Beyond personality assessments: What the coach can learn about patterns of behaviour and their implications by Lynne Hindmarch (Guest)

In this blog I intend to focus on Dominance.

In my last blog I discussed the value of using personality assessments in coaching as an additional approach to help raise the coaching client’s self-awareness, and provide the coach with insights into the client’s behaviour.   I also explored the value that long usage of assessments gives in providing the psychometrics practitioner with deep understanding of behaviour and patterns of behaviour, which is why I called the blog ‘Beyond personality assessments’.  

In this blog and the following blogs, I intend to explore particular characteristics that coaches may be more inclined to see in clients.  I plan to present:

  • A core aspect of personality (a particular trait),

  • Some of the associated behaviours, and

  • What that may mean in combination with other traits, to present a cluster.

This is a personal perspective, based on my experience of using assessments over many years, both as a psychometrician and as an executive coach.  There may well be areas which readers disagree with – that would be great!  I’d love to debate some of my experiences with other people.

A couple of points to start with: 

  1. My descriptions of behaviour are based on thousands of hours of giving feedback, and listening to clients’ reactions and comments. But again and again I return to the data presented in the personality assessment. Although I may now associate a wider range of behaviours with particular aspects of personality than when I started, it is vital that the interpretation does not go beyond the data. I need to be able to demonstrate to the client the basis for the hypotheses I form.

  2. I am focusing on extremes of behaviour; that is, those aspects of behaviour that, in the normal distribution curve, fall at the upper or lower limits. Why? Because these are the behaviours that are more consistent – we are less likely to flex around them. Because they are more consistent, people are more likely to notice them (and may use them to describe us to distinguish us from other people). They are often associated with strengths – but also may trip us up (because we are consistent in adopting this type of behaviour, we are less likely to adapt it in different circumstances).

The core trait I want to explore in this blog is what is commonly known as Dominance. 

I chose this particular aspect of personality because as a coach, I see a lot of it, as I suspect many coaches do who work with middle and senior managers and executives. 

Dominance is pretty much what it says on the tin: it is the degree to which one wants to dominate and influence people and situations.  

I will be focusing on what this means at the high end – that is, when there is a strong desire for dominance, rather than at the low end (when the individual may have very little desire to dominate) simply because that is not a result I often see in my client group.   You can see that I don’t feel any need to be even-handed in this blog!  I prefer to follow what is most likely to occur in my practice and hopefully will resonate with those of you who work with a similar client group. 

So what behaviours might you see in a person with high Dominance?

This individual is likely to want to take the lead in most situations. 

  • Often this goes back to childhood – in conversation they will often talk about captaining the sports team, leading the debating society, being head girl,

  • They are often decisive, persuasive, competitive and ambitious (which tends to help them rise through the organisational ranks,

  • Their leadership style may be directive – they have a tendency to tell people what to do rather than consult.

Some of these behaviours may become problematic and be part of the coaching programme.   For example, taking one aspect of Dominance, directive behaviour (telling people what to do), this can be perfectly appropriate in certain situations such as a crisis, where there is no time or opportunity for consultation or debate.  But if the directive style is consistent across all situations, the problems that can occur are:

  • Lack of involvement of others in decision-making leading to wrong or poor decision,

  • Lack of power-sharing with team members, leading to people not taking responsibility and waiting to be told what to do,

  • Poor development of leadership skills in others,

  • The desire to win at all costs rather than considering compromise, which can lead to difficult relationships with peers.

This can lead to the individual’s career getting stuck or derailing.

The important point to consider is that other aspects of the personality will influence how the trait Dominance manifests itself in behaviour.   

For example, if it is accompanied by high scores on social confidence and self-confidence, then this individual will feel comfortable voicing an opinion forcefully in pretty much every situation, even when he or she doesn’t know very much about the subject.The person with these characteristics can be hard to coach; the high level of self-belief means that they don’t readily acknowledge the need for development. 

In this example the feedback can provide the framework for not only discussing the implications of high Dominance, but also how high levels of confidence can act as a barrier in doing anything about it.  In this way the feedback conversation can assess if this individual is likely to respond positively to a coaching programme.

