Episode 23: Understanding Personality
with Dr. John Golden

Have you ever wondered why you did something? Or why someone else is the way they are? Does your personality change as you grow?  These are all questions we discuss with this week’s guest, Dr. John Golden.

If you have had any interaction with The Leaders Lyceum and have taken the Golden Personality Profiler – John is the man behind it!  Hear his take on personality and the role it plays in our growth.  

About our guest

Contact John on Linkedin

Find more information at  GoldenLLC

John Golden, Ed.D. is the President and Founder of Golden LLC, a psychological assessment publishing company with a legacy spanning more than 50 years. Dr. Golden is the developer and author of a proprietary line of personality and values assessments for adults and teenagers. Golden LLC publishes online assessments in the United States that have been used by millions of people around the world and are licensed to a host of prestigious international psychological test publishing companies in more than a dozen foreign languages. A central theme among his assessments is their positive and developmental focus designed to help people and the organizations in which they work improve, grow and succeed through a special focus on the practical and beneficial application of accurate self-knowledge and exploration.

Dr. Golden’s educational background includes a unique blend of psychology, education and human resource management. His professional practice includes organizational change and development consulting and training with a core specialty in the application of psychological assessments in executive coaching, career development, leadership, management development, team building, organizational culture business and ethics. He has authored numerous technical manuals and support guides and worked personally with tens of thousands of people in hundreds of organizations in for-profit, non-profit, education, government and military industrial settings. Dr. Golden has also held a university faculty position as a Professor of Management - Lutgert College of Business Florida Gulf Coast University

Developer/Author: Golden Personality Profiler, aka, the Golden Profiler of Personality (GPOP) in Germany, Golden Inventory of Personality Development (GIPD) in France; Golden Student Profiler (GSP); Values Arrangement List (VAL); Values Arrangement List for Teens (VAL for Teens); Values Arrangement List for Organizations (VALOR); Boundless Diversity - an introduction to the Golden Personality Type Profiler.

Episode transcript

Sara: Dr. John Golden, welcome to The Growing as Grown-Ups podcast, we are so excited to have you with us today.

John: Thank you and welcome -- I'm happy to be here. It's a good day.  

Sara: Awesome. Well, you might be -- in our circle of listeners -- you might be the most famous guest we've had because most people listening to our podcast have taken the Golden Personality Profiler that we use so often in our curriculum. It's the piece of training that I do the most often because we just we love it, we believe in it and so we are so honored to have you on here to speak directly to our listeners and share some of your wisdom and experience on just this aspect of self-awareness and understand your personality. So thank you for giving us your time to be here.  

So, you know, before we hit record, we started talking about this, but I want to kind of go back to it for our listeners, that personality is a word that is thrown around so much and means so many different things, right? Everybody has their different idea of like, "Oh, man, he's got a lot of personality" means one thing or, you know, just all the different uses of it and so in the context of the work that you have done, what does this idea of personality mean? How do you define it or how do you make sense of it?  

John: It is a big question and when you tossed it out to me earlier, it did make me stop and think, you know, what is my definition of personality? And I was a little embarrassed because I've been using the definitions of all the theorists that I've studied my whole life. I've relied on their definitions and I've never really thought about my own personal definition of personality, and it is so complex. It has both individual -- and I think that's inherently the most important aspect that we're trying to get to is what is it that an individual's personality is like? And each individual is just that: unique. But to understand their personality, we need to understand those models and those theories that the rich history that other theorists and developers have brought to us. And so our definition within the Golden Personality Profiler is based on a complex theory of different models of personality, and one of the things I found that was interesting as a young man when I was beginning my journey with personality is that there were so many different theorists, and they all disagreed with what personality was and what was most important. And their disagreements would define their definition of personality based on what others definitions weren't or what didn't work. What I found as I looked at all of these different models is that there was actually a lot of continuity and consistency and synergy within their definitions, and rather than looking at the differences, what I focused in on was the similarities. And so we look to take those five theories and ideas, temperament, type traits, the Five Factor model and Stress Theory and look at it in terms of how that impacts and defines our personalities. So it's a complex theory but what we tried to do was to make it palatable, make it usable, make it friendly, and put it into a language system that helps individuals see themselves maybe for the first time in a positive light - and then do something with that information.

