lifeisaprojectmaine@gmail. com

Click to Email Jim 207-808-8878 Our book "Life is a Project: How are you managing?" is available!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Me and My Personality

Is personality unchanged and unchangeable?
“I Yam What I Yam.” -- Popeye

     “He wanted me to change my personality.”
     That’s what the young woman told staff members after a counseling session. It was the first and last conversation in what had been projected as a series of talks to help her learn management.
     I had been asked to speak with her because, as newly appointed editor of a small weekly newspaper, she had inaugurated her “reign” by summoning the staff members, one by one, to appear before her and her second-in-command to explain why they should keep their jobs.
     Some of those people had been reporting that town for years. They had been fellow staff members with her in her brief history at the paper. They knew her.
     They would have considered this spectacle hilarious if their personal livelihoods hadn’t been at stake. 
     In this particular example, the central figure came from a prominent family that had just sold the paper to a regional organization.  

      The intended discussion of effective editor-manager behavior got nowhere because there was nowhere to start. She had no idea what I was talking about, and exhibited no intention of finding out.
     It was very early in my consulting career. I, like she, hadn’t a clue as to how to communicate with someone who saw such a different picture.
     My own earlier, sometimes-combative management career had taught me much that I apparently had habituated. I didn’t surface it in this situation because it had become a given for me. I didn’t even think of it.
    And that phenomenon was the essential point in this matter. There are givens, assumptions that often drive an entire set of outlooks and the resultant decisions. If you decide that your behavior is inborn, you aren’t about to consider fooling around with it.

     It also can cause people to excuse their own behavior when it isn’t particularly mature or pleasant for others. A person absorbed with personal exceptionalism can excuse his/her own temper displays, sarcasm and other acts of insensitivity.    

     This young editor viewed her role somewhat in that light. The attitude positioned her personality as sort of a DNA-driven template predetermining what she would see, understand and do in any particular circumstance.
     Is that what personality is, and is that what it does?
     Not in my opinion. In essence, she established her performance as editor on the basis of what she knew coming into the job.
     We graduates of the school of hard knocks didn’t do that. We have vivid memories of the early agonies of learning how to perform well in a meaningful new role.
     We also have witnessed what happens – frequently – when people define a problem in terms of what they feel comfortable with. In project management, innumerable shortfalls and failures result from people hoping for unique results from routine activity.
     New situations call for thoughtful response. Good managers analyze unfamiliar requirements, follow problem-solving practices, and devise innovative ways to deal with the matter.

     The easy way can never produce anything better than mediocrity. Doing things the right way may demand discipline, thought and imagination, but the results are worth it.
     What does personality have to do with management? What is “personality,” anyway?
     Personality definitions and descriptions tend to be fuzzy, generalized and changeable. The nearest I came in looking for a meaningful understanding is that personality is an individual’s characteristic ways of thinking, feeling and acting.
     In considering it, I would say the fuzzy-generalized-changeable label is about as accurate as anything when applied to the editor I referred to.
     My own conclusion about personality is that of course it can be changed, if the owner chooses to do so. Seems logical that your changes could include both adding new ways of thinking, feeling and acting and improving the old ones.
     That is, you can learn a brand-new new job and add those dimensions to your personality without damaging it. Instead, you would be broadening and deepening it.
     You also can invest what you already know in this new avenue of thinking-feeling-acting – making it uniquely yours. You can make yourself better at it than those around you who exhibited their own brand of that personality before you ever even heard of it.

     So my personality is what I am, in my thoughts, feelings, in what I do and how I do it. So is yours. One of its most important jobs is to display us to our world. We employ it in building meaningful relationships.
     It’s doubtless changing all the time. Might as well acknowledge that, and take charge of the process.

     Do you agree with Popeye, or with me? Or do you have a third opinion? Let’s see some wisdom from the front. Awaiting your comment.

SEE ALSO: How to Argue





  1. I like your take on personality, Jim. It seems very practical. For me, I think a lot about self-acceptance as a gateway to change, which can seem paradoxical. I've noticed that when I don't especially like something I'm doing/thinking/feeling, I can't just make it go away. But if I can truly accept the reality of it and not fight with it or despair about too much, then it seems to free up some energy for change. Also, trying to change thinking or feeling often takes me down the road of intellectualizing. But recognizing one small thing I can do right now to make a small change seems to get me headed in a better direction.

    1. Thanks for the insights, Bob. We live within our personalities, and if we're not careful we might feel -- as Popeye says -- nothing can be done about it. I very much support your "one small thing" concept, because I believe that is the answer. We change our direction by easing into a non-demanding adjustment. One at a time. It works.