Slowing it down at the Emerging Leaders Institute

 March 7, 2014

When I first came to Duke last fall, my incoming master’s class bonded by comparing Myers-Briggs personality types: not the real ones, of course, but instead the ones that match your personality type to a Harry Potter character or a varietal of wine. Last week at the Emerging Leaders Institute, I learned that was child’s play when we received our Human Patterns Reports.

These bound journals each contained nearly forty pages of graphs, neatly tallying our worldviews, interpersonal styles, and leadership behaviors. The unique thing about the Human Patterns Assessment, however, is that it projects behavior for two potential scenarios: proactive, or familiar and stress-free conditions, and reactive, or instances when the pressure’s on.

I’m not a huge believer in the value or accuracy of personality assessments (Buzzfeed’s latest quiz phase? Blocked). But I do see tremendous practical value in being aware of how reactions, tendencies, and even personality shift under stress. My ever-constant wavering between INTJ and ENTJ was illuminated handily in a patter I never noticed – I tend toward extraversion under relaxed conditions, but introversion under stress. Combined with one of my favorite ELI sessions so far – a primer on crisis communication – I now feel infinitely more aware of how subtle changes can enable or derail progress in times of trouble, and better-positioned to steer a team or idea through tough waters.

This degree of self-awareness is critical for effective performance as a friend, coworker, and, yes, leader. These factors impact everyone we work with professionally, but they are not things that most of us actively think about while rushing in between class and lab and internships and TA positions. But the time to think about how you act during a crisis is most definitely not during the crisis itself, so proactively developing this awareness during down-time can be vital to success. This, for me, is the true value of ELI: being gifted the time to reflect on our motivations, quirks, and tendencies in a relaxed environment with gentle guidance.

Jordan Schermerhorn is a first-year student in the Master’s of Science in Global Health program. You can find more of her insights as winner of Nicholas Kristof’s 2012 Win-A-Trip Contest and her current writing about global health issues at Crowding Daylight Hours.