top of page
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

What Is Humanistic Psychology?

I've long since believed that the key to unlocking improved performance in anything comes from better understanding the "thing" you're trying to improve. In the case of being a better leader, the "thing" is you. And so, self-awareness is that key. Today there are a myriad of personality assessment tools out there to help you become more self-aware, pointing out your strengths, highlighting your weaknesses, revealing possible blind spots and recommending "opportunities for growth".

I've always been fascinated with these tools, and have taken many over the course of my career. I'll be honest though, I've not always connected with them, I've felt pigeon-holed into a labelled box before and I've seen some pretty ropey behaviours be excused or accepted because of the results of a personality assessment. I do not believe that's what they are there for. I recently got qualified in one such tool that felt very different to the ones I'd been put through in the past. It's called Lumina Spark, and in the latest episode of my employee engagement podcast, Sticky From The Inside, I got to speak to the architect of Lumina Spark, Dr. Stewart Desson, about where the inspiration for Spark came from, and what he means when he talks about how it is based on a humanistic psychology perspective.

Below is a transcript of our conversation, but you can also listen here.

Two men discussing humanistic psychology and personality assessment on the Sticky From The Inside podcast
Dr Stewart Desson (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss the power of personality assessments

Podcast introduction

00:00:10 Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you wanna take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

Introduction to today’s episode

00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK, my friends, today I am truly living the dream. You know how much a fan I am of human and business psychology? Well, in today's episode, we're going to take a look at how these worlds combine when we're looking at people and team development, and I get to speak to one of my heroes on the topic today, which I'm so looking forward to.

Now many of you will have no doubt taken some form of psychometric test or personality or team assessment at work at some point in your career. The names Myers-Briggs, Insights, DISC, Lumina Spark, Hogan may be names you recognise. And if you don't, and if you haven't been exposed to something like that, I hope this episode inspires you to find out more come the end.

But today I'm joined by Doctor Stewart Desson, who's the CEO of the International Selection and Development company, Lumina Learning. He's the architect of the Lumina Spark Personality Assessment tool that I'm a qualified practitioner in and that you've heard me talk about a fair bit on this show before. The Lumina Learning mission is to transform organisations by celebrating people, one human at a time. Now, if ever there was a statement in line with the sentiment of this podcast, that was it.

Now, I've personally had some wonderful moments using this tool with clients, and in today's show I want to find out a bit more about what inspired Stewart to take on the established view of psychometrics and bring something arguably richer and more colourful to the table. I want to investigate what Stewart means about when he talks around the topic of “humanistic psychology” and the role that self-awareness really does play in our development, and with neurodiversity taking a more conscious position in the workplace today, I'd like to understand how that's influencing the work he does on people selection and development.

Now Stewart is on the management board of the Association for Business Psychology as well as being a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD. He also possesses a Masters degree in operational research as well as being educated and experienced in the practical application of psychology, and all that is supported by a second Masters in change agency from the University of Surrey. SoI reckon I'm in very safe hands with this topic today and I just can't wait to dive in.

Welcome to the show, Stewart.

Who is Dr. Stewart Desson?

00:03:43 Dr. Stewart Desson

Thank you, Andy and thank you for your kind words. With that sort of introduction, I'm really looking forward to what I might say!

00:03:50 Andy Goram

I'm really looking forward to what you might say. I’ve personally loved using Lumina Spark as a tool, and and having been exposed to various of that list of assessments back in my career, I'm just really interested to sort of understand more about where it came from, and what your influences were, and and then really what you're doing with it going forward.

But before I get all excited and into all of that, do me a favour, Stewart. Can you just give my listeners a bit of an intro to you, and perhaps give us a bit of an insight into what you're really focused on right now?

00:04:23 Dr. Stewart Desson

OK, well, I'm the CEO. I'm the founder of Lumina learning. I'm the author of the Lumina Spark psychometric itself. That was the basis of the PhD that I did. In terms of, you know, where's it come from? Well, it's sort of come from my life experience blended with professional experience and some of the academic side. So it's really quite a genuine mixture. I mean, where are we going right now? We're focused on the selection and development market providing psychometrics that create actually solutions for large, typically large organisations. And I would say one of our key focuses right now is digitising that experience, as well as removing the sort of pathologising that some psychometric, or psychological approaches engage in. So we're bringing in more of a humanistic psychology approach into this realm that maybe previously done a different way.

Where did Lumina Spark come from?

00:05:27 Andy Goram

I think that's really interesting and we will definitely dig into that humanistic psychology thing, because it's easy to think,

Well, that's psychology. It’s all about humans, right?

