As mentioned earlier in this chapter, a VARK assessment provides insight into an individual’s predisposition toward a particular learning style. Most people have a dominant learning style, a secondary style, a tertiary style, and a least preferred style. Some individuals may also have high abilities in more than one style. Although the VARK test may seem somewhat oriented to university education, all organizations have a set of continuing education and professional development competencies that must be achieved for an individual to advance or maintain employment in the workplace. By knowing which specific modality fosters a higher learning outcome for him- or herself, an individual can maximize use of his or her discretionary time to focus on those events that promote the greatest transfer of information. Such examples of different professional development activities might include on-site conferences, webinars, distance learning, traditional education, and personal self-development through reading, listening to audio books, or working on computer-based problems or games.
Although learning styles change over time, prudent early careerists will conduct a personal self-assessment of their own preferred learning modality. It is important for young leaders to know that potential organizations may or may not appreciate individual learning styles. For example, if an individual is an auditory learner in an organization that emphasizes verbal communication, the probability for successful synchronization between that individual and the organization should be enhanced. Conversely, an auditory learner in an environment where mass reading of policy and procedure statements is necessary may not fare as well. Thus health leaders should be aware of their preferred methods of learning—that is, whether they emphasize visual, aural, reading, or kinesthetic traits. Other assessments use the terms visual verbal (reading), visual nonverbal (“visual” referring to pictures, figures, and graphs), auditory (aural), and learning by doing (kinesthetic) to describe the learning style preferences. Collectively, these characteristics are referred to as VARK. 38 ,39 Visual learners prefer graphs, pictures, and flowcharts to help them understand complex phenomena. These learners feel most comfortable surrounded by blueprints and matrixes, but may be distracted by debates and decision discussions.
Aural learners are stimulated by conversation and debate. These learners may often be more interested in the discussion of decision making than decision making itself. They “think out loud” and may often use other employees as sounding boards for new ideas.
Reading and writing (R/W) learning preference is a common characteristic among healthcare executives. These individuals prefer cross-referencing written material, writing summaries, and emailing thoughts. They do well with complex tasks and multitasking.
Kinesthetic learners require practical exercises, a hands-on approach, or meticulous simulation to learn efficiently. These learners prefer learning through experience to alternative preparatory methods. However, they are rapid processors of information in an on-the-job environment. Kinesthetic learners are also more comfortable with ambiguity.
The New Enneagram Test 40
Enneagrams are said to be natural encodings in neural tissue in everyone’s brain that provide a physical predisposition to behave a certain way based on environmental stimulus. Similar to left- and right-brain dominance, the way in which the brain forms relationships within itself to process information is unique. 41 As a result, it is incumbent on health leaders to be aware of these visceral tendencies to see if there is any opportunity for professional development or self-awareness.
Enneagrams identify the test taker’s natural inclination toward behavior. The results can be classified into nine primary constructs or types: Reformer, Helper, Motivator, Romantic, Thinker, Skeptic, Adventurer, Leader, and Peacemaker. 42 – 46
The Reformer is the perfectionist and obedient child who must do everything right. Individuals with this tendency prefer that others get along with them and prefer to dictate terms in groups and interdisciplinary teams. This behavior stands in contrast to that of the Helper, who will seek to engage in supportive relationships with others so as to gain favor and acceptance.
The Motivator is the high achiever who seeks to pull those around him or her toward success. This individual may not try to conform those around him or her to the Motivator’s own standards of excellence; rather, the Motivator will pull those in his or her inner circle toward goals and objectives.
The Romantic strives for warm and collegial connections with those in the workplace. Words of approbation are very important to the Romantic, because individuals with this tendency do not thrive in a critical atmosphere. The Romantic may work well in small groups of known colleagues, but may have difficulty in new environments.
The Thinker sees the world as “over-stimulating” and confusing, and will need privacy to contemplate actions in the environment. Type B personalities are most often thinkers. Thinkers will often be plainspoken and direct, and they sometimes communicate without tact. However, they are often detail oriented and factually accurate. They leave little room for discrepancy or speculation. When a Thinker finally speaks, there often is little room for alternative positions and opinions.
The Skeptic is eager to investigate life and propositions. Skeptics, sometimes called challengers, have a great lust for life and a keen intellectual curiosity. They are most often Type A archetypes, challenge institutionalism, and may demonstrate creative and right-brain thinking. At the same time, they have a need for social integration and can be tactful and wary of irritating relationships.
The Adventurer wants excitement, pleasure, and fun. Individuals in this category see work as a game; however, they can have difficulty organizing activities and projects themselves. They prefer stimulating conversation to the labor of work, and they prefer to be the center of attention without taking responsibility. The Adventurer is an odd mix of a charismatic personality coupled with a degree of avoidance behavior. He or she may be the “idea person” in the organization who wants someone else to produce the concepts that he or she has suggested. A difficult archetype to pin down, the Adventurer may succeed best when surrounded by talented subordinate personnel.
The Leader archetype is not always presented in some assessments, because researchers believe that the leadership construct is a composite of several modalities coupled with environmental opportunities. However, in many enneagram tests, the Leader may not be the individual who inspires followership or who occupies a director role in project management; rather, the Leader in this case may be called the “Asserter.” Asserters have strong personalities and are direct, self-reliant, and seemingly unfettered by the opinions of those around them. At the same time, the Leader can be supportive of those close to him or her.
Peacemakers do not want to be part of the spotlight, nor do they think of themselves as important or special to the group dynamic. They tend to avoid prominent leadership roles and prefer to “hide in plain sight” by neither confronting antagonists nor supporting commonly agreed-upon direction. Far from being lazy, the Peacemaker can provide a neutral sense of direction between competing priorities and introduce new ones if carefully coddled and treated well within the group dynamic.
Dynamic Culture Leadership Alignment Assessment 47
Individual assessment is important, as is a leadership team evaluation. An accurate assessment can yield many positive results, including the ability of the team to better align itself to bring real diversity of style, skills, experience, and abilities into the health organization. In this model, cultural and individual diversity are valued because they enable the organization to better respond to dynamic organizational and external environments. A diverse leadership team brings robustness to solving organizational problems, as long as focus and adherence to team goals are maintained.
An assessment that looks at leadership as a team, across organizational levels, operating environments, and external environment needs, is especially valuable. 48 This assessment intends to evaluate the leadership styles and propensities of the leadership group of an organization, the organization’s operating style, and the perceived external environment expectations of the organization. It can also be used as an individual assessment for leadership, management, technical (science) and art (relationships) propensities, communication, planning, decision alignment, employee enhancement, and knowledge management constructs.