John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

It is unusual to have a conversation with a client about a person without some mention of the employee’s personality.

There seem to be many misunderstandings about personality and these seed confusion in any conversation on the topic. Certainly the idea of personality is present in any form of media that describes the actions of people. Some of the richest descriptions are found in the written work of the ancient Greeks and Romans as well as the more recent work of Shakespeare. Each describes a perceived reality.

Personality is the particular pattern of cognitive, emotional and behavioral patterns of an individual. The most compelling description of personality is the research-based Five Factor Model. Because of the nature of these studies, the five factors have many synonyms. I have chosen to use those most understandable. The five factors are: intellect, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability. There are cross-cultural studies that indicate several other cultures share these facets of personality. For an interesting overview go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

Recently there has been an explosion of books on introversion, mostly written by introverts. A recent article in the New York Times was particularly interesting (visit http://nyti.ms/HSPvqs)

Evidence suggests the five factors are normally distributed (bell-shaped curve) and a large portion, around 50 percent of each, is inherited. This means that many of the people you know are introverts.

There are lots of misunderstandings about introversion-extraversion (I-E). Here is a quick overview of what is known.

First, a simple definition of introversion and extroversion: Extroverts are energized by social interaction and the reverse for introverts. I am exhausted after too much social interaction, whereas a dear friend thrives in such situations.

A simple test for introversion: would you rather stay home alone and do something you really enjoy or go to a large gathering of strangers expecting to interact with many new and interesting people?

Myth about introverts: They are interpersonally less skilled. This is nonsense; interacting with others is learned, it just takes more effort for introverts.

For managers the ability to understand peoples’ interaction styles, much of which is shaped by introversion-extroversion, can help effectiveness. For example, you will not get the best results from introverts in group settings that require them to respond quickly.

Managers often mention they accomplish little during the day as they are often interrupted by people coming into their offices. They are probably suffering from the results of an ill thought out policy called the “open door.” Think about who comes in your open door; often not the people you want to hear from and rarely the introverts. Management is an active, not a passive process. If you want information, develop ways to invite people to share with you.

Recently I was driving through an intersection when a person ran a stop sign and hit me. She was talking on her phone at the time. Evidence shows that “multi-tasking” is “fast-switching.” You can do a simple thought experiment to demonstrate this to yourself, but please don’t do it when you’re driving. Habitual multi-tasking results in a serious loss of mental productivity and precludes people from ever experiencing “flow.” Flow is when your cognitions and emotions synchronize to produce very high performance. When this happens, time seems to fly by.

I once worked with a high-performance CEO who closed his door and spend 90 minutes in his office every day after lunch. He noted it was his time to “think about the company.” The organization’s performance indicated he was working “on the company” not working “in the company.”

We live in a fast-paced world where people make little time to spend with themselves in their heads. Research suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. Similar findings indicate leaders are much more reflective and in a study that asked 95 year olds “If you had the opportunity, what would you do differently?” The No. 1 response was, “spend more time reflecting.”

Are you finding some time in your life to “think deep thoughts about the nature of the universe?”

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at www.langhorneassociates.com. His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at www.beyondluck.net.