But I think in its applications, in business and human, there is a blend and a mismatch at times. I suspect we'll find out.

I mentioned in the intro that you sort of took on an established view of what Psychometrics were, how they should be used, what they even looked like, and were trying to bring a sort of richer, more colourful, I guess, experience to that table. When you were looking at the world of psychometrics, what did you see that was going on that perhaps didn't quite sit well enough with you, and I guess inspired you to pursue this more humanistic psychological approach? And actually, what on Earth does that really mean, Stewart? Define that for us.

00:06:22 Dr. Stewart Desson

OK, let me try. Well, it's been a 20-year journey, really, to get to the point where I decided that I wanted to create Lumina Spark. So it probably started with my personal experience. I'd been on a few leadership programmes. People had tried to develop me and coach me and my experience in those early days was that some of the models that were applied to me, that were done to me, I wasn't too keen on. They typed me, they labelled me, they boxed me. And you know, labels I think, should be for clothing, not for human beings. So my initial experience was like being told,

Are you a thinker, or a feeler?” and someone trying to coach me and figure out which I am? And I was determined to say, "I'm both.”

Yeah. So that was my early experience of trying to... of, you know, breaking, like, sort of typing models.

I would say later, when I moved into this area, because I didn't start out in L&D, in psychology, I started out in something called operational research. But when I moved into sort of leadership roles and then transitioned towards HR, L&D and so on, that's when I experienced becoming a practitioner and I found, using many different models, some dissatisfaction that the dominant frame, was your personality’s fixed. You've got one, it's to a large extent, genetic. It's stuck to, it's glued to your face. That's your lot. And I didn't like working with those frameworks, even if the clients liked them and wanted them. And I came to embrace humanistic psychology and hold the view that our personalities are dynamic. That context is important. Who we're with is important and there will be a shift. And that's when I decided I really either... I went through a phase of saying. “I'm not going with psychometrics at all. They're too rigid and old school.” And then after a few years, I came back saying, “How can I apply my knowledge around quantifying stuff, to come up with a dynamic model of personality?”

So that was some of my dissatisfaction that led to the thinking of Lumina Spark.

What is humanistic psychology?

00:08:22 Dr. Stewart Desson

I guess the final piece of the jigsaw was not only are we dynamic, but I didn't want to pathologise. And consequently, the idea that who I am underneath is one thing, how I behave with others... I dial up, I adjust is another, but then I can overextend. Sometimes that can be dysfunctional, sometimes it can be just what's required in a circumstance. I normally overextend because in the past, at some level it's worked for me. I'm getting some sort of payoff from it. And so rather than viewing that as a, you know, a deep dysfunction and going into people's childhood, let's view it in... Humanistic psychology, for me, is all about, let's be an optimist. We can learn and grow and we're a dynamic. And let’s work with that. So that's probably the biggest influence.

The final bit would be the PhD, of course. And the interesting when I did the PhD, the initial challenge from other professors was,

“You've got all this great experience, Stewart, but I'm going to call it anecdotal, and we need to work with the research paradigm that says have you read the papers and got the evidence to prove it?

So that required a deeper understanding of what other people have said on this topic in addition to my experience. And that was a useful piece in terms of the development of Spark, to make it extremely rigorous and evidence-based.

00:09:41 Andy Goram

And having gone through the programme to understand all of that, the theory and validity piece behind the model itself is a whole other podcast. I mean, there is a whole bunch of deep, deep detail.

00:09:54 Dr. Stewart Desson

That is also a passion of mine so I can sort of regress into my inner nerd, because I did start out in life as a sort of a statistician operational researcher, but maybe for another day?

00:10:04 Andy Goram

Maybe, maybe. And I think this is what's interesting, isn't it? Because this whole world, I think... well, my personal experience of going through the Spark thing, and this may apply to anybody who's been through any of these tools from a practitioner perspective, is that you know, when I sort of signed up for it, Stewart, I had the expectation of, “Right. I'm going to come out of this in the X number of days and I'm gonna know everything about someone's personality. I'm gonna know everything about stuff that's going on behind the scenes.” And the reality was that is not the case.

What the case is, is that what the tool allows you to do is start to uncover some very, very interesting coaching conversations, right? Is really get to people to have a look at what's going on within themselves. But more importantly, and I think this is what should be the premise behind all of these things is,

Well, what does that practically mean for me? What does that practically mean for the team that I work in? What does that practically mean for the relationships I have with people? And what does it practically mean for the business that I'm a part of?”