I remember my first Psychology 101 professor telling me something that kind of stuck with me. He said that "If you remember three things, you'll do OK in life." He said, "You're all getting older, you're all going to die, and you're all a little bit weird."  

Sara: That's some good life advice.  

John: That weirdness is really important. We are all a little bit weird, or in Gordon Allport's mind, we're all unique individuals. So while we use these personality models to, as some people say, put people in type boxes or, you know, to define them like a horoscope or to put them into an Enneagram type, the real goal is to understand how an individual is unique. But the only way we can begin to understand our uniqueness is to understand personality at its basic understanding. How it's formed, how it's defined, how people are alike. If everybody was truly unique and totally differentiated from everyone else, it would be hard to develop measures for personality, but because we do have a base of understanding and a basis from which we are all like Clyde Kluckhohn said, you know, 'We're all like some other people, all other people, and like no other people." And so, you know, understanding how we're like other people is the basis from which we can begin to understand our uniqueness.

Sara: Obviously one thing that you share in common with our team is this desire for people to continue to grow and have more understanding of who they are. So I'm wondering, from your perspective, as somebody who has spent so much of your life in studying and developing the Golden Personality Profiler, why do you think it is important for people to have that layer of understanding to know their personality preferences? What good does it do a person to have that information?

John: I was introduced to personality at a fairly young age when I was 17 years old, I took my first formal personality assessment. It wasn't just one, I took several and it helped me so much to chart my future and to see that, frankly, as a young man who was a little bit lost, who was a little bit unsure of himself, who was searching for the future, it helped me get a sense of who I was that I don't think I could have gotten in any other way. But I would say that most of us, you know, through our adolescence and through our young adulthood and perhaps even into our growing up adulthood, we walk around in a virtual state of unconsciousness about ourselves most of the time. When somebody comes up to you and says, well, why did you just say that? Why did you do what you just did? Why did you pick the career that you picked? Why did you marry the person that you married? Why did you go to the school you went to? Why did you pick that major? Most people go, "I don't know. I just..." You know, and we say, I don't know a lot to the things that we should know about. So most people don't really know themselves and so through assessment, through personality or values or interests or other surveys or 360 surveys or management or leadership, we begin to develop a lexicon, a model of understanding from which we can begin to understand ourselves and look at how we're like other people, how we're different ,and how we're totally unique. And so, you know, it's through that assessment that we can then begin to say, "OK, this is why I love the person I love. This is why I chose the major I chose or the career that I have. I understand." And you can -- like I did, like I got that information early. I was able to then begin to use it to chart my future, to move forward with my life in a way that I hadn't been able to do so before, and to do so with confidence.  

Sara: Would you expand on that a little bit and kind of say, just for you personally, how getting that understanding of yourself early on -- you know, I think you said you were 17 -- how that helped you navigate what was to come in your future?  

John: Yeah, I mean, 17 years old, I was unsure of myself. I had not been a stellar high school student. I was more interested in social life. I was more interested in girls at that time and having fun. It was the late 70s, the end of the hippie generation and, you know, I was the youngest of four. So my parents, this is Adlerian psychology for you on birth order, youngest of four left from twelve on my own pretty much. My parents would leave me to my own doings. They'd go on vacation and say, here's the money and here's some food and we'll be back in two weeks.  

Sara: Oh, wow.  

John: And I was misguided. You know, I look back and I regret that I didn't take more advantage of my academics at that time but I lived my life and I had been unsure of myself because I wasn't a great student and all my friends were going off to college and I wasn't going off to college. I decided to take, in today's parlance, a gap year and not go off to college. I was going to go off to Wyoming and camp and fish and do all these other fun things but I happened to meet a young girl that that I fell in love with. And her father was a physician, an Indian physician from India, and he didn't take kindly to this young hippie, long-haired guy driving a Volkswagen Bug dating his daughter. And so I had to convince him that I was worthy of his respect and her affection and to do that, I needed to go back to school. And so through personality assessment, I realized that, yeah, I do have to go back to school. I do have to. But it told me WHAT I needed to go back for. So it was a combination of love, and it was a combination of earning his respect, getting my act together and doing something important with my life, and I used these tools as directional pieces to help me put the pieces in play. I can tell you that what I learned was that I had value and it was something that I hadn't seen that value in myself before. I wasn't conscious to it and it was just something that I said I -- it's a little bit embarrassing that I didn't have value, but a lot of students are that way.    

