George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the Irish-born playwright and novelist, was the only writer to win both the Nobel Prize for Literature and a movie Oscar. Shaw was an ardent socialist who, nonetheless, founded the London School of Economics (LSE)—a hotbed of British capitalist thinking. But most importantly, as an Irishman, Shaw was a gifted and intuitive psychologist, and his most famous play, Pygmalion, contains an important practical lesson for the critics of personality assessment.The standard criticism of personality assessment is that people can and do “fake” their responses to the items on personality inventories. The concept of faking is deeply problematical in social life. It rests on the assumption that there is a “real” you and that faking involves pretending to be someone other than the real you. In contrast, for social constructionists, there is no “real” you, there is just the you that you have chosen to be; you then use social interaction to tell other people who you are and how you would like to be treated. More specifically, there is the real you, which is the you that you were as a child—an unsocialized horror, then there is the you that, as an adult, you (more or less self-consciously) pretend to be in public—the socialized you. The maturation process involves learning to fake, to hide the real you. In this way, the answers that you provide on a personality questionnaire would reflect the socialized you, not the real you, the unsocialized horror—unless you avoided the maturation process.In Shaw’s play, the linguist Henry Higgins bets a friend that he can train a cockney flower girl to speak “proper” English and pass her off as English gentility. Higgins selects Eliza Doolittle, and with some effort, trains her to drop her normal way of speaking and, instead, speak “proper” English. Higgins is successful, Eliza Doolittle is transformed, Higgins falls in love with her, and the play ends with her rejecting Higgins and marrying an impoverished English gentleman.Shaw’s play contains at least three lessons for personality psychology. First, there is no real you, there is just the you that you pretend to be in public. Every social performance is an act. Only people who are na?ve, unsophisticated, or psychologically obtuse insist on being authentically themselves. But as the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre remarked, “Authenticity is the mark of a person who has been taken in by his own act.”Second, with some concentration and practice, most people can change their social performances; like Eliza Doolittle, they can learn to fake, except that they are not faking, they are just playing a different role from the one they usually play.And third, some roles lead to greater social acceptance, popularity, and success than others. People who insist on being rude, opinionated, and abrasive aren’t simply being themselves, they are behaving in a self-defeating manner.Returning finally to personality assessment, people present themselves differently using the items on personality questionnaires—this is the essence of individual differences—and some of these presentations will lead to better outcomes than others. But no one is faking when they respond; how they present themselves is a choice, whether it is conscious or not.
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We've enjoyed a lot of positive feedback lately regarding our Hogan Development Survey marketing campaign, which features a number of different animals that "personify" the 11 derailer scales measured by the assessment. These potentially-derailing characteristics aren't necessarily bad (in fact, they can be very *good* depending on your line of work), so we developed a method of presenting them that makes the concept a bit more accessible, and actually injects some fun into the realm of "strategic self awareness." From the print ads associated with this campaign: Every leader has personality traits that threaten his or her success. The Hogan Development Survey is the only business-related assessment that measures performance risks that impede work relationships, hinder productivity and limit overall career potential. The HDS provides valuable feedback for strategic self-awareness, which is the key to overcoming these tendencies and achieving success in the workplace. We discuss the HDS in depth on our website, so be sure to read more about it and tell us... Which animal are you?
