Ignore Psychological Profiles and “Act Like” the Leader You Envision
My European colleagues think we’re a little nuts.
You Americans are obsessed with psychological profiling. You put your leaders through psychological assessment after assessment. And with every new self-assessment you stick them into another little psychological box.
Yes. I know what they mean.
We do it in the spirit of hiring for competencies (translate: a futile attempt to predict mysterious and complex human behavior). We do it to foster self-awareness. And even when we couch assessment outcomes in terms of “tendencies” and “preferences,” the language of a profile immediately defines the tight bounds within which we see another person and ourselves.
My C-level clients can rattle off their psychological profile at the drop of a dime. I’m an ESFJ. I’m a High D, low I. I lead with blue, Jean leads with yellow.
I looked at the website of a professional organization the other day. The majority of board members identified themselves by name and MBTI profile.
Linda Chapman, ENFP
Richard Gonzalez, ISTP
Really? I mean, REALLY?
We have collectively bought into the notion of a neatly bound, neatly labeled self. And here’s the kicker. In my experience, cognitive awareness fosters minimal to no behavioral change. No, it tends to cement a fixed notion of self, and any personal exploration now occurs within the narrow confines of who we think we are.
I began my career as a professional theatre director and acting coach at some of the big acting schools in New York. I imagine Meryl Streep showing up at an audition:
Hi, I’m Meryl Streep, and I’m an ENFJ. I will now do Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet” for you …
I am interested in the leader who exhibits true personal range, not the leader with a fixed sense of self. I’m interested in a bold exploration of all that we are and might be.
Let us switch for a moment from cognitive parlance to performance language, shall we?
Act Like invites a delighted exploration of who I might be. And since whatever I decide to explore hails from my imagination, it is inherently part of who I already am.
Martin, a Swiss native, is the European GM of a global Fortune 500 and an integral part of the company’s Executive Team. He was viewed by his American CEO as being too quiet and passive. A little dry, a little pedantic. After bantering back and forth a bit with Martin, I volunteered the following thought: What do you think would happen if you acted a little more like an American?
We have collectively bought into the notion of a neatly bound, neatly labeled self. In my experience, cognitive awareness fosters minimal to no behavioral change. No, it tends to cement a fixed notion of self, and any personal exploration now occurs within the narrow confines of who we think we are.
Martin liked the idea. We had a good bit of fun, jesting about what “act like an American” might look like.
When Martin and I spoke again after his next executive meeting, I longed to hear how his experiment went:
“I had a blast”, Martin said. And after a short pause he added. “And you know what, acting like an American works with my European team, too.”
Bingo. Act Like transcends the angst of “this is not me” or “this is not who I really am” thinking. Whatever we do when we Act Like is who we already are. It is the self we do not yet know.
Act Like steers us from incremental change toward the bold leap. Act Like circumvents the fixed confines of our psychological profile.
Wanna be an inspirational leader?
Act Like one.
Wanna be an empathetic mentor-coach?
Act Like one.
Wanna be a fearless innovator?
Act Like one.
You’re in charge. You decide what it is you want to be. You fill in the blanks.
And then just start to Act Like.
It’s who you already are.