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There have been plenty of discussion and writings about sexism, racism and age-ism. Have you noticed personality-ism, though?


Let me offer a few examples I have personally heard of or experienced…


Situation 1: A HR professional told me that the parent company of his firm had used a personality profiling tool as part of their talent assessment process and eliminated candidates who showed up as introverted. The assumption: Introverts do not have leadership potential.


Situation 2: A senior manager was unsuccessful in obtaining a more senior role despite doing the best strategy presentation out of all the candidates. The feedback from the recruiter who was on the interview panel included “Can he step up and go to war?” “Too polite” “His team is too happy.” The assumption: You have to have a dominating, less polite/supportive leader to be in a senior position.


Situation 3: A recruiter told me of a candidate she put forward to a client who had successfully managed multi-million dollar projects and was perfect for the role. The candidate completed a psychometric test and it indicated he was more on the introvert and agreeable side of the scale. The hiring manager said he didn’t want a “pussy cat” and decided on another person. The assumption: Having an introverted and agreeable leader means that they will be too ‘soft’ and not deliver.


Situation 4: A senior manager applied for a more senior role in an area which is broader than what he had managed in the past. He was going to prepare by studying the other areas he had not been exposed to, do some research into the challenges and trends in the areas. When he shared with his manager that he had applied for the senior role, he was told to go to acting classes to improve how he presented rather than focus so much on content. The assumption: Style is more important than substance.


Situation 5: A highly qualified senior leader was rejected for a role she applied for and was told that she didn’t display ‘strong leadership skills’ to handle the aggressive workplace culture. In other words, she didn’t have a dominating, alpha style to match. The assumption: You need a dominant, alpha style to handle aggressive behaviours rather than a different style which may de-escalate these behaviours.


Situation 6: A colleague I admired for her influencing and organising skills went through a leadership assessment centre with 200 others. She was told that she had limited leadership potential, as she did not demonstrate ‘leadership’ in group situations (ie. Not taking up enough air space). Her confidence was shattered and I felt her incredible influencing skills were overlooked due to an assessment that happened over a day rather than seeing the results she achieves over weeks. The assumption: Leadership is about speaking up and taking up air space.


So do you think there is personality-ism? What examples have you seen/heard of?


Prof Adam Grant, Francesca Gino and David A. Hofmannhas write about their study HBR The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses that introvert leaders are more effective than extrovert leaders when their teams are proactive.  


My own research into Quietly Powerful Leaders show that quieter leaders can be highly effective, especially when they demonstrate attributes such as being comfortable in themselves, humility presence and purposefulness.


Organisations are missing out on incredible talent and leadership strengths with this kind of personality-ism. Quietly Powerful is working to change that. The issue cuts across other forms of diversity – this unconscious belief about what good leadership looks, sounds and feels like will hold back progress in all of the diversity and inclusion efforts. Not only that, this is a leadership, talent and culture issue, where the best person may not be getting the critical leadership roles in organisations.


Relevant articles:


Strong leadership ≠ dominance

The definition of what good leadership looks like needs an update

We all want leaders who listen. So why don't we have more quieter leaders?

Quietly powerful is not just about introverts

Fixing people who don’t fit

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