And I think that's what's really interesting. It’s that those conversations open up a whole, or huge mine of places to go, that you can investigate all those sorts of things and take a really good look at under the bonnet, as it were.

00:11:21 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yeah. I mean for me under the bonnet happens through dialogue.

00:11:24 Andy Goram


00:11:26 Dr. Stewart Desson

So it's one thing to measure something, but measurement is not the answer. Measurement is something that's a good starting point. All that dialogue and being into humanistic psychology, I'm an optimist. We can learn, we can grow, develop and guess what? We do that through conversations and exploration and being curious and being open.

00:11:46 Andy Goram

Absolutely. There's definitely a switch from that fixed mindset approach to a much more open mindset approach when you use these things.

What problems with psychometric assessments were you trying to solve with Lumina Spark?

So, thinking about that humanistic psychology, thinking about your experiences and going through the PhD. Based on all that background, what principally were you setting out to achieve when you were putting Spark together?

00:12:09 Dr. Stewart Desson

I wanted to create a tool that would be a catalyst for people's development, and I wanted that tool to break the mould and be disruptive and challenging to the other tools that are currently used in the market. And in particular, I wanted to take some concepts that are not normally put into psychometrics. Your personality is dynamic. It can change. It depends on the context and who you're with, and we might overdo things, but it might not be dark and dysfunctional. I wanted to take those ideas that would normally happen in a rich coaching dialogue, or in a Group session with really experienced facilitators, but truly enable the psychometric to enable that, and take it further, and make it happen faster. To speed up those conversations. And I wanted to remove the resistance that I'd experienced when using other tools on the market that, you know, unconsciously were taking people back to a more traditional, either medical or biological model of personality, which often reflected the personality of the originators of those models. So as my friend, Nikita Mikael often says,

If you really want to understand the psychometric, look at who created it. Look at their personality and see what you can learn from that first.”

Which I think is probably spot on.

00:13:39 Andy Goram

Yeah. “Here's my world and this is what everything looks like. Judge yourself against that.

00:13:43 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yes, I mean at another level, the Spark model, if I'm really honest, it's an attempt by me at a very personal level to make sense of the world, and make sense of my psychology and those around me. Which is one reason it has the balance in it, because other psychometrics may, you know, place more emphasis on measuring, let's say, extroversion constructively, positively, or a cheerful leader, and typically put less emphasis on, you know, being introverted, at least in a constructive way, maybe introversion’s shy and quiet and withdrawn. I really wanted to bring, you know, a balance to that. And that was me trying to make sense of my world and my introversion and extroversion.

And equally in terms of what the Big 5 calls conscientiousness, which is really prized often in graduate recruitment, you want conscientious graduates. But I suddenly realised, “Well, hey, guess what? I'm not particularly conscientious.” So in Lumina, we call that being Discipline Driven, that's quite low. What can we say about the opposite of it, which we call Inspiration Driven, seize the moment, a little bit random, let it emerge. Those qualities which are highly prized in humanistic psychology, but not typically valued in corporate recruitment processes. How could we have a model that could do both?

I didn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I want, you know, some of us are very disciplined. Some of us are very inspired and emergent. Some of us do both. And I want a holistic model that allows us to look at that. That was the purpose really.

00:15:16 Andy Goram

And did you feel that, I mean, whether it's conscious or unconscious, this sort of pigeonholing was one of the major kind of issues with existing tools or established tools?

00:15:25 Dr. Stewart Desson

I absolutely did. That was my personal experience before, you know, before I got into psychology, when I was doing other things in my early career, I very much felt that I was being pigeonholed. I remember being told that I was very much an extroverted, intuitive and because of that I shouldn't get a job in a certain operational area and it limited my career. Well, it probably delayed it a year or so, because I'm quite determined and don't want to let a psychometric get in the way of what I want to do. But I experienced it limiting me and I experienced seeing people being pigeonholed in a corporate setting in an unhelpful way. In a way that caused some people to want to be a certain type, even though they weren't.

So when we type and label, we oversimplify and there are huge risks in that, and that will project onto other people, will oversimplify other people, and it may even impact our own development. I've seen, you know, typing, being used as an excuse by people. I remember somebody once saying.

I'm sorry, I've just upset that customer. But you know, I am the extroverted thinking type. What do you expect?”

And it's not supposed to be used as an excuse. It's supposed to be used to explore. Now, of course, I know there's brilliant typing practitioners out there, and I don't wish to offend them, because a really good typing practitioner knows that it's not about the label. They go much, much deeper. However, I have to say my experience was I was labelled, and I have, yeah, I've seen that happen and I don't want to go there. I want to do the opposite.

