Whether you’re cautious and skeptical, bold and imaginative, diligent and reserved, or present other featured personal characteristics listed on the Hogan Development Survey scale, you may be in for a surprise. Each of these commonly-identified strengths has a ‘dark side’ component that is less familiar, but may be no less influential on your character.
These so-called ‘dark side’ traits get their name not only because they are normally hidden from view, but also because they have potentially crippling negative effects under the wrong set of conditions. The fact that they are cloaked in traditionally positive descriptions makes them all the more difficult to identify and therefore fix.
Consider the cautious person. They check their own work, avoid promising more than they can deliver, and take pains to avoid making mistakes. All of these tend to be good habits, but when taken together, they can lead to an unwillingness to take risks or voice new ideas. Cautious people may do very well in specific roles that have already been carved out within a company, but they are very unlikely to be the entrepreneurs who start the company in the first place, particularly if these cautionary instincts play a dominant role in the personality.
Bold personality types may indeed be conducive to entrepreneurial behaviour, but extremely bold people can be arrogant, self-centred and less likely to listen to reason when their ideas take them off track. By the same token, diligent workers tend to be meticulous at their craft, but if left unchecked these same instincts could turn them into micromanaging perfectionists who can be unduly critical of the efforts of colleagues.
There is an essential balance that is often missing from our conversation when we discuss these virtues. If there is a recipe for greatness in human affairs, much of it must be centred around moderation. In just the same way that a dish needs salt for flavour, but too much salt can ruin it entirely, so too can an overdose of one ingredient derail a personality.
At Mentis, we focus our analysis and training on 11 such categories of ‘dark side’ personality traits, helping to guide our clients toward effective performance and leadership by restoring balance to the way they interact with the world. The symptoms of imbalance can take many forms, but often they include an unwillingness to work well within a team environment, make effective decisions or adapt to new situations in a work environment.
In many cases, the negative consequences of a dark side trait become evident only when the individual is put under an inordinate amount of stress. While this characteristic of sitting dormant has the benefit of leaving most of the person’s life unaffected, it also carries the unfortunate consequence of appearing at the worst possible moments, thereby magnifying the damage it can cause. Moreover, for people whose dark side rarely appears, this very rarity makes the phenomenon much harder to recognize, understand, and counteract than it would otherwise be.
For all of the above reasons, many people are fooled into noticing strong virtues in themselves and considering these to be their very best qualities. Awareness of one’s shortcomings, however, is a precondition to alleviating them. It is only by correctly identifying our own failures that we can challenge ourselves to change them, and reach our true potential as a valuable member of a successful team.