I found out as a college professor, a lot of my students were that way. I would have a line outside my office of college students that would come to me for office hours just to talk about their career plans because nobody had ever asked them about their career plans. So I use that information to help me start to develop a foundation of self-confidence based on this picture of me as a worthy individual, that the personality assessments and values, assessments and other exercises that I went through taught me about myself. And I think it's an important -- it's coming back to the idea about personality is that I had found in other personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs or the 16PF which we used with tens of thousands of people at an individual level of interpreting and teaching and training them, that they often left people with the idea of this is what you are. So live it, love it, be it. Don't think you can change it. Don't try to be something different. This is who you are. Accept it and move on with your life in that fashion. And I looked at it and I said, "But I am this, but I also want to be this." I want to be -- you know, the picture of me at that time was very outgoing and social, but visionary and a heavy imagination, an emotional person who is very adaptable. So in the Myers Briggs language, ENFP -- in our language today, we call it ENFA extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and adaptive --  and that fit for me, but that wasn't enough, I remember this specific feeling of learning that 80 percent of all managers at that time were thinking, judging types. In my language, thinking organizers and I was like, "Well, that's not fair. ENFAs or ENFPs can be great managers, too, it's just a different type of management." And so I kind of use that as the idea for the foundation of - you have to understand who you are, but you have to understand where you're going. You have to understand what you are becoming and becoming was more important than being.    

And that opened up a whole world to me because it took me from who I am to what I could become -- it's just like I learned that I was right-handed but I learned in life that there were a lot of things that I needed to do with a left hand, and I needed to be just as good with my left hand at certain things than I am -- and this has an impact on maybe some issues related to other questions that we wanted to get to, which is around leadership -- is in life, to be an effective human being, you've got to be very versatile and being one way is not versatile. But by understanding this model, you can then begin to understand, well, what are the things that you need to develop? I learned that I needed to develop the skills of being more reflective and thoughtful, being more quiet and not so talkative all the time to learn to sit back and be passive, to learn to listen. I learned that I needed to focus on details and organization. You know, I'm still not good at that. And that I needed to learn how to be more rational and not be so emotional all the time. I also learned that I needed to be more organized and more scheduled and planful, that an adaptive approach to life wasn't always the most healthy.    

So I learned all of these other things, and I found in Gordon Allport's Trait Theory a really fascinating concept called "functional autonomy". He believed that a person could develop personality traits that they did not possess through inheritance but they could develop it to the extent that, and I'll use an example, they could develop it to the extent that traits that they didn't possess became inherent parts of their personality that were indistinguishable from those inherited traits. So take a person who's extremely talkative. A person can learn to be quiet, they can learn to listen, they can learn to be reflective, and they can do so to the extent that that skilled, learned trait becomes indistinguishable from the opposite trait -- talkative -- and you can do that with anything, so what it says is people can learn. People can develop themselves. People can grow. And what I also learned is that there's a natural, inherent path within Carl Jung's theories, Isabel Myers picked up on it, of how different personality types grow and learn in a very unique pattern of that process. Yesterday we were talking with Keith in preparation for some of the things we've been doing together and he talked about this concept a little bit, and I'm trying to think I just got lost in my thought a little bit, but we can, maybe you can...  

