Friday, July 22, 2011

Can You Improve Your Personality? Yes, and...

I am often asked about the nature of personality. What is it? Am I stuck with it? Can I change it if I want to? By association, can leaders and managers make improvements in their personalities? That is, can a terrible boss become a wonderful boss? Well, that might be asking for too much unless the boss has an epiphany…and…there is some wiggle room for improvement.

I like Manfred Kets de Vries take on personality in his book, The Leader on the Couch:

Personality is the same as character, the sum of deeply engrained patterns of behavior. It’s the stamp impressed on us by nature and nurture, a composite of habits we choose and develop and that gradually drive us. It is central to the way we perceive and present ourselves. Personality (character) shapes ideals, values, beliefs, patterns of information-processing, moral compass and leadership style.

Whew! Rather all-encompassing. This is going to take some work to change.

De Vries is quite optimistic in this regard. You can de-script the unhelpful parts of your “inner theatre”. You can change your perceptions and habits from both your genetic inheritance and early experiences. You can liberate yourself somewhat from the confines of your “programmed” personality, if you wish to.

Twin studies confirm de Vries research. You can seize the opportunity for personal growth because personality has a large “nurture” component. Although how smart you are is significantly determined by the genes from your parents, personality is only about 45% heritable, according to Robert Plomin, Professor of Behavioural Genetics at King’s College, London. You can become smarter in your relationships, beliefs, how you assess information, your ethics and your habits overall. In short, you tweak your personality in good ways.

You can become more conscious. That’s the really good news. Just takes some work at thinking about your thinking and then practicing new habits until they stick.