The data are quite clear: employee engagement is the “g” factor in organizational life. Engagement, which is easy to measure, predicts every important organizational outcome at both the individual and the group level. Higher levels of engagement bring better financial results in terms of lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and higher customer satisfaction. When organizations pay attention to engagement, they make more money.
In his NY Times Health section article on November 29, 2010 entitled “A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored,” Charles Zanor described practicing psychiatrists’ responses to omitting Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a mental health diagnosis. For professionals who select, develop and supervise decision-makers, the central concerns about powerful, arrogant managers are more immediate than diagnostic nosology. They include:
1. What is the cost to the organization of failure to identify and coach arrogant, self-absorbed managers?
2. At what point does a manger advance from self-confidence to derailing arrogance?
3. Why can’t we detect that potential risk with in-depth interviews, assessment centers, and detailed examinations of past roles?
4. Are there benefits to the organization to have supremely confident leaders? In fact, aren’t many business books written about just those individuals?
5. How do we harness the strength of bold and arrogant leaders while preventing them from derailing both themselves and the organization?
The potential costs of hiring arrogant leaders are seldom recognized during recruitment interviews. Arrogant leaders seem confident and forward looking in initial interactions, even when they involve multiple interviewers. Arrogant people often perform well in assessment centers because they seem inspiring and resilient. Their arrogance is often not easily seen in the job history because we do not see the wake that arrogant leaders leave behind them. In addition, their former roles were often sufficiently restricted to keep their arrogance in check. The costs of hiring arrogant leaders is substantial, however, because of their disrespect toward team members, failure to develop their direct reports (often out a concern for creating a rival), inability to assess risk, and their penchant for making rash decisions based on a supreme belief in their own skills.
The Hogan Development Survey (HDS), especially the Bold scale, goes much further in assessing the strengths and risks of arrogant managers than do other selection procedures. When a decision-maker’s Bold scale is very high (above 90), the individual is making two basic assertions. First, the individual is claiming “I achieve better results than do most people I know because I am more talented.” Second, the individual is claiming “Because of my superior talent and results, I am entitled to greater recognition, authority and status.”
Many of the negative impacts, both the organization and to the other team members, usually arrive in the medium and long-term rather than immediately upon assuming the role. For example, anyone who has been awake during the past four years has witnessed the costs to the world’s economy of over-reaching decision-makers who failed to assess looming threats, and often also failed to respond to offers of help until it was too late (e.g., Richard Fuld at Lehman Brothers). In addition, the Whitehall study in the UK has demonstrated that supervisors who are disrespectful and demeaning toward direct reports increased those direct reports’ heart disease and death rates. Clearly, arrogant managers (very high Bold scorers) are often not skilled at engaging competent team members.
In fact, part of the risk of high Bold managers is their selection of direct reports. They tend to surround themselves with subordinates whose posture is “If I hitch my wagon to this star, I can become confident too, and will be part of the new vision. This manager is moving up, and I want to be there, cheering. I don’t want to miss this golden opportunity. I get the impression that this individual has the guts to throw the nay-sayers under the bus, but I’ll be one of the people with a good seat on that bus.”
Though extremely high Bold scorers can achieve a great deal, it is prudent during recruitment to recognize the risks. When the organization decides to take the chance that the individual’s self-confidence seen on Bold is a net plus, constraints need to be put in place on the person’s scope of authority and financial discretion prior to his/her first day on the job. “Waiting until there is a problem”, a popular if misguided management strategy, is not a winning formula for extreme Bold scorers. Caution is especially critical if the individual will be chief executive or other senior manager. In those cases, the Board needs to know in advance of the blessings and potential curses that accompany powerful but arrogant executives.
As Zanor’s article indicated, the psychiatric diagnosticians are jettisoning some of the “type” diagnoses in order to adopt a “dimensional” approach, a strategy that Hogan Assessment Systems values. However, we can select “consistent pattern” plus “dimensional” descriptions of individuals. We can pay attention to candidate’s individual qualities (e.g., arrogance as measured by Bold) as well as recognizable patterns (very high scores on Excitable, Skeptical and Bold, usually predicting an abusive autocrat). The HDS, especially when combined with the HPI and the MVPI, can give us a rich picture of an individual that cannot be seen with interviews, assessment centers or job history.
Personality psychology concerns three questions. First, in what important ways are people all alike? This question involves analyzing the nature of human nature. Second, in what important and systematic ways are people all different? This question concerns individual differences. The third question concerns how to measure, in a reliable and valid manner, important individual differences in personality? These measures can then be used to predict practical outcomes—e.g., job performance, career and financial success.
