Lead with the best version of yourself.

Personality Typing for a ‘People First’ Army

by Kristen Griest

One of the most critical professional relationships in the Army is the one between officer and NCO command team counterparts. Often described as a marriage, the dynamic of a command team relationship sets the tone for the entire organization for 18-24 months, whether at the platoon or division level. However, despite the importance of this relationship, the Army does not make any effort to align officers and NCOs based on their personal compatibility. While leaders are expected to work well with everyone, we all know what it feels like to meet someone with whom we just seem to “click” – or clash. For something as important as command team alignment, the Army should attempt to orchestrate these complementary relationships and avoid the incompatible ones, both of which are currently left to chance. Aligning counterparts by compatible personalities will maximize personal growth for individuals, increase cohesion and effectiveness of command teams, and improve the overall quality of life for everyone in the unit. Simply put, every person has a personality, and it should be taken into consideration in team-building if we really want to put people first.

Personality Testing Background  

When deciding which test the Army should use to assess the force, it is helpful to look at the history of personality testing. This practice gained widespread popularity in the 1920s when the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung published his landmark book Psychological Types. In this book, Jung introduced the theory that people exhibit one of two personality traits within three separate dichotomies: Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I), Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S), and Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F). Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs expanded on Jung’s work in 1944 by developing the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) which added a fourth personality dichotomy of Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P). The MBTI categorizes individuals into 16 distinct personality types by assigning them a four-letter designation based on their primary traits (e.g. ESFJ, ISTP, etc). However, the MBTI largely fell out of favor with the psychometric community because it failed scientific validity testing and often produced inconsistent results from one test to another for the same individual.

Instead of using the dichotomy approach, several psychologists in the 1970s tried to identify a few key traits that all people possess to varying degrees. Paul Costa and Robert McRae’s Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness to Experience Personality Inventory (NEO-PI) emerged as one of the most prominent personality tests in 1978 and was later revised to include the traits Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (NEO-PI-R™). While this test is scientifically valid and reports the percentage to which an individual exhibits each trait, it does not categorize people into types that can be easily compared for compatibility. Additionally, the NEO-PI-R™ is proprietary, costs thousands of dollars to administer en masse, and requires a psychologist to interpret and deliver the results. While there are some free online tests based on this Five Factor Model, or “The Big Five,” they still do not organize people into meaningful groups that can be easily studied.

The NERIS Type Explorer© (NTE) solves the problems presented by both tests by combining the ability to measure each trait on a spectrum while still maintaining the ability to categorize people into just 16 types. Conveniently, these types closely mirror the MBTI types with the same letter designations and a minor semantic change from sensing to observant (S) and perceiving to prospecting (P). Both the internal consistency within each trait and the test-retest reliability of the NTE were found to be scientifically valid among samples of 10,000 and 2,900 respondents, respectively. The NTE is also free, can be taken on a smart phone in approximately 12 minutes, and provides immediate feedback that can be easily understood by the test-taker.

I propose that the Army administer the NTE to Service Members at every echelon of Professional Military Education (PME), NCOES, and at battalion and brigade command selection programs to inform self-development and to align leadership counterparts in the most effective manner at every echelon.

Maximizing People First

By using personality testing, the Army can maximize the potential of its people by pairing them with the most beneficial counterparts. The Army’s new marketplace system places an emphasis on Knowledge, Skills, Behaviors, and Preferences (KSB-Ps) but often wants Soldiers to possess KSB-Ps that are inherent to diametrically opposed personality traits. According to the traits assessed by the NTE, the Army’s guidance seems contradictory: Be sociable and a good oral communicator (extraverted) but also be a good active listener and reflective thinker (introverted); be a creative problem solver and innovative (intuitive) but also be detail-focused and precise (observant); think analytically (thinking) but also show empathy (feeling); be decisive and orderly (judging) but also be adaptive and tolerant of ambiguity (prospecting). While everyone can and should improve their weaker traits, they can also be partnered with others who will complement their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses, as well as help them develop both.

Matching Personality Types for Compatibility

There are many compatibility theories regarding personality types and there is no consensus as to which is the most accurate, or even if one theory applies to all types of relationships. For instance, one common theory suggests that compatibility is optimized when the inner two letters of two MBTI types are the same and the outer two letters are opposite (e.g. ENTJ and INTP). Without getting too technical, these pairings are believed to have enough similarities to get along well and enough differences to help develop each other’s blind spots.

Applying this theory to command teams would describe how extraverted leaders can encourage their introverted counterparts to be more vocal or fulfill that role themselves, while introverts can advise extraverts on being more tactful and deliberate in their communication. Judging leaders will prompt their prospecting counterparts to be decisive and consistently follow a plan, while prospectors will remind judgers to be open-minded and adaptable to new methods.