What’s the ideal leader personality type?

00:17:02 Andy Goram

I think that's... I think that's a really good point about the the the practitioner themselves, because I think I've certainly, in my early career, going through some of these tests, it's been... I guess it's been a veneer kind of treatment of the result and the model. And people do then walk away going, “Well you would say that, you're an ENFP” or whatever it might be. I also wonder whether, Stewart, I’m interested to think about your view on this, in today's world of leadership and recruitment and what have you, and the kind of changing landscape we're seeing, is the traditional view of what a leader looks like, and therefore that's the type we're after being challenged? And is that why, you know, tools like Spark and others are, I guess, very useful in identifying what someone is, as opposed to fixing them to a specific type? So I don't know, it typically maybe in the past we'd have said,

Oh! The ideal kind of leader is a red, yellow combination and therefore if you're not that, you've got no chance of being a decent leader.”

Are we challenging that view now and are the tools looking at that?

00:18:14 Dr. Stewart Desson

We are challenging that view and there's a there's a distinction to be drawn here between what sorts of people are attracted to roles, and those that are most effective. So, it it is the case, and I can see this in my data, that on balance people who are in the C-Suite, particularly CEO, they do tend to be more extroverted. They do tend to be more outcome focused. On balance, they have a degree of discipline and so on. However, just because those are the sorts of people that are attracted to those roles, or they're the sort of people that get promoted into those roles, doesn't mean that they are the best and that should double down on that sort of what I would call, bias, and recruit in that one image.

That's the problem with some of the AI recruitment techniques used. I don't know if you heard a few years ago, Amazon we're using AI in recruitment and because certain people with certain traits, are, you know, are in certain roles, AI doesn't really discriminate. It just takes the data and builds in. It can reinforce these biases. So I think Amazon found that they were starting to exclude women from certain leadership roles because they were using a black box AI algorithm, and that's exactly what we want to avoid.

Recognising the diversity of personality in modern leadership

So in my experience, as we move towards more inclusive leaders, who know how to manage the diversity of a team and harness, you know, many forms of diversity, including psychological diversity, that means we need to be open to more diverse leaders as well. So, one of the benefits of Lumina Spark is that it actually quantifies constructively leaders who could be counterculture. So the most counterculture leader is one that's a little bit more introverted and contained, not so disciplined, but quite inspired, and goes with the flow, and maybe one who's not typically so resilient, but is actually, living in a rich world of emotion and feels things quite passionately. Those are the leaders that will typically have a hard time even getting on to a high-potential leadership programme. They’ll be sort of screened out. But actually, if we want to operate inclusively in organisations, we need to be open to being inclusive around our leadership as well.

So I guess I'm here to say that whatever our personality, there are strengths. There are challenges in our leadership and our leadership development. And I think what we should be doing when we develop leaders, is working with who's there and helping them become more effective in terms of how can they dial things up, dial things down? How can they be more self-aware of who they are? And working authentically with who they are, rather than going for a cookie cutter approach and typing.

So I mean, you mentioned, you know, leaders get typed, salespeople do as well, you know. There's an approach to the sales challenger which really effectively says we want a certain type to be in sales. And I'm yeah, I guess to put my cards on the table, I'm pretty hostile to any approach that says you need one type for any one role. It's too reductionist, it's too simplistic, and it's definitely not inclusive.

00:21:36 Andy Goram

Yeah. And I think we'll dig into some more of that inclusivity a bit later on.

What is the theory of dynamic personality?

I want to just reference the kind... you've mentioned the sort of personalities when we're talking about individuals. And I think one of the most interesting things doing portrait debriefs with clients on this stuff, is the peeling back of the layers from the top line report. Which, in the majority of cases, right in the majority of cases, people will look at it and go,

Yeah, it's about 90% me”, at least on average, “but I'm not sure about this, that and the other.”

It's when you're peeling back the layers of personality that this sort of stuff, I think, really starts to have value.

So just for the benefit of the listeners, just explain the approach around dynamic personality, the three personas and why that's important for you.

00:22:34 Dr. Stewart Desson

What I found from my experience, but also what the research literature says, is you don't really have one personality. That's sort of a dated concept. It depends who you're with and what you're doing, and it also suggests that underneath, partly through our genetics, partly through our upbringing and the role models and leaders in our life, we do have a preference for expressing ourselves in a certain way. So, for me, underneath I like to be very clear in my thinking. In my natural preference, I quite like being direct with people, and I also like going with the flow and not being tied down. Let's call that my underlying persona. It's what I gravitate towards. If I don't have to deal with customers, or different relationships, or partners and so on. Let's call that the underlying.