Sara: Yeah, just one of the things that Keith and I have noticed over the years of talking to people and coaching them using the Golden Personality Profiler is that there are common themes we hear among people with similar personality types in terms of where they need to grow and the ways in which they grow in the types of steps that help them grow. And so that's the big project we're working on, kind of taking the work that you've done and the experience that we've had in creating these more targeted growth strategies to help some of our clients. But John, you've just said so many good things that I've been trying to take notes, but I want to just come back and reinforce and then kind of the next rabbit hole I want to go down. But I think what you said is so important and worth reiterating is this idea that your personality, in whatever type you get as the result of an assessment is not -- it is not the limit of who you are. It maybe describes who you are today, it describes the way you're experiencing life and the way that we phrase it in a couple of different ways are that "this report does not define you, it refines your understanding, and then gives you a window into how to become a more perfect version of who you are," right? And I think your personal example of going through and saying, well, if I'm an ENFA, I need to work on being more reserved and thoughtful and kind of the opposite end of each of those global factors but it's not that you are now going to become an ISTZ. You are not going to try to become somebody you're not. You're going to be still the John Golden who has these preferences for one natural way but values these things and I think it hit me a couple of years ago when I was teaching personality. We were talking about small steps and I was in the middle of a kind of home renovation project, which you can understand, and had to essentially fire somebody working on my house, which as an SFZ -- debatable whether I'm introvert or extrovert -- was really hard for me to tell somebody that they’re fired was going to be so hard for me and all the NTs in the room got fired up because I was sharing this story and they're like, "Give me your phone, I'm going to call him!" And it's like, you know, in the moment I was like, "OK, how do I be like that person who wants to just pick up the phone and tell them? Like, oh, I need to be more like an NT," and I was like, "No, I don't. Like I'm never going to be that person who loves to, you know, deliver the hard truth."    

So what is the "Sara" version of having to have conversations but in a way that is also compassionate and detailed and thoughtful? And so I think one thing like the complexity of you have your preferences, you are wired in certain ways that you've inherited, but you can grow to be kind of more well-rounded or more polished, but not change who you are and I think that's really important and it's something that we try to stress to our people.  

But one thing that you said that I think it was a question I was going to ask you later, but since you brought it up, is this question that we get a lot when we teach, which is, "Does my personality change?" Right? We work with a lot of leaders who have taken different assessments throughout their life and they'll come in and say, "Well, when I took it five years ago or ten years ago or in college, my report came back this way, but now it's saying I'm different." And so, you know, we have the answer we tend to give to that question, but I'm sure you've been asked that, too.  

John: Sure.  

Sara: How do you address that question of do people's personality preferences change over time?  

John: Sure. Again, it's the layers of the onion about and labeled the "Onion Personality Change". One level of analysis begins with looking at personality assessment. Do our personality results change? And sometimes the answer is "yes". One people who you are just kind of referencing may have taken another personality assessment. So let's imagine that five years ago they took the Myers-Briggs type indicator and they came out to be an ISTJ and then they come to Leaders Lyceum and they take the Golden Personality Profiler and both assessments being based on Carl Jung's theories and models and language system, we can say that, "OK, maybe they're not testing out as an ISTJ this time, they're testing out as an ESTZ, so they're staying the same on three, but they're different on extroverted and introverted. One of the reasons we developed the Golden is because historically -- I was going to work "notoriously" -- but certainly the Myers-Briggs is incorrect about 25% of the time and so -- and that's because of the way it's scored in the way it's analyzed, and much of that has not changed since the 1940s when it was first developed -- and so you can be very, so maybe that person came out to be very close at that time five years ago on E and I but it predicted them to be more of an I but now with the Golden, which is a more precise and accurate way of looking at personality, analyzing those results and reporting that back to people, they came out to be an extrovert and so usually we find that a lot of times their personality changes at an assessment level because they're using a more accurate version of an assessment.

The bigger, broader question is, can personality change? Does personality change over the course of time? We have different levels of our personality understanding. There's the way we inherently see ourselves, the way we were when we were a young child from birth until age 15. It's heavily influenced by both genetics and by our parents and other important loved ones in our life and how they teach us to see ourselves and the self-image that we develop of ourselves and then we develop a young adult personality concept either we agree that we liked what we were taught to believe about ourselves or we don't like what we saw and so we have that image of ourselves. And then ultimately, I think people come to an understanding of their personality as mature younger adults, young middle life adults say twenty-five to thirty-five, forty where their personality is settled in. They're comfortable with it. They -- the confidence just exists around how they exhibit and display themselves and they know themselves and so you can see some change within personality from the way we saw ourselves as young to the way we see ourselves as kind of middle-life adults still kind of forming our thoughts and consciousness and then the way we see ourselves as adults, there can be change. I tend to think that most of the time it's that perception that changes while the personality itself was stable and present and so it's the way we see ourselves that changes as opposed to the fact that our personality is not really all that much changing. We know that most of the time people take personality assessments, the results don't change. Very subtle, little minor adjustments. Over the course of life, we can see dramatic changes, but it also depends upon how conscious we are of ourselves.