To provide another example, Joanna is a marketing director whose personality assessment shows she is high in Dominance.  In meetings she has a strong desire to influence and persuade others over to her way of thinking.  But Joanna is also shy; her social confidence is low, particularly with new people.  She may feel intimidated and self-conscious.  This is very frustrating for her, as she feels a keen desire to assert herself, but is unable to express it.  Those who know Joanna may wonder why she is quiet in certain meetings, and also she may come across as more compliant than she actually feels.  On occasion the frustrated desire to express an opinion can become overwhelming, and rather like a pressure cooker that finally explodes, Joanna puts forward her point of view.   However, it may come out in a rather uncontrolled and unfortunate manner – perhaps in a more challenging or aggressive way than Joanna intended or would have liked.  This in turn may mean she doesn’t get the acceptance of her contribution she may have wanted, and also does nothing to help increase her social confidence.

Feedback to Joanna on these aspects of her personality included discussion on how her lack of social confidence was affecting her ability to influence as much as she would like.  Joanna knew that she was uncomfortable expressing herself in certain situations; however, until it was highlighted in the assessment, she had not recognised it as shyness.  The assessment provided a way of naming it, and once it was named and identified, the coach was able to incorporate it into Joanna’s coaching programme.   Joanna’s high Dominance, illustrated here by a strong desire to assert herself, was likely to provide a strong motivator for working on her shyness.

Let us consider another cluster of behaviours.  Dan is General Manager of a factory.  Like Joanna, his high Dominance means that he wants to get his own way.  His personality assessment also showed that he is task-focused and sceptical.  He is very effective at anticipating difficulties and hitting targets.  But he shows no interest in those who work for him; in fact he has said that he believes that emotions have no place at work and should be left at the factory gate.  His employees feel that they are cogs in a machine and that their individuality is not recognised or appreciated.  Dan’s tendency to be sceptical of others means that he always questions people’s motives.  His peers find him difficult and political.  He has said (on many occasions) ‘I am really good at spotting people’s hidden motives’. 

This may or may not be the case; the point is that Dan always expects that people will have an ulterior motive, which shapes his behaviour towards them.  Dan’s career has been successful so far.  However, for the first time he is managing a project team where the members do not report directly to him for ‘pay and rations’.  He has discovered that the attributes that have helped him in his career so far are no longer working for him and he has become stuck.  He has been described as intimidating and uncompromising, and people will not put themselves out to get things done for him. 

Feedback with Dan focused on the advantages of his style in delivering results, as well as helping him recognise its limitations in working with a new team where the lines of responsibility are less clear-cut.  His coach may need to accept that Dan is likely to be quite challenging and questioning of the coaching process.  Helping Dan recognise that building relationships with people can enhance his ability to influence will be key, although he may find the process quite difficult.  Once he has recognised the need, Dan will need help in applying practical steps to develop relationships; this may start in a small way, such as making time to get to know his team as individuals.

Finally, let us consider Trish, who is also strongly Dominant.  She is also a very people oriented person, who comes across as warm and friendly; she is always interested in others and will often ask people about their lives.  She is very likeable, and has even been described as charismatic.  She has made good progress in her career.  She struggles at times when her desire to get her own way upsets people. 

Feedback with Trish on these aspects of her behaviour included discussion of the positive impact on her influencing style of her warm manner.  People are more inclined to put themselves out for her because they like her.  However, Trish may want to think about the negative aspects of this; that it may be important to her to be liked, and the impact this may have on the decisions she makes, particularly if they adversely affect those working closely with her.  This is likely to be an important aspect of any coaching she undertakes; she may be in danger of developing favourites in her team, and she may struggle if she is called upon to make tough-headed business decisions.

What I have attempted to do here is illustrate, with a few examples, how a core aspect of personality such as Dominance is influenced by other characteristics.   Sometimes the only way to access the complexity of these patterns of behaviour is through a personality assessment.   The insights presented by the assessment can raise the client’s self-awareness, provide a forum for discussing the implications, and help the coach shape the intervention.  

To connect with Lynne Hindmarch

Organisational Behaviour Consultancy

Business Psychologist



mobile: 07977 129955.