However, I don't exist in my underlying persona. I don't go around doing exactly what I want and feel like all the time. I have to function in the world with roles and family relationships and so on. So I rise to things every day. And of course there's an identity that I might bring. I want to be seen as someone that's more organised, so I maybe I dial back a bit of my freewheeling nature that you might see on a Saturday, and at work I strive to be somewhat more structured. And although underneath, I like to be direct and clear with everybody, I often in my relationships, in my chats with you, Andy, I’ll want to be a bit more diplomatic. I'll dial up my people-focus and tone down my bluntness that I might be thinking my head, because for whatever reason, that's how I want to be seen. So we call that your everyday persona. And using some of the sort of Viktor Frankl concept of free will, I bring my free will to that. There's some choice in it, but there’s some unconscious stuff as well. I can get triggered in situations, but I firmly believe we have free will and we can develop ourselves and dial up and dial down. So that's the distinction between who we are underneath and who we are everyday.

And really one simple definition of emotional intelligence I like is,

I know who I am underneath and I'm aware of how I dial up and dial things down and I can bring my conscious will to it.”

That actually is a key part of emotional intelligence.

The other persona that we have; so we have that underlying bit, the everyday persona. The third bit is what we do when we get triggered, or what we do when we do too much of a good thing or, you know, overextend. So in my case, you know, I'm quite clear in my mind, underneath I'm much more diplomatic when I'm speaking to you. I mean, we haven't done it yet, but if you were to trigger me and poke me in the eye, I might suddenly come out and go back to being overly blunt, because that sometimes comes out in my overextended. And you know, part of being coached is to be coachable, and be willing to look at that and think is that really serving me?

You know, maybe in certain circumstances it is, but actually not all the time. So can I notice what triggers me and can I engage in some disciplines and practises to get back to equilibrium and be more, you know, effective?

So that's what I would call the three... we call that the three personas. And we're a dynamic. We're always moving between them. Of course, there’s even more than three. Three’s a nice number for a good dialogue. You know, we have many, many different personas. If you like, I have my persona as a CEO when I'm working with my team, and I have a different persona when I'm with my kids, and so on. So different contexts will draw that out as well.

00:26:22 Andy Goram

I think that's such a great point. And a lot of the questions, that you know, clients, coachees always end up referencing is,

Is the context going to change my result? Is it going to influence my personality?” And the simple answer to that is, “Yes. Yes it will.”

00:26:38 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yeah, and there's a great academic theory that I've drawn on that explains this. It's called trait activation theory by a brilliant psychologist called Tett. And the theory basically says we've got many, many traits, dormant in us. And you could consider that part of the underlying, but certain traits are activated in a certain context. So whereas I'm not normally, for example, aggressive towards people. That's not something I would normally do. I'm rarely triggered to be aggressive in a work context. But I remember, you know, some 15 years ago, an altercation at a train station where someone was being incredibly racially abusive and ultimately I needed to engage and get somebody arrested and get the police. You know, that context triggered a trait. And it was probably appropriate to be more aggressive in that situation. If you get the gist? So the context triggers the different traits. Make sense?

00:27:42 Andy Goram

Yeah, absolutely make sense to me. I just wanna just clarify some of the language stuff.

What’s the difference between personality traits and types?

Because whenever, I mean depending which assessment you go through, or what you've done in your past, or what you're doing, you're going to hear traits, types, preferences, and behaviour. Just glossarise those things. If that's even a word?

00:28:06 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yeah, I'll try and glossarise. OK. So the first thing is there's traits and types. They're basically two different theories. Type theory sort of posits that you can, you know, when certain things cluster together it sort of forms a type. And that was the original psychological models were pretty much all typing theory, which sort of stems from a, you know, 100 or so years ago. 120 years ago, a medical model of when these things apply, you've got a certain condition. Like a medical sort of frame on it. As time’s gone by with the Big 5, and trait methodology, which says it's all on a continuum, has become to become more sort of preferable in research. I’m pretty clearly in the trait camp, both academically, because my research says often these things are normally distributed and it's on a continuum. But I'm also there, sort of from a humanistic psychology perspective. Because I believe that we can tune up, tune down and change. We don't need to stick with the type. Now that's traits and types.

