Know the Theory, Know the Real World, KNOW YOURSELF

Stencilled on the wall of The Refinery’s head office in Vancouver, BC, are some of the team’s shared values. “Know the theory, know the real world, know yourself,” is, in my opinion, a great foundation for success in the field of leadership development. The latter part of this seems simple enough, though knowing oneself requires insight and a healthy degree of self-awareness; something that’s much easier said than done.

During my first week at The Refinery, and in the spirit of practicing what we teach, I was encouraged to complete a few personal assessments – one of which included the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), outlining personality type preferences. Assessments like this are a great tool for personal and professional development. They help us recognize and better understand different perspectives, which promotes more effective collaboration. I leaned in, eager and curious to see how self-validating this assessment would be, which was followed by a meaningful debrief with my MBTI-certified colleague.

My comprehensive report was filled with useful information that can be applied on a day-to-day basis to enhance my communication style, decision-making tendencies, change management and conflict management styles. It validated my preference for flexibility and spontaneity over structure and routine – this may come as a surprise to some who have worked with me, though certainly not those who have come to know me well. While not necessarily by preference, I tend to create structure where I think it’s needed, from scheduling follow-up tasks to carefully prioritizing projects and developing/reviewing metrics to manage activity and measure performance. With that in mind, if I’ve had a busy week filled with formally scheduled meetings or deadlines and you’re wondering if I want to come by for Sunday brunch, don’t be surprised if my answer is, “Maybe. Can I let you know on Sunday?” To create that balance for myself, I’m often reluctant to structure my down time, which allows room for some much-needed flexibility and whatever else happens. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

This out-of-preference weekday behaviour on my part is not uncommon. People can become incredibly skillful at behaving in a way that best suits their circumstances. We adapt in order to be successful. Understanding our preferences and those of others, helps us manage our energy, recognize what type of information we trust and the processes through which we make decisions. To demonstrate how understanding others’ preferences may be helpful, I asked my colleague what my MBTI type meant to her; how might she apply to the real world, what she knows about me in theory.

She mentioned that she and I have similar personality types and almost the same overall preferences in the context of work. “In preparation for a meeting with you,” she mentioned, “I may make little to no adjustments in how I prepare and show up in an effort to accommodate you. Based on our similar preferences, it is likely that we would both walk into a meeting comfortable having a broad discussion, exchange ideas, options and plans, and walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment and understanding of what to do next. For a meeting with one of our other colleagues – a project manager who prefers organization, structure and quick decision-making, I may choose to prepare a little differently. A more detailed agenda could be helpful to ensure order and purpose in discussion, and possibly an outline of follow-up items to ensure we remain on track after the meeting. Because people can comfortably diverge from their preferences, it’s always important to clarify with them what works best.”

I believe that to truly thrive at work and in life, we must take the time to consider who we are, what we value and how we respond or operate with that in mind. When I reflect on my professional career to date, I can recall several moments when I ran dangerously close to burning out. I absolutely loved the work I did and though it took me some time, I realized that what drove me to these low points were all the things I didn’t do  things to better manage my energy, time and relationships. Self-awareness is a skill we all have room to develop further and personal assessments, like the MBTI, can certainly help us put things into perspective.