Personality theories vary. There are more than a dozen theories of personality by as many all-time great psychologists. Each one is different from the other in many ways. Yet we talk about “developing” personality, brand some personality types as “successful” or “good” and even conduct personality tests to ascertain suitability of individuals on certain types of work. While many business-minded practitioners of “psychology” (which mostly is anything but psychology) use the myths about personality to their advantage, with varying theories of personality, the best of psychological theorists themselves have contributed towards the infirmity of the concept of personality.
Broadly, most definitions of the word “personality” mention combination of characteristics, traits, or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character, behaviour, nature etc. Such definitions emanate from the presumption that there are fixable (if not fixed) combinations of characteristics. Such a presumption often turns out to be incorrect because the fact is that each individual is unique and different. With this as in the backdrop, let us explore some common myths about “personality”.
Myth 1: Personality can be “developed”.
The so-called personality development, even if it works, happens through the process of training and the resultant learning. Both through nature and nurture, the individual’s unique personality gets developed in the childhood itself. It is through the normal process of learning and un-learning that behavioural modifications are achieved in later years. However the lifetime sustainability of such learning / unlearning is unlikely. It is because of this lack of sustainability that we often fail to get someone out of alcoholism or make poets out of any one at will. Branding such temporary modifications of behaviour as “personality development” helps people do business, despite its lack of genuine result-orientation.
Myth 2: There are successful and unsuccessful personalities.
No individual is permanently a success or failure. Most successes are attributable to opportunities, situations etc. A successful army commander who wins a battle does so because of the combination of many factors like the morale of the men, weaponry, weather or time. It is also not necessary that he will be a successful corporate manager just because he was successful as a warrior. Branding personalities as good, bad, successful or unsuccessful is hence unrealistic.
Myth 3: Leadership is a personality trait.
Leadership is situational. An individual leading successfully in a particular situation need not be equally successful in all similar situations. Moreover, we tend to feel leadership only in acts / events which are exhibited. Leadership can even be in situations which are not exhibited. A leader can lead at times even by avoiding an action. But, those who are used only to exhibited leaderships mistake such exhibitions as personality and personality traits.
Myth 4: Personalities can be typified.
Each individual is unique in personality. Hence, in the real sense, personalities cannot be termed as types. There are many psychological and psychometric tests which divides individuals under labeled personality types. While it may serve certain broad purposes, it also may harm self-esteem or self-image of people.
Human development actually happens through minds of people. Each person’s mindset is unique. Within certain parameters of nature, nurture and environment, human minds are constantly in the mode of adapting to life’s situations. Helping human minds in this adaptation process in a socially complimentary way can result in universal peace and mutually supportive social living. Unfortunately, the trend world over is to form personality types that suit influential individuals’ perceptions of social living, be it theological, ideological, managerial or administrative. The result is contamination of minds of vulnerable people who get transformed as extremists, militants, fundamentalists, terrorists, dictators etc. World nations can prevent the contamination of minds of people by influential individuals with defective perceptions’ at a minuscule cost in comparison with their huge expenditure on armies, weaponry, intelligence gathering etc. But, in a social order where we look for good or successful personality types, it is unlikely that people wielding authority and power will view the aspect of helping minds of people think, feel and do in a mutually supportive way, because it may not meet their personal goals.