I use personality tests as tools to evaluate leaders fairly often and a key insight for many is that their results do not simply label a person as either this or that. Instead, I help them understand the test is more often saying that a person is more like this than like that. In other words, results help us see where we are on the spectrum of a personality trait rather than a binary choice between two poles. Now, data that is closest to the poles is most reliable (e.g., very high scores on Extroversion scales tend to exhibit predictable behavior), but scores in the middle are often really illuminating too.
For instance, in this excellent WSJ article by Elizabeth Bernstein explores whether people who score in the middle on an introversion/extroversion scale deserve their own category. She calls them Ambiverts and states:
“Ambiverts have introverted and extroverted traits, but neither trait is dominant. As a result, they have more balanced, or nuanced, personalities. They aren’t the folks yammering your ear off. Nor are they the totally silent ones happily ensconced in the corner.”
The article goes on to talk about some of the advantages that Ambiverts may have over their more stereotypical counterparts including being able to navigate different social situations more seamlessly and being better salespeople (all according to a 2013 study cited in the article).
On the other hand, as my favorite organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out in Bernstein’s article, Ambiverts may struggle knowing which part of their personality to emphasize in a given situation. I can see this playing out with an Ambivert that might be quite social amongst friends and family, but be less outgoing around work colleagues. Helping this kind of person find a way to tap into the extroverted side of their personality to assist in building networking skills in a professional setting might bear fruit. Conversely it might also be possible to get an Ambivert that is outgoing at work to tap into their introversion to become better at listening.
The concept of a “middle ground” offering insight into personality is a generally good one and fits my own experience in coaching. Just as there are Ambiverts, we probably need to come up with a name for someone who is both organized and flexible, someone who is both ambitious and collaborative, or any of the other atypical combinations you see with individual executives all the time.