Sara: We hear stories of people who --  

John: I just want to say, I think people evolve, not change.

Sara: Hmm. Yeah and maybe that's kind of back to what you were saying a few minutes ago about the, I think you called it the functional autonomy idea, but that we hear stories of people who maybe earlier on in their careers realized or got feedback that their kind of thinking tendencies, this very logical, objective way of approaching the world was not serving them well, right? They needed to be a little bit more people-oriented in how they were thinking about things and so they put a lot of intentional effort into growing that. Then they came to really appreciate what that did for their life and their influence and their leadership and so then they're like, "Oh, I've really -- that is a part of who I am now." Where it maybe is more of a valued choice that they grew into or evolved in that growth process rather than kind of their innate, early-on tendencies and said those are some of the stories we hear and, you know, whether you call it change or evolve or awareness or whatever, those are...  

John: Well, and I like the term that you and Keith like so much, and that is "we grow". We can grow in a lot of different ways. Now, the inherent personality is fairly constant; it doesn't change. But with skill and awareness, we can control our lives a little bit more. We can broaden our capabilities and another question that you kind of thought we might touch on a little bit is the role of stress in our lives and the reason it's really important to understand how stress affects us is that when we're under stress, we tend to be less versatile. We tend to be less adaptable. We tend to be less conscious of all of the choices that we have and so we're less able to use the learned skills of our personality and we tend to, under stress, react with our natural inherent abilities. So the ENFA under stress: I'm going to go talk to people. I'm going to share my emotions. I'm going to go big picture and I'm going to be all over the place. Distractible. But if I'm skilled and I see stress coming and I know how I react to stress, I can say, "OK, wait, I'm under stress. Slow down, get control of yourself, let's look at the details. How would a rational person look at this particular issue?" and "Let me get myself organized," because if I can use those skills to adapt to stress and stressful circumstances, I can -- I'm a lot more effective. Now, I'm not a good, introverted, sensing, thinking organizer. When I use those skills, they are taxing for me.  

Sara: You know, we talk about it like you're writing with your non-dominant hand. It takes a lot of focus, a lot of energy.  

John: And I'm not -- you're not good at it. So you know that the person that you talked about, the rational type who learns to be more supportive and compassionate and empathetic, it's taxing for them to do it and when they do it, they're not as good as a natural feeling-oriented person. A lovely story that I always share is about my brother, and my brother is one of the most knowledgeable people in personality theory that he learned from my father and mother, just like I did. I look at -- he's my big brother, he's seven years older -- but he had a girlfriend and he is the classic -- when I think of ENTPs or ENTAs, he is the classic ENTA and he had a girlfriend in high school that he liked very much, but she got tired of him because he was very 'T' with her and she was a very feeling, emotional, compassionate person.  

And so she said, I'm breaking up with you, and he said, "Well, why?" and she said, "Well, you don't know how to express emotions and not I'm not looking for you to tell me what to do every time I want to have a conversation with you." And he said, "Just give me another chance. I really -- I'll turn it around." And he came up with a very rational approach to solving this problem. He said that whenever he got into a conversation with her, he would not use the word "think" anymore. He won't say "I won't tell you what the solution is." So he said he would say. "Well, let me tell you how I feel about this problem. Let me share my emotions with you about this problem." But it was so clumsy and so awkward that she saw right through this façade and knew that he was just using the word "feel" and "emotion" when he was thinking rationality and she ended up breaking up with him.  

Sara: Oh, it didn't work.  

John: It didn't work. It's real hard for you to be something that you're not naturally. It extracts a cost from you and so that's one of the things I also learned going back and kind of circling around a lot of different thoughts is you need to be what you are. You need to choose a career that's consistent with your strengths, but you also need to understand your weaknesses and the things that you're not and what you need to work on them.  

