Understanding personality and its role in performance

Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 15:29

Guest post by Warren Kennaugh 

Open any management journal or take a closer look at the business press or sports pages and our constant obsession with performance is clear. To counter this ongoing challenge there are often waves of new books on new theories that are finally going to solve the performance conundrum. In the 1990s we were told that ‘talent’ was the Holy Grail. Find, recruit and keep talented individuals and the results would follow. Only that didn’t quite pan out. 

Another more recent wave or hot topic was neuroscience. The pitch this time was that if we could just understand how our brain worked we would be better able to elevate performance and avoid ‘brain freeze’ or unhelpful ‘fight or flight’ responses in the boardroom. Books on the subject poured out of publishers and whilst many of the best ones were really interesting they never really made the transition into practical insight to help individuals or teams boost performance. Behavioural science soon came to the party to help us why we did what we did and motivation was dissected in detail but again while interesting, they were often bereft of practical value.   

So if it’s not talent, neuroscience, behaviour, intelligence or motivation that underpins performance what is it?


Personality and fit

The more an individual understands the various dimensions of their own personality and therefore appreciated their natural strengths, characteristics, skill set and values the more they can orchestrate ‘fit’. By matching who you already are and what you already do naturally to a role and environment that requires and values those skills the higher your performance will be.  And to make life easy - there is only three areas you need to look at in order to achieve the type of consistent high performance that everyone is so desperate to find.

All we need to know to unlock high performance is:

  1. What we do when left to our own devises - so our natural, instinctive behaviours
  2. The motives, values and preferences that are ultimately driving those behaviours, and
  3. What we will consistently do to derail our performance - especially under pressure. 

Contrary to popular opinion high performance is not so much about what we do – despite that being the consistent theme in almost all performance improvement programs – but how we do what we do, why we do what we do and where we do what we do.  In fact the only important consideration regarding what we do is what we do to screw things up!

Once we know these things about ourselves we can orchestrate ‘fit’ which in turn facilitates high performance.

High performance is no mystery

The reason high performance appears so elusive and mysterious - showing up one day and absent the next - is because we are almost always focusing on behaviour or the skills, knowledge and experience that we bring to a sports or corporate team.  We are therefore so busy looking ‘outside’ ourselves for the answer that we universally fail to look ‘inside’. As a result we completely dismiss the impact of personality on performance.

Of course the idea that personality could matter is daunting. It can feel a little like opening a can of worms because people are fickle, confusing and often contradictory.  As a result no one wants to touch personality. Even if a few brave souls do have a look they rarely dig deeply enough into the unique ‘wiring’ of the individual. However when we do we can very quickly uncover the processes we use time and time again to deliver results, the inconsistent randomness disappears and predictable consistent performance emerges from the chaos. We can literally ‘turn on’ high performance.

So forget about the newest wave, fad or system ‘out there’ - instead unpack some fundamental realities about your personality including your intrinsic needs, motivation or purpose, your favoured patterns of behaviour for meeting those needs and how you sabotage yourself under pressure. Armed with just those three insights you can finally take charge or your performance, success and happiness by ensuring you are in the right place doing the right thing in the right team or organisation. 

Warren Kennaugh is a Behavioural Strategist who works with elite corporate leaders, gifted professional athletes and world leading teams. He is a speaker, researcher and consultant who is the author of FIT: When Talent and Intelligence Just Won’t Cut It (Wiley). See why the elite work with him at www.warrenkennaugh.com or contact at wk@warrenkennaugh.com