Education for Self Understanding and Performance

Thursday, 10 January 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Many doctoral and MBA students who consult me on their research proposals often sit down to discuss the criteria of choosing, defining and focusing their thesis work both conceptually and empirically. They take career tests and personality tests and try to match the results of the two types of findings.

The findings of the former would indicate areas of work they prefer naturally while the psychometric test results highlight strengths and weaknesses of their personality traits. Finding correlates between the results to infer most suitable work futures enable the researcher to justify what they choose to study.

Our education, particularly higher education, often comes under attack for lack of relevance. It may mean two things: not making education relevant to the learner and not making it relevant to the world of work – more specifically, employers. In fact, both these are two facets of the same problem: lack of personality-career fit. If education given to a person fits that person’s abilities and likings, then education will be effective and the person will find productive and satisfying work.

We spend a lot of our time and energy working. It is important to make sure that the work we choose is satisfying. But what makes it satisfying? Work becomes satisfying if it interests you and allows you to do the things you enjoy. Work that is interesting and enjoyable for one person may be totally unsuitable for another. Take, for example, two employees, Sam and Shalini:  

Sam says, “I find it very difficult to deal with details. I find them tedious, since they take my time and energy away from doing interesting things. I like to play with new ideas and do something that has never been done before. I enjoy continually changing and improving things.”

Shalini says, “The idea of continually changing things doesn’t fit right with me. I have very high standards, and I like to do things right the first time. I want my work to be clearly defined, and I want to be able to follow through and pay attention to all of the tasks and details. Some people may think I am a bit too compulsive, but I really enjoy planning ahead and being careful and meticulous.”

Sam and Shalini approach work in very different ways. Because of their preferences, they enjoy very different types of work. For example, Shalini might be strongly attracted to a project management position, where she could organize and deal with lots of details. Sam, by contrast, might find himself overwhelmed or bored doing the same project management work. He might procrastinate or get a poor work evaluation because he finds it difficult to focus on all the details. Sam might be most satisfied working as a designer or in a position that requires him to create or market new ideas.

You too have your own natural and comfortable ways of working. If you take the time to clearly assess your work preferences, you will be able to identify types of work that will be personally satisfying. It is the job of the educationist and the psychologist to help you achieve the link between your likings and type of work.


Natural ways

Whether you are just starting out, maintaining work you already have, looking for a change, exploring business ideas, or thinking of retirement activities, appropriate psychometric tests would direct you to find work that is both meaningful and rewarding. They would also help you understand how you are likely to grow and develop over your life span. This knowledge will help you manage your transitions, enrich your current career choice, and move into opportunities that will best suit your unique talents. The result will be a satisfying career.

    We all have a most comfortable, natural approach to the world around us. From the time we are children, we show definite preferences and ways of acting. At a family gathering, for instance, one child creates a show for all the relatives while another one quietly sits in a corner and watches the action. These personality differences have been the subject of intensive research for more than fifty years. As researchers studied and analyzed individual differences, it became very clear that we could reliably group people according to their personality types. From this base of personality types, it is possible to define and describe specific ways of working-different natural and comfortable approaches that people use when they are at work.



A pioneering, and leading, study in personality testing – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) introduces you to eight distinct ways of working, each with its own natural approach to the world of work. The eight approaches have been studied, validated, and defined in detail through extensive studies. Research has shown us that people use one of these eight ways to communicate, organize, approach work tasks, solve problems, make decisions, lead, and be led. Research has also shown us that these ways of working can help individuals define the types of work and work activities that are motivating and satisfying. Of course, it would be unrealistic for any book to prescribe one specific ideal job for you. However, understanding which one of these eight natural approaches you use can give you a huge head start in finding work that comes

naturally and is personally rewarding.

When you understand your way of working and find work that lets you do

what comes naturally, the following attributes will come naturally, too. One may read the work of Leona Tyler, D. Dunning, and P.J. Howard to find details of  psychological tests and their purposes.


Using strengths

Everyone has unique strengths and skills. It is important to make sure that you are working in the environment you prefer, doing activities and using skills that reflect your natural approach. You can focus on using and learning skills to help you do better what you do best. If you work with, rather than against, your natural approach, you will be satisfied and motivated. You will learn to appreciate how you like to lead or be led and the type of contribution you make as a team member. You can choose where and how to expand and enrich your range of skills and competencies.


 More aware

We have all encountered people who are obviously happy and satisfied in their work. The waitress who serves you with friendly, helpful flair and the mason who takes pride in creating a solid, straight boundary wall are likely using their natural way of working. Perhaps they have other aspirations or goals in mind, but. you can tell that they are engaged in and enjoying their current work. On the other hand, we have all run into people who are not suited to their job. That grumpy public official, teacher, plumber, or salesman may be just having a bad day ... or perhaps he or she is not doing work that uses his or her natural approach. Perhaps some plumbers would be happier if they were designing software. Knowing your natural work preferences will provide you with a link between work and personal satisfaction.


Career choices

We know that different people are motivated and satisfied by different jobs and activities. Understanding your natural way of working will help you choose suitable work. You can focus your job search and your ongoing work negotiations to ensure that your career choices reflect your personal approach as well as your unique skills and situation. Only you can decide whether you prefer to smell the roses, design new varieties of roses, grow the roses, or perhaps even paint the roses.


Changing future

Change is continually forcing us to adapt. Almost everyone is affected by changes in the world of work. Businesses are being reorganized, jobs are being lost while others are being created, and advances in technology are changing the way we do our work. Our information society is requiring more and more workers to be effective lifelong learners. Thinking, learning, and using change management skills are becoming integral to success in any job. Understanding your natural way of working can help you adapt to the future.


Identify areas for growth

Along with strengths, each of the different ways of working will have types of activities that are not preferred by some. For example, highly imaginative people may find it very difficult to manage their budgets. A reliable and conscientious worker may not be highly flexible. Even when a person is able to find a satisfying type of work, he or she will have challenges and activities that are outside of the preferred way of working. As well as being able to find and work within your natural approach, you often need to expand and develop. Identifying your areas for growth will help you focus on the skills and strategies you need to learn to be more effective in all of the tasks and duties you perform.   


Career satisfaction

The most important result of learning about your natural way of working is that, with that understanding, you are more likely to engage in work that is personally satisfying. By increasing your self-understanding, you can choose a career direction and take more control in your search for satisfying work.

Considering all the hours and years you will spend working throughout your life, it is essential to expend your time and energy on pursuits that will allow you to do what comes naturally. By attending the higher degree courses, such as MBA and PhD of Open University Malaysia and training programs conducted at the Graduate School of Management at the World Trade Center much can be learnt about finding career satisfaction. Before choosing a program of study, whether undergraduate, graduate or doctoral, one must consider its relevance to one’s personality – the natural ways, abilities and preferences.

The current Academic Adviser of Graduate School of Management Professor Gunapala Nanayakkara, former University of Sri Jayewardenepura Senior Professor of Management, and the founder Director of Postgraduate Institute of Management