Sara: Yeah. I think that's good and I think there was a big push, at least a number of years ago, I'm sure it's still out there somewhere that you know, and I love the work that Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup and Clifton and all those people have done about really understanding your strengths, right? And that's really good for somebody to understand early on in their journey to figure out what are the things that I'm wired to do that come naturally to me that are going to be easy, that I can do really well? But that's not enough, right, you need to understand the other half of the spectrum that you're just not naturally geared to pay attention to and be aware of, where can you grow and where can you put systems in place to help you with all those different things.  

So, John, we are running out of time, but you brought up kind of the importance of the stress reactions and some of the career implications and I know that in the last few years, and you'll have to tell me exactly when, the Golden Assessment moved off of the platform it was on previously and now it is available on your own website where people can go and take it. And the report has some new sections, at least relative to the reports, that our clients have gotten in the past that include some career suggestions or majors that if somebody has maybe that kind of high school, college-age student that they want to have take the assessment, those would be really useful.   I love that you've started including the stress reaction section. I always, when I teach it now, I think I kind of walk people through the report. I'm like, "And then you get to this page and this is the page that you read and think 'Ouch! I don't want that to be true of me, but I know it's true!' and it's the, like, 'Oh, other people see that in me.' and it's the what do you look like when you're under stress and how does that how is that not effective?" And so for anybody that's listening that hasn't taken the Golden, or people that took it a number of years ago that want to see some of these extra things, or they have a spouse or a friend or a coworker that they want to take it, when did you move to your own platform and how do people go and take the assessment?  

John: Yeah, so it was basically a three to five years ago. We had -- we still have a relationship with Pearson Assessments, which publishes the Golden in France, the U.K., Australia, Singapore, India. But I felt that I could do a better job of serving the U.S. Market and I was doing things with the Golden, particularly around the stress management aspect of the report that I could do more autonomously and quickly, if I didn't have that tied up relationship with Pearson. So we still have a lovely relationship with them and they publish it in other languages. We also have a German publisher, a South-Korean publisher, a Turkish publisher and so that's how it works through all of these different international publishers but the Golden is published in the U.S. on our platform at and individuals can go. It serves both large group administrators, consultants, counselors, human resources folks, but it also serves individuals. So we have university students come and take it on their own for classes or individuals or spouses or children. And so you can go to, select "Take a Test" and for $29.95...

Sara: That is a steal, yeah.  

John: It's a very reasonable fee. You can get your 20-page or so Golden self-development report which includes your scores on type and temperament. You get 10 global scale scores, you get 40 facet scale scores, you get your tense versus calm scores, you get support guides to help you interpret it. And so it's a way to help those individuals who might not otherwise have access to, you know, assessment through an organization or through a school. So it is a very efficient -- as soon as you click "submit", you get your results and you get the support guides and you also get our email address and so people contact me individually all the time and say, "Hey, I don't understand this aspect of my results." We've also developed something new, where we have two people taking the Golden and we can actually develop a person-to-person report; we call it the P2P, The person-to-person report allows you to explore your similarities and differences with another individual that took the results and that's something new that we came out during this COVID pandemic period and people are loving it because they say it really makes their results real when they can use it to discuss their results with another individual, so..  

Sara: You'll have to let me know if following this podcast if you have an uptick in couples that take this assessment. I'm like, "Hmm, I need to get me and my husband to get one of those P2P reports."  

John: And we’re not charging for that P2P report too, so any of the individuals that do take it, let us know that they would like that. We'll give that to them within that cost of that assessment. So it's really a way to extend those results and make use of it, because, again, come back to Allport. He said, "Personality is something and does something," and you can use your results to make improvements, to grow and develop yourself and that's what it's all about, not just being stuck in a box and not just getting this label plastered on your forehead. It's really to do something with it and use it in a way that helps you grow, helps you be successful, helps you be happy in this very chaotic time that we live in and it's been -- it's challenging, but knowing yourself and knowing how you're weird, is good for all of us.  

Sara: Yup, it is one of our favorite tools to help grown-ups keep growing. So with that, your words were a beautiful way to end this podcast. So for now, we will say thank you and we will be talking to you again in the future when we go deep on personality theory. So thank you again for your time.  

John: Thank you. It's been my honor and pleasure.