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05/03/2013
PERSONALITY TRAITS AND SUCCESS AT WORK

This article is the first of a series that will appear in alternate issues of Pneurama and takes a look at personality traits and successful careers.

The close relationship between success at work and professional expertise is one of the most widespread truisms.  Expertise is the most visible and perceivable aspect of a profession; less widespread is an awareness of the extent to which success is rooted in an individual’s personality.
Numerous scientific contributions based on psychological approaches (Cognitivism), neuroscientific approaches (Neuroscience) and on mixed approaches (Neuro-linguistic Programming) suggest the level of difference between professional ability (expertise) and personal traits (aptitude).
Borrowing suppositions from these contributions, I think it would be useful to make the following semantic distinction:
- expertise is understood to be proven knowledge of a profession,
- aptitude is understood to be an individual’s personality traits.
Expertise comprises theoretical models of the methods and specific technicalities of a profession qualified by practising the said profession and represented by professional know-how.
The acquisition of expertise usually assumes training in the tools of the trade and the ability to solve problems by using the tools that have been mastered.
Aptitude represents the basic paradigm, the personal traits that are the implicit guides of perception and therefore an individual’s actions.  Aptitude is the rudder of our existential choices, which charts our existence, frequently in the shadow of our conscious perception.
Obviously, expertise and aptitude cohabit in an individual, professional know-how and  personality are linked, but there are always factors that are connected to specific and diverse psychological dynamics.
Aptitude is built by means of the concrete gymnastics of adaptation/reaction to environments that characterize the subjective adventure of an individual’s life. Environments, events and the people we meet in the early stages of our life trigger positive or negative reflections and implicitly build our future impressions.
Research into the brain’s elasticity in learning processes gives very different results depending on whether we consider expertise or aptitude. It shows that professional expertise can be acquired throughout an individual’s working life.
The same research tells us that an individual’s aptitude tends to be established at around 16 to 18 years of age.
The following are indications for personnel management. Where there is a lack of expertise, permanent education throughout a career is an effective tool. The same cannot be said when there is an obvious lack of aptitude for a specific role. In this case, the educational tool is non-productive and either a different profession should be considered or there should be a change in role within the company that is more consistent with the individual personality, irrespective of the expertise acquired.
Leaving aside the genetic differences that produce individuals with different talents, it has been estimated that the educational environment with its variety of stimuli has a determining influence on the improvement of personality traits. From the fourth month in the womb, the basic genetically bio-determining patrimony (phylogenetics) begins to form the unique and unrepeatable cultural history (ontogenesis) of an individual and with it the perception of environmental stimuli and a non-random adaptive/reactive response. This cultural beginning is followed by the imprinting of a personality (with declining flexibility after infancy) that continues throughout the first twenty years of life. In this first stage of existence, our basic personality repertoire is formed and reinforced.  The repeated game of adhesion–reaction to the reality that surrounds us consolidates the categories of pleasant (aptitude) and unpleasant (non-aptitude).
My experience and that of numerous colleagues involved in company selection and job orientation projects, testify to the still fairly uncommon awareness of the extent to which the consistency of the aptitude profile and what is requested by the profession is determining for personal and professional success.
Even less common is the awareness of a personal aptitude profile due to a lack of availability of cultural models in common use and which are useful for classifying personality traits and concrete signs of their presence. The spread of these models would allow individuals to diagnose their own  aptitude profiles and therefore their consistency with professional profiles. In a labour market that is so rich in potential professionals but also hugely unstable, it would allow timely orientation towards a more motivating profession that would have a better chance of success.
I hope that this sample article will of some use for the next articles that will describe MASPI (a model for listening to individual perception strategies), which I have used in numerous selection activities, potential analyses, aptitude orientation, and has been adopted for 18 years by the Bocconi University of Milan for the selection and orientation of participants in the Master in Business Administration and the new graduate orientation project, with a total of over 9,000 orientation processes.

 

Roberto Vaccani
Educator, organization and organization behaviour consultant and senior lecturer at SDA Bocconi, Milan

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