Why is it that bad management seems such a universal issue? It seems that anyone who's knocked around any number of "underling" positions in any industry can relate to tales of incompetent, inefficient and often sadistic management. And if this is indeed the case, why does poor management continue to be such a pervasive problem in modern business organizations? Granted, it's fascinating to observe high-profile cases of epic managerial failure (Ken Lay, John Z. DeLorean, "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap), but what made these guys into the forces of destruction they became? And what are the implications of flawed personality in regard to tangible factors like corporate efficiency levels and profit margins? The following piece puts some hard numbers to some difficult questions. The vast body of leadership research that has accumulated over the past 100 years leads to two very different conclusions. On the one hand, many people believe that there is little consensus in the research literature regarding the principles of good management. For example, Hamel (2008) argues that the modern study of management is stagnant and out of date, and Khurana (2008) argues that efforts to create a science of management have failed. In an effort to provide guidance to practitioners, Kramer (2008) reviews the leadership literature and concludes that it is “…a strange mixture of alchemy, romantic idealism, and reason”, and concludes that the lack of consistent, actionable findings disposes some business people “…to wash their hands of the whole subject, talent shortage or no talent shortage.” On the other hand, Bloom and Van Reenen (2007) studied the performance of 732 manufacturing firms in the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany and found that their financial performance was related to the extent to which the companies followed “well-established management practices” in the areas of shop floor operations, performance management, and talent management. The more profitable companies enhanced operations through continuous improvement, set clear performance goals, monitored, reviewed, and discussed performance, and aligned incentives with performance. Bloom and Van Reenen subsequently replicated their findings using an additional 3268 firms, including a large sample from Asia. Four of their conclusions are worth noting. First, there are in fact well established principles of management. Second, companies that use these principles make more money. Third, senior leadership determines the degree to which established management practices are used. And finally, the best run companies are multi-nationals, the worst run companies are government agencies, non-profits, and companies managed by second generation family members. The economic literature clearly shows that: (a) there are principles of good management that enhance organizational performance; and (b) some managers use these principles while others do not. However, Kramer (2008) and other critics are also right—there is little consensus in the psychological literature regarding the characteristics of good managers—cf. Hogan, 2007, pp. 106-109. In contrast, however, psychological research on managerial incompetence does converge, and psychologists have a lot to say about the characteristics of bad managers. Across studies, organizational level, and industry sector, the data show that failed managers have poor interpersonal skills, don’t learn from their mistakes, adapt poorly to change, and lack self-awareness—among other problems. This research is important for both economic and moral reasons. When managers fail, it costs time and resources to recruit, select, and on-board new ones. There are also hidden costs associated with "golden parachutes", missed business objectives, and destroyed employee morale. Lombardo reports that two Fortune 500 organizations approached the Center for Creative Leadership in 1985 for advice on preventing leadership failure (cited in Lombardo, Ruderman, & McCauley, 1988). These organizations estimated the cost of a failed executive was $500,000. Adjusted for inflation, that figure is almost one million dollars in 2008. Similarly, a poll of senior Human Resource executives estimated the cost of derailment to be between $750,000 and $1,500,000 per senior manager (DeVries & Kaiser, 2003). These costs will only grow as the talent pool shrinks (Frank, Finnegan, & Taylor, 2004) Moral considerations also underscore the importance of managerial incompetence. Specifically, bad leadership causes great misery to those subject to it (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control, itself a division of the National Institutes of Health, published a report in 1999 (NIOSH, 1999) containing some alarming data. For example, 40% of workers nationwide report that their jobs are either very or extremely stressful, and NIOSH concludes that problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other life stressor, including finances and family problems. Consider next that organizational climate surveys routinely show that about 75 percent of working adults report that the most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate boss (Hogan, 2007, p. 106). Bad managers are a major health hazard that imposes enormous medical costs on society, and the problem of bad management should be taken seriously for moral as well as financial reasons. What is the base rate of managerial incompetence? In an informal internet survey of 245 employed adults, Curphy asked: (1) how many bosses have you worked for? And (2) how many of those bosses would you be willing to work for again? Respondents were only willing to work for 34% of their former bosses (Curphy, 2008). These results parallel those reported by Shipper and Wilson (1992) using actual organizational data. Table 1 contains ten published estimates of the base rate of managerial failure, which range from 30 to 67 percent with an average of about 50 percent. We suggest that two thirds of existing managers are insufferable and that 50% will ultimately fail.
Today's post is excerpted from the essay "Personality Theory and Positive Psychology" by Robert Hogan and Michael J. Benson. Read More »