I only use the term trait when I'm referring to things academically, or when I'm referring to other people's models that use the term traits. So I mentioned you know trait activation theory. In Lumina terms, I simply talk about qualities and that's just an attempt to sort of “depsychologialise”. I think I've made that word up.

00:29:26 Andy Goram

*laughs* We’ll take it!

00:29:27 Dr. Stewart Desson

Just to call it a quality, rather than a trait. To make it less threatening. And you know, what you were referring, “What’s a preference?” A preference is a bit more innate. I call that just your underlying persona. And again, it’s an attempt to simplify it a bit.

Behaviour comes a bit more into what I would call your every day. So every day includes our behaviour. It does include our thoughts and feelings and emotions as well. But I call that your everyday persona. And some people would put behaviour in there. Some psychologists don't see your behaviour purely as part of your personality. So there's an academic debate, is your personality deep buried inside you and your behaviour is something else? I'm here to say in practical terms, in my opinion, your personality is your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, and your behaviour. And in the Lumina model, we put more of your behaviour into that every day, and overextended.

And then, what I call the overextended persona in the literature, they will call it maladaptive traits. They might even call it counterproductive, you know, work behaviours. These are the words that are used in the literature. Sometimes it's called the dark side. People like that terminology. I like the terminology of just saying, “You're just overextending. It's just a bit too much of a good thing.” Because I'm trying to take the the pathologising out of it. And my preference is not to go anywhere near the DSM framework of saying psychotic and schizophrenic and how that shows up in your life. That's a bit a bit too dark for my taste. So compared to other models, the overextended concept, it's simply too much of a good thing is how we frame it.

The importance of self-awareness and choice in personal development

00:31:12 Andy Goram

I think this is what makes the tool really practical in its application, because it isn't scary. It isn't kind of medical. I'm not lying someone on a couch, working out if they’re a sociopath or a narcissist or... that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about getting a bit of self-awareness, a bit of reflection to properly understand what you're in control of, what you're not in control of and trying to be a bit more conscious about these things, so that you can grow, adapt, and develop, right?

00:31:45 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yeah. I mean, I think that's it, bang on. And I would say that the self-awareness piece there is central, although there is a catch with it. So we can raise our self-awareness through looking at who we are, our underlying, every day, overextended. If we can richly understand that, that will raise our self-awareness. But guess what? If we just have an interesting experience, and if you were to coach me, Andy, and raise my self-awareness, but then I go back to work and carry on doing the same things I've always done, I call that the booby prize. You know, the worst of all worlds.

00:32:15 Andy Goram


00:32:16 Dr. Stewart Desson

You’ve raised your awareness and then you've not used it. So ultimately, we do need to change our behaviour if we're going to make use of that self-awareness. And that's why I think behaviour is part of personality, because it's our expression of who we are, and it brings in that Viktor Frankl concept of your will and your choice and your freedom. Which you know, we have the freedom to choose our behaviour. We are not automatons.

00:32:42 Andy Goram

I think that the word “choice” is such a great word in this, and especially when you're having sort of conversations along this line. Actually asking someone to recognise it's a choice they're making, to dial up, dial down and suppress, accentuate it, often brings about some of the biggest pauses in some of those conversations, where people are like,

Oh! Am I in control of this, or not?”

And that's a really, really interesting moment in those conversations.

00:33:09 Dr. Stewart Desson

And it's a challenging moment, isn't it? Because it's much easier to think, “Well, I've just got stressed out by this event, you know, or someone's done it to me, and I can't help it.” Yeah? When in fact, what we're encouraging here is a profound taking a personal responsibility for what happens when we get triggered. And I'm not pretending that's an easy thing to grapple with, but that's what we're about. And if we want to be really effective, inclusive leaders, we need to be able to look at that and do it.

00:33:39 Andy Goram

Yeah, I'm fascinated by when you talk about self-awareness potentially being a booby prize if you do nothing with it. I mean the rule of thumb would say self-awareness is incredibly important to our development. It's a starting block. But where is it... where in your view...where does it lead to? What are the sort of other steps in the process?

00:34:05 Dr. Stewart Desson

Well, of course, you need to start with self-awareness. So we don't know whether we'll end up with the booby prize or not, because we start off by raising it. But in my way of looking at the world, it's a great place to start. So I raise my self-awareness to who I am underneath, how I behave, how I get triggered. I raise my awareness to my values, you know? I need to put a focus on them to discover what they really are. And maybe raise my self-awareness around my identity and what I aspire to and so on. All these things help raise my awareness, including awareness of my emotions.

