Michael Caulfield: My take on personality profiling
Written by Michael Caulfield — February 9, 2022
MANY years ago, I qualified - officially and expensively - as a fully-fledged MBTI (Myers–Briggs Type Indicator) practitioner.
The origins of MBTI go all the way back to before the Second World War, with research by American Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, which was heavily influenced by Carl Jung.
The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst believed that people were of a certain type and that you could predict their behaviour based on this. Part of my own studies have been around understanding human development over the years and personality types and preferences.
We all have our own preferred ways of living, I think this is beyond question. What I wanted to do was to find out more about this and how it impacts the make-up of teams and organisations and individual athlete preferences.
This is why I first became interested in MBTI, which was the go-to personality profile when I was studying. I started using them 18 years ago and can remember doing MBTIs when I joined Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate in 2006.
I’ve known personality profiling to be used in all walks of life for many years. Chances are that you have too. If you went for a job as the Head of HR at HSBC, for example, then you would have to fill in a personality profile, there’s no doubt about it.
But here’s the thing: I use them less now than ever, for the right reasons. As I’ve got older and more experienced, I've found that people tell me who they are and what they are, rather than having to fill in forms in order for me to find this out.
I’d rather have a relationship than a questionnaire all day long. If you asked me about a certain player in a team I’m associated with at the moment, then I wouldn’t need a questionnaire to confirm what I already know.
A personality profile might tell you that a person is a very calm, quiet, reflective thinker. Brilliant. But he or she might still kill your dressing room in five minutes flat, which it won’t tell you.
Or someone might come out as a certain type, but when they’re fighting for their kids’ lives they become a different type. When you’re tired and hungry and under stress you’ve really got to rely on your instincts and a different personality may exhibit than when you’re calm and not under pressure.
There weren’t personality profiles in the days of the great explorer Ernest Shackleton, who had to rely on his relationships and his skills in judging a person to form teams. That’s pretty crucial when you’re going to spend three years together on a boat stuck on the Antarctic.
Saying all of this, I do still believe that personality profiles can be a useful part of the jigsaw in my job if used at the right time and in the right way.
HOW THEY WORK
There are many types of personality profile but, as I’ve said, the one I’ve used is MBTI. I won’t ever just say to a player, ‘Fill this in.’ They’ve got to want to find out about themselves. If they think you’re spying on them it can go horribly wrong.
I’d rather form a relationship first and say, ‘This might help you one day.’ I still want to treat players as living breathing emotional human beings.
They are not performance tools, they are not magnets on your tactics board, they are not your piece of private research, and I try never to treat them like that. My job is about trust and timing, it’s not about me or making myself look clever.
I dug out one of my old questionnaires in preparation for this piece. You answer 88 questions, for example:
- Are you easy to get to know or hard to get to know?
- In getting a job done, do you depend on: A) starting early, or B) the extra speed you develop at the last minute?
- Do you consider yourself: A) a practical person, or B) an ingenious person?
In the end, you feed in all the answers via manual scoring and get a guide as to who you are - your profile. It can be fun, it can be interesting, it can be helpful, but I’ll repeat again: it’s a guide.
I will feed the findings back to the player or staff member and say, ‘You are ISTJ,’ or whatever, and then, ‘Can I share this with the Director of Cricket or Head Coach’ or whoever. If they don’t want me to, then of course I won’t. If they do, then all well and good.
Some people do feel that profiling can be too intrusive and, ‘It’s got nothing to do with you’, which is fine, we won’t start the process unless they change their mind. That’s why you’ve got to be careful when you go deep into someone’s soul.
I did go to one Head Coach at a former club and gave him a questionnaire and half an hour later he came back and said, ‘It’s not for me Michael.’
That was seven or eight years ago and he was a brilliant player who is now coaching at the highest level. It turned out he was a very private man, a good man, and we’re still friends to this day. He turned me down, but I didn’t take offence at that, I respected that.
HOW THEY CAN BE USEFUL
These insights on personality can be useful in helping inform how you deal with players and how they fit into your teams.
For example, using the MBTI could help you to identify that someone is a reflective, thoughtful, quiet figure, so the worst thing you can do is say, ‘Give us five minutes on what you think in the team meeting,’ without giving them any notice.
I worked with one player who was asked to address the team as we reached the crucial part of the season and he said, ‘I will, but can I do it tomorrow?’ He wanted time to really think about what he was going to say, because that was his personality type.
I can remember a pre-season tour with another team, when we were coming up against a side we’d never played before. On the Thursday before, one player came into the office and asked the analysts whether they had a CD on the opposition (it was a few years ago!)
The analysts said, ‘Sorry, there is no real information on this team’ and the player looked genuinely perturbed, ‘I hate playing without information.’
I made a note on this and spoke to him later and he said, ‘I like information on every opponent, that’s how I get properly prepared for the game.’
I’ve done workshops in the past with an entire squad and staff who have been profiled and said, ‘There are 24 of us here this season. We have eight who are very quiet and introverted and six who are outgoing extraverts who don’t want too much information.’
As a coach, this is useful information. You know that this player loves process and information, this one likes to wing it.
When I came into football, I challenged the notion of naming the team at 2pm on the day of the game ‘to keep them on their toes.’ We had a semi and then final for the play-offs to get into the Premier League.
I knew from my conversations with the team - not questionnaires - that they were overwhelmingly process-driven. I told the manager this and he said, ‘Ok, what would you do?’
I said, ‘You’ve got a team of players that overwhelmingly want to know what their role is in advance, so they have time to prepare and process.’
‘What about those players who aren’t in the team?’
‘It will help them as well.’
He named the team for the semi and the final several days in advance and, thankfully, it came off. Players stopped worrying about what their week was going to look like and, as soon as they did, they calmed down. Then they were able to prepare mentally for the match.
To conclude, I will repeat what I’ve said throughout this article - personality profiles are a guide. They can be useful, interesting and insightful, but if you are waiting for all your answers in life to be provided on a print-out, you will have a long wait.
- Michael Caulfied is one of the UK’s leading Sport Psychologists and has worked in professional sport for more than 25 years. He is a registered performance psychologist with the Health and Care Professionals Council and retrained in psychology after a career in sport and sports administration.He has worked alongside managers including Gareth Southgate, Steve Bruce, Mick Phelan, Dean Smith and Thomas Frank, and currently consults at Brentford FC.