conscientiousness

Are you teaching your kids to be quitters?

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Not a good thing! Research clearly shows the importance of perseverance in school and in life.

So next time you are struggling with a task in front of your children don’t make it look too easy. By trying and repeatedly failing at a task you are helping children understand the value and importance of persistence.

Many cultures emphasise the value of effort and perseverance. This emphasis is substantiated by scientific research: individual differences in conscientiousness, self-control and ‘grit’ correlate with academic outcomes independent of IQ” wrote scientists at  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

They wondered if persistence and quitting could be learnt. “Does seeing an adult exert effort to succeed encourage infants to persist longer at their own challenging tasks?”

In an experiment they ran at MIT, reported in the journal Science, 250 15-month old children watched adults perform a task getting a keychain attached to a carabiner out of a box.

Half the time the adults easily removed the keychain but half the time struggled before they accomplished the task.

The toddlers were then given their own task – a music box with a big button to press (which didn’t make the music play no matter how many times they pushed it). The idea was to see if the number of times they pushed the button depended on whether or not they had seen adults persevering.

The experiment was stopped after two minutes or after the toddler threw the box on the floor three times in frustration.

The results seemed to support the scientists’ hypothesis. Those children who had seen adults persevere, albeit in an unrelated task, kept pushing the button for longer.

While they are not suggesting this is the only way for children to learn the value of perseverance – they might also learn by just observing adults completing tasks or by being told about the importance of hard work – the study did suggest “the potential value in letting children “see you sweat”. Showing children that hard work works might encourage them to work hard too

It’s good to be reminded that we are role models for our children in everything we do!

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Stop trying to be perfect

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competition_corporate_ladder_1600_wht_6915Employees who put pressure on themselves at work by pursuing perfection are putting themselves at risk of extreme stress and burnout. According to UK research at York and Bath universities.

Perfectionists have high personal standards and are highly self-critical. The personality trait is often associated with conscientiousness (a strong predictor of success), virtue, and high achievement.

However far from giving themselves a competitive edge, it can lead to poorer performance at work.

The trait is also closely associated with burnout –  a syndrome associated with chronic stress which manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishment, and eventual detachment.

I once coached a person who was such a perfectionist and who worked in a PR role for a company that was about to go public. There was a lot of pressure on her so her boss gave her an assistant who was a graduate but had a poor grasp of English grammar and spelling (why does that not surprise me these days?) The result was that she increased her workload double checking all the work done by her new assistant. End result – burnout. She left the company and eventually found satisfaction working as a freelancer.

In work setting where poor performance has negative outcomes perfectionist tendencies can be exacerbated. “Rather than being more productive perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful. If they are unable to cope with demands and uncertainty in their workplace they will experience a range of emotional difficulties” said Andrew Hill, associate professor at York St Johns.

His co-researcher at Bath, sports lecturer Thomas Grant, said “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. Instead diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities“.

Perfectionists need to have better work-life balance and less pressurised working environments together with a greater acceptance of failure in order to mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.

Want something doing?

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relax_at_desk_1600_wht_2896Give it to the busiest person. Or that’s what some say.

Psychologists at Duke University, North Carolina, investigated the downside of being competent at your job and guess what? You probably won’t be thanked for it and will probably be given more to do as a result.

Lazy workers know how to mess up the simplest jobs so they don’t get asked again or to complain about their workload. On the other hand reliable workers  – those who scored high on self-control, a trait similar to the Big 5 trait of  conscientiousness which correlates highly with reliability – get work dumped on them by their colleagues and maybe even worse it happens when they get home too.

In general they found that “people not only have higher expectations of these (reliable) people but tend to assign them more work”. The researchers felt that such people deserved better recognition and more rewards. I can’t disagree with that.

Are Leaders more guilt-prone?

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DSCF1550rWhich employees work harder, are more altruistic and willing to help others, are higher performers, more committed to their employers and able to see the bigger picture?

According to research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business it’s people who are more guilt prone who make better leaders.

Using the TOSCA (Test of Self-Conscious Affect) and performance ratings Francis Flynn and Rebecca Schaumberg found that those employees with higher levels of guilt were also the ones with the higher performance evaluations.

They were also seen as more committed to the organisation and seen as stronger leaders by their peers.

Even stranger you might think is the fact that there were also more likely to accept redundancies as being necessary for the company and carry them out. They may feel guilty about it but they can rationalise layoffs in the interests of the organisation. So they see the bigger picture.

Previous research has shown that being conscientious is a good predictor of employee performance and an important element in effective leadership and recruiters often look for stable extraverted personality types. This is the first research to suggest that employing people who are more neurotic has advantages for the employers.

And you might think that behaving in this way might have a downside for the individuals but according to Flynn they are no more stressed than other employees and don’t have lower levels of job satisfaction.

It seems that there is also a connection between guilt proneness and altruistic behaviour in terms of giving to charities and helping out colleagues.

The research was carried out in a Fortune 500 company’s finance department so may not be applicable in other functions. But it’s intriguing and if you believe that we should have more diversity in terms of personality variables you will probably welcome it.

Source: HBR Jan-Feb 2011 issue

Leadership starts at school

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P1000490If you are a parent or a primary school teacher you probably knew that.

Now researchers Moustaka and Bushnell at the University of Glasgow have assessed late primary and young secondary school children carrying out various tasks including building a tower.

They found that extraversion, one of the Big 5 personality factors, had the best correlation with leadership but they believed effective attachment was important as well.

There were also aspects of narcissistic performance in the team tasks eg “I am very good at making other people believe what I want them to believe“. This supports the view that people born since 1982 are more narcissistic than previous generations.

Typically research into effective leaders identifies personality traits such as extraversion, conscientiousness, and low levels of neuroticism i.e. stability, as being important.

There is also evidence that a percentage of leaders display “dark side ” behaviours including narcissism.

Source: The Psychologist Vol 25 No 3 March 2012 & others

Your partner’s personality adds value

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662Successful people are more likely to have a partner with certain personality traits according to a 5-year study at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

These traits, which help their partners to be advance their careers are: conscientiousness, reliability, and diligence.

These are the traits commonly found in successful executives with conscientiousness linked to success in life generally i.e. you do what you say you’ll do.

The study examined 5,000 married couples aged between 19 and 80 years of age and tracked them over 5 years to see how well they did at work. They also asked them to describe their partners.

Those who progressed the most in their chosen occupation had a spouse who scored high in conscientiousness, regardless of sex.

The author of the study, Joshua Jackson, talking about the results said “ It is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too”.

He said it’s not just about your spouse encouraging you to ask for a pay rise or promotion but the influence of your spouse’s daily behaviour which influences you over time.

Conscientiousness can mean a spouse sharing the domestic chores or emulating the other person’s personality traits making them reliable and diligent employees.

This is where HR has been getting it wrong! Instead of using personality questionnaires to assess the applicant they should be inviting the applicants’ spouses in for assessment as well. Of course that doesn’t help if the applicant doesn’t have one – unless they borrow one for the occasion from a successful friend.