But why are personality data so useful? The reason is simple: (1) The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior; (2) A person’s personality (defined in terms of observer’s ratings) is the summary of that person’s past behavior; so that (3) Personality (defined in terms of observers’ ratings) is the best data source we have regarding a person’s future behavior. Our assessments are keyed into observer ratings and provide an objective way to predict a wide variety of life outcomes, including life expectancy, marital satisfaction , substance abuse, and career and financial success.
The principal statistic used in our research (as well as research in economics, sociology, and medicine) is the Pearson correlation coefficient (r). The value of r can range from -1 (a perfect negative association between two variables) to 0 (no relationship between two variables) to +1 (a perfect positive association between two variables). The validity coefficients found in most medical research are below .20. For example, the correlation between smoking and contracting lung cancer within 25 years is .08; the correlation between taking ibuprofen and reduced pain is .14. Typical validities in psychological studies tend to be higher. For example, the correlation between applicants’ scores in a personnel selection interview (which is an inefficient form of personality assessment) and subsequent job performance is .30, and the correlation between IQ scores and school grades is .70. Our research over the past 30 years has produced validity coefficients that are significantly higher than those typically found in published medical or economic research.
Personality and industrial/organizational psychologists use correlation coefficients to predict individual differences in peoples’ present or future performance. The best way to interpret a correlation is in terms of hits and misses. Imagine we have tested 200 sales candidates on the HPI Ambition scale, and then hired all of them; Figure 1 shows the expected percentages of high and low performers as a function of the validity of the ambition scale, using validities of .00, .20, .30, and .50.
Psychologists define unconscious biases in terms of memories that people repress or drive out of consciousness but that continue to influence their lives in various ways—inexplicable fear of heights or closed spaces or spiders. For psychologists, unconscious biases are almost always pathological in some way.
Recent events in politics and business again show the importance of personal integrity in everyday affairs, especially at the leadership level. Our analysis of the psychology of integrity suggests that the topic, although a crucial element in human affairs, is somewhat more paradoxical than it might appear at first blush.
In Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Carl Jung describes meeting Albert Schweizer (1875-1965), the legendary theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician known for founding a hospital for the poor in Gabon. Schweizer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, and by anyone’s standards qualifies as a great moral figure. Jung reported that he spent two days prying at Schweizer, trying to find the neurotic underpinnings for his moral nobility, and he could find nothing. Then Jung noted that he met Schweizer’s wife, and Schweizer’s narcissism was revealed. Similarly, Erik Erikson wrote a psycho-biographical study of Mohandas Ghandi, the “great-souled father” of modern India, the man who invented non-violent civil disobedience as a way of protesting political oppression, and virtually everyone’s prototype of a great moral figure. Erikson was so disgusted by Gandhi’s hypocrisy and narcissism that he almost abandoned the project. Mother Theresa similarly fails to hold up well under close moral scrutiny.
June 4th, 2010 marked the passing of basketball coaching legend John Wooden. As many people are aware, Wooden was known as the “Wizard of Westwood” for his unmatched success as coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team, leading them to a record 88 consecutive victories and 10 national championships among other accomplishments. What is less widely publicized is the strategy that Wooden designed and deployed in order to recruit, assess, select, develop, and mentor his players into successful individuals on and off the court. This aspect of the coach’s legend interestingly establishes him as not only an innovator in the sport of basketball, but also a pioneer in the realm of talent management.
Three unrelated events have transpired over the last few weeks that have inspired me to share a message with you that you know all too well: translating meaning from one language to another language (accurately) is very tricky business. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton learned that lesson the hard way when she presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift bearing an incorrect translation—one that implied hostility, rather than peacemaking. Clinton presented Lavrov with a orange button which said “Reset” in English and “Peregruzka” in Russian. The problem was, “peregruzka” doesn’t mean reset. It means overcharged, or overloaded. Lavrov called her out on it.
Choosing the right personality assessment for employee selection and leadership development can be mind-boggling. What’s the best solution: recommendations from peers, online research, evaluations in trade magazines? Even more importantly, how can one be sure that a personality assessment provider will supply tools that actually work as advertised? Not all personality assessments are created equal.
Before investing in one, Hogan suggests 12 must-ask questions when choosing an assessment provider.
1. What are the personality assessments designed to do relative to the needs/goals of the customer?
The Hogan Personality Inventory was introduced in 1980.