I believe people are an open book. If you watch what they do and listen to what they say over time, I think they give us a pretty good picture of their personality and attitudes. I know that is a sweeping generality, but I think it holds true in most people. And it’s also the best we can do as leaders since we can’t always administer tests to our employees and certainly not to our peers, leaders, suppliers and customers to determine these things.
The key is do you know how to read or are you illiterate?
If you don’t know the difference between personality and attitude when you see and hear it, then these powerful concepts are useless to you. And it matters that you know, because how you work with knowledge about personality is entirely different than how you work with knowledge about attitudes.
Personalities are relatively stable. That’s important because it means that at work, you are not going to change the personality of the people you come in contact with. We are who we are.
I think the value of knowing how to “read” personality is primarily to help leaders understand their own basic personality dimensions, and then to learn to emphasize the positive and mitigate the negative aspects of their own style. It also helps you understand others to know something about their personality – knowledge that you can use to guide YOUR behavior. And your own behavior is the thing you have the most control over at work.
Attitudes, on the other hand, are subject to change. We want to change attitudes because of the belief that attitudes influence behavior. But you can’t just talk about “bad” and “good” attitudes. That’s meaningless and usually represents no more than a “blame game”.
The key to leveraging attitudes is to “read” a specific attitude, for example, satisfaction or commitment. If you can identify the specific attitude working in your constituent, then you can take specific action to change that attitude with the hope of getting a specific behavior as a result.
If I listen to my employee and I hear what I think is low job satisfaction that clues me into the actions I can take if I want to improve satisfaction. If I made the mistake of thinking I was hearing something about my employee’s personality, I would take an entirely different and probably less effective set of actions.
In a future post, I’ll tell you the number one personality trait I listen and look for when I meet new folks.