When we come to the job, we bring more than just our skills; we also bring our personalities.
Who we are determines how we deal with situations. Our personalities provide consistency in how we behave and make us distinct from one another.
So, measuring personality is key to predicting behavior, particularly job performance. Decades of research have given us considerably accurate tools to do this. Personality assessments are often used to predict leadership performance, and, of course, those assessments that are professionally developed and researched do a good job of this.[i]
More recently, success in predicting leadership potential has been bolstered by the introduction of assessment tools that measure learning agility. Taking on a new leadership role involves the challenge of dealing with change and ambiguity.
Leaders with a high level of learning agility are in a better position to deal with these challenges. They tend to be quick learners and can adapt to unfamiliar situations as they come along. They are open to trying new things, which is an important component of leadership.
How do personality and learning agility work together to make leaders successful?
That is a question asked by E•A•S•I-Consult® and Hogan Assessments, Inc. in a recent collaborative study. (See Personality Plays a Role in Defining Learning Agility, 2017.) Together, we investigated the relationship between personality, as measured by the well-established Hogan Personality Inventory® (HPI), and learning agility, as measured by the Burke Learning Agility Inventory® (Burke LAI®).
We recruited over 300 participants to complete the HPI and the Burke LAI. Upon completion, each participant was assigned a score ranging from low to high on the seven personality dimensions of the HPI: Adjustment; Ambition; Sociability; Interpersonal Sensitivity; Prudence; Inquisitive; and Learning Approach.
Scores were also determined for the nine learning agility dimensions of the Burke LAI: Flexibility; Speed; Experimenting; Performance Risk-Taking; Interpersonal Risk-Taking; Collaboration; Information Gathering; Feedback Seeking; and Reflecting.
We then looked closely at the characteristics of each participant from a personality perspective and learning agility make-up.
What was the outcome?
As expected, personality and learning agility overlap quite a bit… but not completely! The study provided evidence that personality plays a role in the development of learning agility, but the two are not the same.
The strongest relationship between these two assessment tools was HPI’s measure of Ambition and Burke LAI’s assessment of Speed.
According to Dr. Robert Hogan, cofounder of Hogan Assessments and co-author of the HPI, leaders who score high in Ambition are energetic, driven, competitive and focused on achieving results and success.
Dr. Warner Burke, author of the Burke LAI and professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, explains that Speed, found in learning agile individuals, means acting on ideas quickly so that those not working are discarded and other possibilities are accelerated.[ii] Dr. Burke suggests that Speed is the most important component of learning agility.
These two measures had a statistical correlation of r =.51, (p < .01). In social science terms, this is considered a significant and moderately strong relationship. Still, the relationship did not represent complete “redundancy.” Rather, it suggests an overlap of about 25 percent in the two characteristics.
Other correlations between personality and learning agility were found in varying degrees, from .14 to .39. (p < .05 and p < .01) – again, showing meaningful links between personality and learning agility but with limits.
We know from previous research that different personality profiles predict leadership success in different situations (Hogan, Hogan and Warrenfeltz, 2007) and strength in learning agility also predicts leadership success (Burke, Roloff and Mitchinson,2016; also see Testing the Test: What Science Says About Learning Agility and PepsiCo and EASIConsult Study Learning Agility). Our research here reinforces the value of looking at both when working with leaders.
Ambitious leaders (a measure of personality) who can adjust to new situations quickly (a demonstration of learning agility) are your best bet, especially in a changing environment. But finding them in a pool of possible candidates is half the battle. This can mean the difference between success and failure for an organization.
Ambition and Speed play a large role in this but do not tell the whole story. Other dimensions of personality and other dimensions of learning agility are important, as well. Adding a learning agility measurement, especially the Burke LAI, to a test battery that includes a personality assessment – for example, the HPI – provides a better understanding of leadership potential and offers a way to find leaders with the wherewithal to succeed in this changing world of work.
David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of E•A•S•I-Consult®. E•A•S•I-Consult, LLC, works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E•A•S•I-Consult, LLC’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E•A•S•I-Consult, LLC, visit https://easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI
[i] Those personality tools based on the popular five-factor model are typically the best predictors. Reviewing these assessment tools is beyond the scope of this article.
[ii] Definitions are paraphrased. See the individual authors for full definitions.