In contrast, two people with the same outer traits can exhibit too much of one tendency and not enough of the other. A command team of judgers may automatically resist new ideas even when they could improve the team, or they may stubbornly butt heads if they are decisive about different courses of action. Just as problematic, a command team of prospectors may struggle to get things done on time, if at all, and may appear indecisive to the formation. Likewise, a command team of introverts may not communicate well with their team as a group, while a command team of extraverts may not capitalize on one-on-one feedback sessions that promote individual development and build trust.

For the inner two traits, similarity is preferred when forming a team that needs to quickly be on the same page. Similarity in the inner traits allows people to quickly develop trust and creates a sense that the two individuals “get” each other or have a similar world view. Intuitives often enjoy discussing possibilities, theories, and ideas with each other, while observants tend to bond over more tangible activities like sports, DIY projects, or riding motorcycles. Thinkers will respect each other’s logical, rational approach to decisions, while feelers will appreciate each other’s compassion and empathy.

Conversely, with opposing inner traits, conflict in command is likely. Thinkers tend to view feelers as emotional, irrational, or too sensitive, while feelers may view thinkers as calculated, harsh, or uncaring. Similarly, observant people may become frustrated at an intuitive counterpart’s lack of attention to detail, while an intuitive person may feel their observant counterpart is not focused on the ‘big picture.’ Matching the inner two aspects in a command team allows its members to immediately feel comfortable and understood, as opposed to misinterpreted and judged.

Compatibility theories are simply theories and the one described above accounts for the NTE 16 types but not for its fifth dichotomy of Assertive vs. Turbulent, as the theory was originally designed for the MBTI. However, this theory can only be refined through research, and I think it is a worthwhile investment for the Army to explore which pairings produce the most productive, efficient, and compatible command teams.

Practical Implementation

Fortunately, it would be easy to implement an NTE-based command-team matching system in the Army. As previously mentioned, the test is free, short, and easy to administer and interpret. I propose the Army administer the test at BOLC, CCC, CGSC, BCAP, CCAP, basic training, and each level of NCOES.

In addition to giving Soldiers immediate insight into their strengths and weaknesses, this step will allow the Army to build an anonymous database of personality types by rank and branch for further research. It is important to note that an individual’s type should not be used to place them in a specific position or branch and should not be reported to an individual’s instructor or chain of command.

Instead, Service Members would report their type to the brigade or division psychologist upon in-processing at their next unit to create a slate of new arrival personality types. The psychologist would compare these new types with existing types in subordinate units and advise on their optimal placement in a company or platoon. Psychologists could further advise at command selection programs and the Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA) on how to best align battalion and brigade commanders with Command Sergeants Major, as the compatibility between these leaders affect Soldiers at lower echelons.

It is a common refrain in the Army that the people with whom you work will make or break an assignment, and this initiative would help ensure a positive experience in command, not just for the command team itself but for all the people beneath them.

Criticism     

Skeptics might doubt a person’s willingness to take the test or report their results honestly – won’t everyone just claim to have the “Commander” personality to be better viewed by their supervisors and subordinates?

I don’t think this is a major concern.

First of all, it is in everyone’s best interest to take and report the test truthfully. Honest results will allow individuals to get accurate, useful feedback and will increase the chance they will be assigned a counterpart with whom they “click,” making their command time more enjoyable and maximizing their performance. Additionally, I think a survey of the senior ranks of the Army, whether at BCAP, CCAP, or the General Officer corps would show a diversity of personality types, indicating that there is no one “best type” for success in the military. Even if there are distinct patterns in types at senior levels, this may be a result of like-minded people promoting like-minded people and may highlight an oversight the Army needs to fix. Additionally, I propose the results of these tests should remain between individuals and psychologists to avoid any potential bias of supervisors towards subordinates. If implemented properly, the NTE could be extremely useful in maximizing the potential of every individual, command team, and unit.

Closing Thoughts

While some people may doubt that a personality-based approach could be effective in matching compatible command counterparts, consider the alternative system the Army currently uses, which is nothing at all. Implementing personality typing in command team alignment would be better than doing nothing at all to ensure counterparts are as compatible as possible. By implementing NTE personality typing, the Army can better maximize individual development, personal happiness, and team performance for all its people.

Kristen M. Griest is a Major on active duty in the United States Army and an editor at From the Green Notebook. She is currently earning a master’s degree in Socio-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University with a follow-on assignment as a Tactical Officer at West Point.

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