It’s not uncommon to pick up any trade magazine today and see multiple articles on labor. It doesn’t matter what business it is, finding committed staff seems to be getting harder. That trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. However, there are good people out there and just as the 2007-08 economic collapse taught us to be better financial managers, this can make us better leaders of our teams. We hire carefully to be sure the staff we hire fit the culture of our workplace as well as the culture of the club. I think everyone does this whether it’s a conscious decision or not. When you interview to fill a position on your staff, I think it’s safe to assume we are always thinking if this person will “fit in” and get along with those already on the team.

Personality dynamics took on a new meaning to me, when in 2007, I was involved in Leadership Highlands, one of many Leadership programs in cities across the U.S. We started the one-year program by accessing our personality type using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. By finding out our “type,” we were able to discuss with each other how we prefer to interact, take in information and organize our lives compared to those around us. The idea of this fascinated me. When the leadership program was over, I went to Atlanta to the American Management Association. I took an intensive week-long class to become a Myers-Briggs certified practitioner. It’s something that has become very useful in my daily job. If you are open to this idea, one can quickly learn what other people need in the way of training, the jobs that they would naturally be successful at as well as what buttons you can press to send them over the edge (not recommending this). It’s easy to draw conclusions on an employee’s work ethic and value by comparing them to the way we would do things. After all, if you are a successful superintendent, you must have it figured out. But, what if it is more complicated?

The test

The MBTI is an introspective self-report questionnaire with the purpose of indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions.

It is based on the conceptual theory proposed by Carl Jung, who had speculated that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world — sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking — and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values and motivation. Let me be clear, this should never be used solely in making hiring decisions. It’s a tool to provide valuable insight. Is it perfect? Of course not. However, I will point out some fascinating statistics regarding certain types that will prove the insightfulness of the MBTI.

The exam can only be administered by a certified practitioner (once certified, exams can be purchased by said person) and not available online. I would caution anyone about interpreting the results without the full understanding of the theory. The 93-question survey asks many repetitive and redundant questions to see how a person would answer them in slightly different situations and settings. There are four areas of our type that are measured.

The first series of questions will determine if you are an introvert or extrovert (I or E). This is the most obvious. This tells us about our attitudes or orientations of our energy. Extroverts direct their energy toward others while introverts tend to keep their ideas to themselves and focus energy toward their inner world. Extroverts can be viewed as the life of the party, but can also be viewed as obnoxious by an introvert. An extrovert might think something is wrong with an introvert. Why won’t this person share information? As a leader, good information usually comes only after the right questions are asked to an introvert. They usually aren’t going to speak up immediately.

Another series of questions determine your sensing-intuition tendencies – how do you take in information in order to make decisions (S or N). Sensing people are science-based people focused on information that they know is true based on their senses. Intuitive people focus on perceived patterns and interrelationships.

The third area focuses on the process of how we make decisions (T or P). Thinking people tend to base decisions on logical analysis and remain detached and objective. It’s a fact that thinkers are better able to handle the hiring/firing process. A “feeling person” bases conclusions on personal and social values, always trying to understand viewpoints and achieve harmony in an organization. A feeler is going to worry how a terminated employee will be impacted and how their family will react and survive. It doesn’t mean a feeler can’t fire someone, but it will be far more stressful on them than their counterpart (a thinker).

The final area is how we organize our lives (J or P). Judging people (does not mean judgmental) are quick to make decisions in order to achieve finalization. They are very organized and structured in day-to-day life. A “perceiver” is someone who likes loose ends because something better may arise and making a decision too early will block them in. When given an assignment, a judger methodically works through pre-planned steps, while a perceiver often works to the last minute. A perceiver, when taking a vacation, won’t make plans while a judger will have a strict itinerary.

When the assessment is complete, you will be assigned one of 16 different personality types that are identified by four letters. Personally, for example, I am an ESTJ – an extroverted, sensing, thinking, judger. What does all this mean? Enough research has been done to prove there are a lot of traits that suit people for specific jobs. For example, 70 percent of CEOs fall into the ESTJ type, 90 percent of dentists fall into the ISTJ category. On a much sadder note, ISTJ’s (not just dentists) have the highest suicide rate. It’s scary — and interesting — how this can be tracked.

Constructed for normal population, the MBTI emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. The assumption is we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values and motivation.

Using it on the course

Think about your job and what makes you good at what you do. Are there parts of your personality that you wish were a little different? Your type doesn’t prevent you from anything. What it tells us is that to be opposite of our inherent type will cause some level of stress. Some of the best salespeople in any business seem to be extroverted. However, they may actually be introverted but know what it takes to build relationships. While they can be extroverted in short spurts, doing this for long periods of time causes stress and could ultimately end in some form of job dissatisfaction. Or psychologically there is a recovery period after spending a long amount of time around people where the introvert needs to be alone. In the case of a thinker vs. feeler, counselors and teachers tend to be more feeling. A thinker can often come across as insensitive to feelers. Think of these following examples of golf course management and how practical this can be:

  1. Who would you put on a rough mower for hours at a time? An introvert or extrovert? Is there potential for the extrovert to rush through the job? Does it make this person a bad employee or are they more suited for group-oriented tasks? On the flipside, what happens when an introvert is stuck on a four-man bunker crew? Will that person enjoy the job?
  2. You’re in the process of hiring an assistant. You tend to be the perceiving type, but you know your weakness might be getting projects done on time. Do you hire someone like you or do you look for someone more structured to complement you? If you hire someone more structured, are you giving them adequate information to plan? Want to push the buttons of someone like this – just withhold information from them!
  3. How do you train staff? A sensing person likes to be physically shown how to do something. Remember, they use their senses. An intuitive person is into bigger-picture ideas and might have their own thoughts or want to figure it out on their own. Training an intuitive person in a hands-on manner comes across as condescending or talking to them like a child. But at the same time, can you afford to give that person the freedom? Maybe an intuitive person wouldn’t like the monotonous job of detailed turf maintenance? Can you take an intuitive person and create a job with the flexibility to use their creativity?
  4. I would venture to guess that most of us as superintendents are either ESTJs or ISTJs, with the majority being ISTJs. An extrovert doesn’t typically do well in a behind-the-scenes operation. How many introverts do you think enjoy standing in the golf shop greeting members on a Saturday morning? Does that mean they don’t do it? Of course not. But do they enjoy it? Or do they tolerate it for short periods?
  5. It’s raining outside. A sensing/ thinker superintendent responds, “The club bought you all rain suits, and you’re paid hourly, so put them on and let’s go back out and keep working.” An intuitive feeler superintendent says, “Let’s stay inside until the rain passes because I’m afraid crew morale will be impacted if I make the staff work in the rain.” Neither is right or wrong. However, one can come across as harsh and the other one can come across as soft. The first is very “matter of fact,” while the latter is a considerate approach to the feelings of the group for the long-term benefit of the club.

Work at it

This can be summarized by saying that we all have different tendencies when it comes to life. It isn’t cut and dry, but we do tend to fall to one side or the other in these areas. To be successful, we need to either place ourselves in a position that suits our type or tolerate aspects of a job that we may not enjoy but feel the positives outweigh those stresses. While there are books and books written on the topic, I’ve summarized it in only 1,900 words.

Next time you hire someone or have a staffing challenge, think about these things. Did you adequately communicate with that person? Did you put them in a position for them to be successful? Or did you just assume they would fall in line with the way you would do things?

Brian Stiehler, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Highlands Country Club in Highlands, N.C.