who are naturally open to feedback and change and driven to be successful are those who are more likely to take a right on Opportunity Road, while those who are resistant to feedback and change and not particularly motivated will take a left on Excuse Avenue (which runs parallel to Easy Street). The good news is that the same high-quality personality assessment will identify the likely path the person is to take. From that assessment, we can identify those individuals who may need a bit more help steering toward Opportunity Road if we are serious about investing in their success.
At the end of the day, there is always a choice. We can ultimately decide whether we want to be who we are now with all of our warts, caveats, and excuses, or if we want to be the more successful versions of ourselves with fewer warts and more opportunities…however you define that success.