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.