I'm willing to admit if you'd met me at 18,19, 20 years old, I didn't really acknowledge emotions in my life. I was very much in the world of logic and science. And it's taken a while for me to realise that part of self-awareness is noticing different feelings and emotions and being able to figure out where they've come from. But it's not enough.

So, I would say the next step is yes, I'm aware of myself, but actually, I now need to be aware of other people, and I need to be aware of their feelings and emotions and where they’re at. So, I would wrap that up around,

“Can I value the diversity of other people?”

It's easier for me to understand people who are similar to me, in terms of values and personality. It's more challenging to value the diversity of someone who's my complete psychological opposite. But that's the challenge. So the first thing to do with your self-awareness is then start to read other people and value the diversity around you and not judge it. It's natural to judge people that are different, negatively. We want to drop that, and value it.

The thing that comes after that, of course, if I can drop my judgments on others that are different, I've got a chance of building rapport with them. I've got a chance of connecting with them, and I should focus my effort on building that rapport. If we can do that collectively, if a number of us are doing it together, then as a team we're in with the possibility of co-creating together. We're in with the possibility of the team being inclusive, listening to each other, valuing each other, giving each other feedback. All this stems from self-awareness. Then we can have a team that co-creates, as opposed to a team that's not so self-aware, is a little bit judgmental. People are recruited in their own image. It's a bit colony, and then when we go for results. It's not the co-creation of results, it's just driving for results, you know, grinding for a result.

I'm not saying that's not effective. I do think it's more stressful and I do think ultimately it won't tap into people's underlying purposes, and probably won't result in an engaged workforce or place to work. I'm not saying it doesn't work, because many organisations do it. But I am suggesting being more aware of valuing others, building the rapport, being aware of my emotions and co-creating together is a much better way of doing it.

00:36:57 Andy Goram

I think that's the sustainable route, Stewart. In the work that I do with engagement and retention particularly. I think that this thing around team cohesiveness and trust is what ends up being a foundation for sustainable performance. As opposed to the sort of Yin and Yang...

00:37:17 Dr. Stewart Desson

You’re right. Everything I've just said, you could reframe it as it's creating more team cohesion and you're building trust. You know, if I start to understand who you really are, and you understand who I am, we're going to build trust through that process. If you notice, I'm not judging you, you know, and vice versa. That also builds trust. What kills trust is if I think you're judging me. Yeah, I'll then close down.

00:37:39 Andy Goram

Absolutely. And that can be based on a whole bunch of assumptions. And I think what we end up doing with these sorts of tools is lowering the water line on the iceberg and seeing a lot more of what really lies beneath the water. And therefore, once you see it, you can appreciate it, and you can do something with it.

00:37:56 Dr. Stewart Desson

And that’s a great way of seeing self-awareness. It’s lowering the water line so we can have a look at what's down there, yeah? You'll never get all the way down to the bottom. I do think there is an ultimate unconscious that we're not completely aware of, but we can take it away, yeah?

How does neurodiversity affect personality assessments?

00:38:12 Andy Goram

Absolutely. I'm really interested also, and it's been... it's come up a number of times recently and I want to think about... maybe some of the diversity stuff that that you mentioned a bit more. But particularly with neurodiversity, right, and neuro awareness.

We are, I think a lot more conscious of these things, or beginning to get a lot more conscious about these things, and particularly at work. And has this changed, challenged, validated the work that you've done? And I ask the question because the other day, in fact, with a group, ahead of a group, I had a couple of people contact me privately to say,

I need to let you know I've got ADHD, and is this going to affect my result? Is it going to affect my profile. Please help.

So, what are you seeing going on, Stewart?

00:39:09 Dr. Stewart Desson

Well, firstly, I think there is certainly in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, I think there is a trend. If I go back to my childhood, people who were neurodiverse, you know ADHD, autism and so on, it was an extremely negative label, back to the typing conversation, that was put on, or which could create a negative feedback loop if you were perceived in that way, it would impact the quality of the teaching that you would experience, and so on. What's changed now, I think, not completely, because there are still judgments, but People are now more open to the fact that it's not a disorder, dysfunction, or something to be ashamed of. Actually, it's just a different way of being. We are just neurodiverse rather than framing it negatively.

Now, having said that, some people do still frame it negatively, of course, and it is, you know, ADHD is technically a disorder. So I think we're on a journey where in the workplace, we are in the process of starting to see the benefits of people who are neurodiverse. In terms of Lumina Spark, because the model is designed to be inclusive and because the model is designed not to have what I call an evaluative bias, meaning that the models designed not to overvalue extroversion over introversion, and to make sure they’re both measured constructively. So you know, introversion can be, you know,

"I listen before I give my view”, rather than saying, “You're a bit shy”, yeah.

