The EU

Google says the EU requires a notice of cookie use (by Google) and says they have posted a notice. I don't see it. If cookies bother you, go elsewhere. If the EU bothers you, emigrate. If you live outside the EU, don't go there.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Myers-Briggs and the Officer Corps

In today's New York Times is an opinion piece by Professor Mark Moyar, from the Marine Corps University.  In the piece, "An Officer and a Creative Man", Professor Moyar argues that the personality traits of senior officers, particularly in the US Army, are getting in the way of more junior officers effectively doing their job in Afghanistan.

The basis for Professor Moyar's view is two fold.

First, he did a survey of "...131 Army and Marine officers who had served in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or both...". This gave him a basis for seeing how junior officers felt about more senior officers.

Second, he combined the results of his survey with the 16 different personality types as generated by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Professor Moyar, in his column makes the point that we are a more careful society than we used to be:
The climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties than on defeating the enemy. It continues with American politicians and other elites who focus on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq, but rarely point out the far more numerous instances of American valor.
There should be no doubt that he is correct.

He then goes on to tell us that when flexibility and adaptability are required, certain MBTI types are not there:
Researchers have found that the leadership ranks of big organizations are dominated by either “sensing-judging” or “intuitive thinking” personality types. Those in the former category rely primarily on the five senses to tell them about the world; they prefer structure and standardization, doing things by the book and maintaining tight control.

In the late 20th century, the Army gravitated toward standardization, as peacetime militaries often do, and consequently rewarded the sensing-judging officers who are now the Army’s generals and colonels. But this personality type functions less well in activities that change frequently or demand regular risk-taking, like technological development or counterinsurgency. Organizations that thrive under such conditions are most often led by people with intuitive-thinking personalities. These people are quick to identify the need for change and to solve problems by venturing outside the box.
OK, so the Army has more "sensor judgers" in the upper ranks.  I suspect it has always been thus.  My wife recalls that when we went to Army War College in 1983-4 and we all took the MBTI test that we were told that 78% of Army Officers were "sensor-judgers", or SJs.  That compares with 46.4 percent of the US population as a whole.  (I am NOT an SJ, but rather an INTP, which explains everything.)

While Professor Moyar's analysis seems correct, his solution is terrible:
The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group. Many highly successful businesses factor personality testing into promotion decisions; the military, with far more at stake, should be no less savvy.
Precisely because so much is at stake we should not be selecting people for promotion based upon what they scored on a personality test.  We are not hiring people to work in banks.  And, it isn't just which of the 16 categories one falls in, but how far one is in that category.  For example, I am a "P", but close to a "J". The upshot is that, as a supervisor, I tend to be laid back, right up until the deadline comes into sight, at which point I become very goal oriented.  I expect that this personality tick can be annoying to someone working hard to meet a deadline.

At the end of the day, MBTI is not universally known as being reliable.  As the Wikipedia article states, not everyone thinks it works.  As one person commented on line:
If we started making personality tests part of screening criteria, how soon would it be before people started gaming the tests?   Probably a day or two.  I know enough about the MBTI that I could be any personality type I wanted it to reflect.  And what exactly is the right mix? Do we want (or need) a General Officer corps completely filled with George S. Pattons?
In answer to that question re General Patton, the answer is "Of course not".

Not everything that appears in the "Week in Review" is of equal value.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Giving the MBTI test is standard procedure at War Colleges in the United States.
  Someone I know from the web made this comment with regard to the article:  "...that the young Soldiers and lieutenants they are getting from society have been largely developed in a public school system and society that has become more and more risk averse. You pass a note in class about a girl, you are suspended.  Play tag, no more, it is too violent.  Fighting, hell no, you are kicked out.  Then, there is all the Leave No Child Behind BS, where everyone is teaching what to think, training for the test!"


Craig H said...

Hear! Hear!

And let's hear it for NTP's! (My I and E fluctuates).

The New Englander said...

And to the point about gaming the tests, absolutely a valid critique of this guy's idea. If I know they're hiring extroverts, how hard is to say that I'm a social butterfly at parties?

I think the military has ALWAYS attracted by-the-book types who tend to see the world in black and white, but I think the author misses a key point about retention -- LOTS of people from ALL walks of life join the military, for as many reasons as there are people serving.

A SMALL percentage stick around to be "lifers" -- i.e. the 20 years or more types.

When you break it out by personality types, you're going to see certain types of people enjoy the structure that a military career brings, but by and large the people who are your poets, your creative thinkers, your future entrepreneurs, etc. are going to get out and try to carve their own path rather than duke it out in a rigidly structured system.

At the officer ranks, you can't assume anyone who is an O-1, O-2, or O-3 is going to be doing a full career. Once you pin on Major or Lieutenant Commander, it's a different ballgame.

The people who don't mind being in a large bureaucracy where time can sometimes weigh more than merit for promotions are just WAY likelier to be TJs.

Ron Smits said...

Binning people in neat little categories is such an ISTJ activity, it leads one to wonder....

But I agree with Cliff's assessment; the cure is far worse than the described "disease" in this case. The Army has the self-regulating mechanisms in place to ensure mission success. What is (often) lacking is a clear political understanding of the military mission and that there must be other components in place for the military actions to succeed on the Grand Stage of International Relations.

Anonymous said...

About two weeks ago I saw Mark Moyar speak at the Pritzker Military Library here in Chicago. He was touring in support of his new book (which I bought) 'A Question of Command' There has to be a balance of the two types, but it seems that the Military is top heavy with the 'by the book' guys (and gals), and not enough 'out of the box' thinkers. The 'risk/reward' is most often not in their favor, but until that psychology changes, or at least being creative isn't responded to punitively, the row will be tougher to hoe. GREAT BLOG, Merry X-Mas, pontiff alex ==== LEADERSHIP, from the FRONT ala Lt.Col. Allen B. West

Anonymous said...

I am NT rational O-4 (Major) in the Army Reserve. While some enlighted colleagues and higher ranking officers appreciate my out-of-the-box thinking, many do not. And those that do not can very abrasive. I've had similar experiences in the corporate world. I guess these types have so much invested in creating structure that they are threatened when someone identifies flaws in their system.

Anonymous said...

Having served with the Marine Corps and the Army, I have found Army Officers traditionally do not step outside the box and decisions are pushed up the chain rather than teaching their people to make decisions at the lowest level possible. Marines tend to teach leadership very early and decisiveness as well. A Marine has to get better at solving problems and making decisions if he intends to lead and go anywhere in the Corps.