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Jennifer Wilson

Does My Personality Let Me Off the Hook on Performance?

Four personality traits that may make a difference.

June 27, 2011
by Jennifer Wilson

We study and teach on diversity, an element of which includes exploring personality differences and team work. It is fun to watch people realize why each of their team members behaves the way that they do — and to see them forgive one another for irritating habits and accept each other’s differences.

What we are often asked, though, is to what degree should you accept behaviors that don’t seem to “fit” on your team, when the behaviors are attributed to innate personality preferences. Asked another way – does your personality or the way that you were created, let you off the hook for some things that are traditionally expected in your job?

For example, certain personality types prefer a spontaneous, flexible life, staying open to new possibilities. They tend to let life happen and avoid anything that feels too structured or orderly. They may act as if they have all of the time in the world — where others with a need for more order and planning may view their more flexible, laidback colleagues as lacking a sense of urgency, being messy, disorganized or not structured enough.

In public accounting, having a high sense of urgency, where deadlines are prevalent and a commitment to order and accuracy (like keeping workpapers in a certain order and making sure everything ticks and ties) are characteristics that are valued. Does that mean that a person can’t succeed in public accounting if they don’t have these characteristics? Or, should the firm accept the person’s tendency to gravitate away from structure and find a way to augment them with some “orderly” assistance to enable them to meet the structure and timing-driven requirements of the job?

To help you decide, let’s explore four ideas related to people, personality and performance:

  1. Personality is only one element that makes each person on your team unique. People are the product of so many things– their birth order, cultural background, family norms, the age of their parents, their generational affiliation, their gender, their socioeconomic background, education, prior jobs and more. It is important to understand each person’s history, preferences and motivators to really understand what drives their behavior and performance.
  2. We need people with diverse personalities, backgrounds, skills and abilities on our team and should strive to match each person’s position to their strengths, including personality strengths. For example, some people are better technicians or project managers. Others are better business and people developers and those who are not capable of taking on these activities — due to skill or preference — should not be “forced” to do so. That said, the abilities to develop new business and/or mentor and develop people are unique and highly valued skills. Those who are able to do these things well are typically paid more and ascend to positions of higher leadership than those who cannot.
  3. All people should be given the opportunity to modify their behavior to meet the norms of your firm’s culture and the expectations of their position. Regardless of a person’s personality preferences, each person should be allowed to prove that they are capable of fulfilling their role and be told, through straight talk and constructive feedback, how they need to adjust their behavior or results to meet the position and firm requirements.
  4. There should be expected results from every position on a team. If a person on your team is not meeting them and you’ve given them the opportunity to improve without success, your choices are to:
    1. Accept their limitations and modify your expectations,
    2. Find another role for them in your firm that is better suited to their skills, abilities, interests and behaviors or
    3. Consider helping them to pursue a career outside of your firm.

What’s the Answer to the Headline Question?

So, my answer to my title question is “No.” Your personality preferences and other character traits that make you special and unique don’t let you off the hook for meeting the performance expectations of your position.

Ideal teams have people with different personality attributes and preferences so that some will lead and others will follow, some will sell and others will deliver and some will take risks, while others express caution. Great leaders strive for diversity without sacrificing their team’s commitment to perform and deliver results.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.