Because we've tried to remove those biases and create an holistic model, it does mean that people who are neurodiverse will find a home in the Lumina spark model that may be less judgmental than other models. So, for example, we do know, because we've done research with neurodiverse people and people who are neuro-typical, and we've got them to fill in Lumina Spark and Lumina Emotion and we've analysed and correlated the data. So, we do know that typically on average, people like the colleague you mentioned with ADHD are likely to be higher on Inspiration Driven and lower on Discipline Driven. So they are that, unless they go into the hyper-focused mode of ADHD and then they could become very discipline driven. So, if they get their Lumina Spark Portrait back and they can see that their go with the flow, their spontaneity is very constructively described, and they've not been pathologised that can be extremely encouraging for them.

So I have a colleague, who I work with, who is autistic and is happy for me to share their story, which is that for 20 years in their career they were perceived as too shy, too introverted, too anxious and so on. And they were for 20 years, striving at work to dial it up and fit in more. And they were masking things and so on. And interestingly, one of the things that helped them when we worked together and looked at Lumina Spark, was realising there are great strengths in their introversion. And suddenly, they dropped the need to be dialling up and trying to pretend they were more extroverted than they were. And suddenly, they found a way of playing to their strengths and being more authentic to who they are. And they report and tell me that for them, that was really transformational. And I think that example is what we should be doing to help people who neurodiverse. Not have it put on them as a dysfunctional label, but to see that there are strengths in it, that's, you know, it's humanistic psychology. It's positive psychology. Call it what you want. It's a way of honouring people and respecting who they are.

00:43:03 Andy Goram

And that comes back around full circle to the mission that we started with the introduction about celebrating people, one human at a time, which I totally subscribe to and absolutely love.

00:43:14 Dr. Stewart Desson

I'm so glad you like it. Yeah, cause for me, it always starts with the individual. Often our interventions are to transform or change organisations, but actually the ingredient we work with are human beings, one at a time. And we're all different and we're all precious.

The episode summary

00:43:28 Andy Goram

Absolutely. We're a bag full of emotions, ready to be rifled through.

I think we've come to the part in the show, Stewart, where it's an opportunity for us to summarise this all too short conversation, if I'm honest. But if you were to fit on 3 little sticky notes, 3 sagely pieces of practical advice, Stewart, that would help people, I don't know, maybe even think about psychometrics differently, or apply them differently. What would your pearls of wisdom be?

00:44:01 Dr. Stewart Desson

Well, now you're challenging me to disciplines, when I like my freedom. Why 3 when I want 20?

OK, let me try. So I think we started out the conversation saying you're not a type. You're not a static thing. Your personality is a dynamic. So I think my first sticky note would be to say, as human beings, we're dynamic. And we have conscious will in that process. There’s who we are underneath, every day , overextended. So I guess Sticky Note one, you are dynamic, you're not a static and you're definitely not a type. That'll be my first one.

What would be my second one? I maybe... we've talked about self-awareness and I would say my next sticky note would be, self-awareness is essential for our development, but it's the booby prize if you don't take action. That would be my second sticky note.

My third one.... maybe tapping into what we discussed on neurodiversity, I would say it's not a disorder. People are either neurotypical or you're diverse. It's simply a form of diversity. So neurodiversity is about harnessing the positive and the good in everybody.

00:45:16 Andy Goram

Absolutely. That broader perspective can only get better results in the end, I think, whatever we're talking about. I love those sticky notes.

I've really really enjoyed this conversation. For me, I would have loved it to have been another three or four hours long, but we don't have time for that today, Stewart.

Thank you so much for coming on. I know you're incredibly busy, man. You're about to jet off to South Africa and all the good things over there, so thank you so much for being here.

00:45:43 Dr. Stewart Desson

Yeah, Andy, thank you for taking the time to ask me such stimulating questions and the privilege of sharing it with all your listeners. So thank you.

00:45:52 Andy Goram

No. Brilliant. Well, you take care, my friend and I hope to see you again soon.

00:45:56 Dr. Stewart Desson

OK. Take care. Bye.

00:45:56 Andy Goram

Cheers! OK, everyone, that was Doctor Stewart Desson. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about him or any of the topics that we've covered today, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe, that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like, comment, and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to The Sticky From The Inside Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page