Self-Taught MBA: Self-Knowledge and Success
How psychology’s five character types, and my Three Lenses model, can help you audit your business personality to leverage your strengths.
Self-knowledge takes a lifetime to acquire, only because when you’re young, it’s easy to confuse who you’d like to be with who you are. Time allows you to watch yourself over the years and, if you’re honest, see how your actions and outcomes square with your self-image.
Some of what you see you may not like. We’re all too human, and we all have failings. However, an honest self-appraisal will help you calibrate your business (and life), just as an accounting audit reveals your business strengths and weaknesses, and allows you to develop strategies to exploit those assets and mitigate liabilities.
Psychology can help in your self-assessment. Just like college students take aptitude tests to help them decide on a career, you can take a personality test to understand your nature and how it helps and hinders you in business.
The Five Types
If you Google “business personality types” you’ll find plenty of articles about the five personality types, first identified by Wilhelm Reich, a colleague of Sigmund Freud, and how these five personality types work in business relations. Psychologists have expanded on Reich’s initial work and developed the five types now recognized in modern psychology under the acronym OCEAN.
In broad terms, the five predominant personality types described under OCEAN include: Open to experience (adventurer, entrepreneur); Conscientiousness (perfectionist, manager); Extraversion (social, salesperson); Agreeableness (collaborators, team builders); and Neuroticism (complicated, some of your clients).
Of course, people are not that simple. Nobody is just one personality type; we all combine them to different degrees, creating the unique expressions that make us individuals. Nonetheless, it’s useful to identify predominant traits and see how to leverage and curb these to your benefit. If you’re curious, you can take the test online: just click here.
As a business owner, you will likely find you have high marks in extraversion, conscientiousness, and assertiveness—substrates within the five personalities. The psychologist’s five personality types and their implications provide a useful tool for understanding yourself, and your interaction with others, especially in sales, where understanding the full implications of a personality type can help you assess a potential client and tailor your presentation.
However, for running a business, I have my own character assessment that speaks directly to focus and leadership style. I call it the Three Lenses.
The Three Lenses
Many successful entrepreneurs have the macroscopic personality type, which is characterized by seeing the big picture while aiming to achieve big goals. Macroscopic personalities can spot opportunities on the horizon because their eyes are trained on the future. They enjoy the forward march, and based on their sweeping vision, will often start a business and undertake new ventures.
On the flip side, macroscopes tend to dislike fussy details, and can overlook inaccuracy and informality. The Achilles heel of macroscopes comes with poor execution, which is why once companies mature, entrepreneurs are often retired in favor of professional managers. We just witnessed this with Travis Kalanick, who recently stepped down as CEO of Uber.
If you are a macroscope, you may want to have a partner or associate with a microscopic lens, that focuses on details and crosses all the Ts.
Many successful military field commanders and business managers have a microscopic focus, for whom no detail is too small to get right. The microscopic focus sees successful results as the sum of all the building blocks laid precisely. Builders often have a microscopic vision that mirrors the accuracy and tight tolerances of skilled trades. Doctors, accountants, and lawyers fall into this personality type. If I have the house built, I want a microscopic focus on the details. Contractors with this personality type make excellent home builders, cabinet makers, and trim carpenters. They often fail as developers.
Wading deep into the weeds, a microscopic focus on construction details, punch lists, and accuracy in purchase orders leaves little time for dreaming up new ventures, exploring new markets, or seeing the storm clouds accumulating in the horizon. Many builders swept under recessions lament how well they did their job, how precise their trim, how tightly sealed their building envelopes. They focused on excellence in craft or business organization and thought this would sustain them. Unfortunately, business is more than craft and more than management. Something many business management books neglect to say is that you can do everything right and still fail.
The Achilles heel of the microscopic focus comes with ignoring external opportunities and threats.
If you have a microscopic lens, you will manage the day-to-day business with competence and remain successful while the economy and the culture allow you to run the business as usual. Should you wish to grow quickly or develop new ventures, and hedge against adverse economic currents, you may want to engage a partner or associate with a macroscopic view that focuses on the big picture, and knows what’s going on all over town and who’s doing what and how.
Bifocal: Most of us run small businesses without complimentary partners or a diverse board of advisors.
To compensate, you must either develop bifocal skills or hire out complimentary expertise. This is easy for macroscope, who can hire good help.
Don’t fall to into low-bidder pitfall. When a gifted general has mediocre soldiers, even a brilliant battle plan can go down in defeat. If you’re a macroscope, hire the best lawyers, accountants, managers, and subcontractors possible to assure, through delegation, that the smallest details are well executed. In this, it’s important to surround yourself with independent thinkers who will insist on doing things correctly, even if sometimes they slow you down.
It’s much harder to hire farsightedness. However, some very good contractors have relegated the position of CEO to a macroscope, even if the individual had no construction experience. You will often read about large corporations that hire CEOs without any direct experience in the specific business. In fact, CEOs with specific business experience tend to perform poorly compared with outsiders. This is because the microscopic view often impedes a clear view of the horizon. Knowledge of details can find you looking for a way through the maze, instead of charting a course o’er and above the devilish details.
If you hire an experienced CEO with vision who’s green to construction, he or she will not compete with you in operations, where your experience can maintain quality control.
But you don’t have to hire vision—you can take inspiration and even advantage of industry trailblazers by simply reading about their entrepreneurial ventures in trade magazines and business books.
Study the trends in our industry, and see how these may affect your business, and how others have found new and profitable niches. Many successful businesses were based on perfecting somebody else’s entrepreneurial idea. You’ve no doubt heard of Mark Zuckerburg, who stole his Harvard classmate’s idea and turned into one of the world’s most recognized brands, Facebook. You have never heard of TechRadium, which came before Twitter, or Billpoint, which came before PayPal. In every instance, it was the best execution that triumphed.
Photo credit, with thanks: Joe Haupt on Flickr