Military Review English Edition March-April 2016 - Page 57

THE BIG FIVE nearly all students surveyed believed that “the MBTI made them more aware of themselves and others, with 74 percent indicating that it caused them to change their behavior relating to others.”2 Despite the glowing reviews, and the high regard the MBTI seemed to command, the NRC report surprisingly noted that the use of the MBTI was “troublesome” and concluded that “the popularity of this instrument is not coincident with supportive research results.”3 In other words, while the beloved MBTI is often accepted and acclaimed throughout the Army, there is no scientific foundation justifying its popularity. It may be of some consolation that the Army is not alone in this peculiar situation. After all, eighty-nine of the Fortune 100 companies also use the MBTI even though research consistently shows that its reliability and validity are on par with tarot cards, horoscopes, and fortune cookies.4 But why is the MBTI so enduring, especially in the Army, if its effectiveness is so lacking? One of the main reasons for the popularity of the MBTI is that its use is often one of the rare occasions when Army leaders can make a serious attempt at self-awareness. The MBTI is usually administered in a nonthreatening school environment; Army leaders are buffered from the frenetic operational tempo that discourages most personal reflection. Even though research has shown that the MBTI is of little value in leader development, its administration may be one of the few institutionalized opportunities in the Army for self-awareness.5 Another factor contributing to the popularity of the MBTI is that it is refreshingly upbeat. There is no shame in being more feeling than thinking, and no matter how one answers the MBTI questions, none of the sixteen personality types will ever suggest that an Army leader has toxic tendencies. Finally, the MBTI may be popular because of the Barnum effect.6 The Barnum effect, named after American showman P.T. Barnum, suggests that individuals will find personal meaning in statements that could apply to a broad range of people. Because the MBTI’s cheerful personality descriptions are vague and general, there is a tendency to view the personal feedback as highly accurate even though the descriptions could apply to just about anybody. In spite of its shortcomings, the MBTI manages to persist in popularity in today’s U.S. military. It is still administered at the Army War College and senior MILITARY REVIEW  March-April 2016 leaders still trot it out as a leader development asset. For example, Rear Adm. Margaret Klein, the secretary of defense’s senior advisor for military professionalism, recently suggested that the MBTI might be a potential tool in the prevention of senior leader ethical transgressions.7 This continued affinity toward the less than optimal MBTI points to the critical need for some sort of personality assessment in the development of military leaders. The good news is that an alternative assessment—one that is both scientifically grounded and suitable for leader development—exists and is gaining attention. The Big Five After half a century of scientific studies, most psychologists today believe that there are five broad personality traits that consistently emerge when analyzing human personality. These five factors—often referred to as the “Big Five”—are able to describe an individual’s personality with each factor addressing a specific and unique aspect. The five factors together form a combination of qualities or characteristics that make up a person’s distinctive character or personality.8 The Big Five factors can be represented by the acronym OCEAN: Openness encompasses curiosity, creativity, and imagination. It includes subtraits such as aesthetics, feelings, and ideas. Open people enjoy new restaurants, love to travel, and regularly rec onsider their values. Low openness people, on the other hand, tend to prefer the familiar, appreciate a routine, and are usually more conservative. Conscientiousness is centered on impulse control and conformity. It is reflected in competence, self-discipline, and order. A high conscientiousness person is confident, well-organized, and driven. People who score low on conscientiousness tend to be easygoing, untroubled when things are not tidy, and less goal-oriented. Extraversion is marked by energetic engagement with the external world. Army leaders classified as introverts with the MBTI are often surprised to receive moderate to high extraversion scores with the Big Five. This is unsurprising, since there are many Army leaders who prefer to be quiet, but when required, will take charge and be assertive. Agreeableness reflects a concern for social harmony. It includes trust, altruism, and tender-mindedness. Individuals high in agreeableness are less inclined to 55