Image credit: Charles M. Gandolfo. Licensed per New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, Jerry Gandolfo and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Image credit: Charles M. Gandolfo, pursuant to an authorization from the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and Jerry Gandolfo by virtue of  a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. No changes were made to the image.


When I was Chief Judge, I convinced our judges to take and exchange the results of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory. I don’t remember where I ended up, but if you think “fascist” you’d be about right. My idea was that if the judges each understood the personality types of the other judges that the Age of Aquarius would be ushered in just like the Fifth Dimension told us it would in 1969. It didn’t work exactly as I had planned. When we were discussing the results, I think that was the first time I heard STFU screamed aloud. Just kidding.

(You will love the visual aspects of this music video. I miss 1969. It was so goofy. You could hum Age of Aquarius while secure in the knowledge that our country had an inexhaustible supply of napalm.)

In any event, Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp of our court recently persuaded all the judges to take another personality inventory. This time we took the Clifton StrengthsFinder® 2.0 put out by the Gallup Organization. Gallup claims to have distilled psychological theory into personal development practice by interviewing 1.7 million professionals from varying fields. Having quantified the different traits of the people they interviewed, they came up with 34 distinct patterns—what they call “talent themes”—that best describe the range of human uniqueness observed during their research:

  1. Achiever – one with a constant drive for accomplishing tasks
  2. Activator – one who acts to start things in motion
  3. Adaptability – one who is especially adept at accommodating to changes in direction/plan
  4. Analytical – one who requires data and/or proof to make sense of their circumstances
  5. Arranger – one who enjoys orchestrating many tasks and variables to a successful outcome
  6. Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  7. Command – one who steps up to positions of leadership without fear of confrontation
  8. Communication – one who uses words to inspire action and education
  9. Competition – one who thrives on comparison and competition to be successful
  10. Connectedness – one who seeks to unite others through commonality
  11. Consistency – one who believes in treating everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
  12. Context – one who is able to use the past to make better decisions in the present
  13. Deliberative – one who proceeds with caution, seeking to always have a plan and know all of the details
  14. Developer – one who sees the untapped potential in others
  15. Discipline – one who seeks to make sense of the world by imposition of order
  16. Empathy – one who is especially in tune with the emotions of others
  17. Focus – one who requires a clear sense of direction to be successful
  18. Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success
  19. Harmony – one who seeks to avoid conflict and achieve success through consensus
  20. Ideation – one who is adept at seeing underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
  21. Includer – one who instinctively works to include everyone
  22. Individualization – one who draws upon the uniqueness of individuals to create successful teams
  23. Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  24. Intellection – one who enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation often for its own sake, and also can compress complex concepts into simplified models
  25. Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  26. Maximizer – one who seeks to take people and projects from great to excellent
  27. Positivity – one who has a knack for bring the light-side to any situation
  28. Relator – one who is most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
  29. Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  30. Restorative – one who thrives on solving difficult problems
  31. Self-Assurance – one who stays true to their beliefs, judgments and is confident of his/her ability
  32. Significance – one who seeks to be seen as significant by others
  33. Strategic – one who is able to see a clear direction through the complexity of a situation
  34. Woo – one who is able to easily persuade

The “test” is taken online and the taker is presented with 177 stimuli and he or she makes 177 responses–each item lists a pair of potential self-descriptors, such as “I like to help people.” See The Clifton StrengthsFinder® 2.0 Technical Report: Development and Validation (February, 2007). The descriptors are placed as if anchoring opposite poles of a continuum. From that pair, the respondent is asked to choose the statement that best describes him or her, and also the extent to which that chosen option is descriptive of him or her. The participant is given 20 seconds to respond to a given item before the system moves on to the next item. Gallup stresses that the “StrengthsFinder” is not designed or validated for use in employee selection or mental health screening (too bad). According to Gallup, feedback is provided to foster intrapersonal development.  As a result, comparisons across profiles of individuals are discouraged by Gallup.

So, how did I do? In order, my “strengths” were (1) input–one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use; (2) learner–one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful; (3) intellection–one who enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation often for its own sake, and also can compress complex concepts into simplified models; (4) achiever–one with a constant drive for accomplishing tasks; (5) analytical – one who requires data or proof to make sense of their circumstances.

I have two questions for the bright folks who read this blog:

  • Are personality inventories like the MBTI® and the Clifton StrengthsFinder® more like voodoo than science?
  • If personality inventories such as these have value, what, if any, value do they have for federal judges individually or in the management of their courts?




24 responses

  1. whenever anybody wants to use things like the MBI, i always ask myself “is the test being used as a tool to help people better understand themselves or to enable somebody else to label/pigeonhole the individual”? i realize that the line between these two can be difficult to discern. nevertheless, i think that assessments like this can be helpful if used properly, but counterproductive if used for the “wrong” reasons or by people that don’t understand how to interpret/use the results.

  2. SHG,

    Someday, if you ask nicely, I will tell you my story about a night filled with White Russian cocktails. Wondereful!

    All the best.


  3. Personally, if I want to know more about a person, I’d just go and talk to them and find out for myself. Why create simulacra of personalities via a test?* It’s like a voodoo doll: everyone is making a mental image of each other so that they can stick pins into them.

    I’ve been generally unconvinced of most career aptitude and personality assessment tests because they have been absolutely terrible in predicting anything for me. I remain unconvinced of their usefulness in this context.

    *Hah, I got to use a latin word. My fancy legal education is finally paying off! Okay actually I just wikipedia’d the word. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacrum

  4. Anon.,

    Because I know you are youngish, here is another Latin phrase you might like: Antiques temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus vntosissimis exponebatur ad necem. Or: “In the good old days, children like you were left to perish on windswept crags.”

    Have a nice day. All the best.


  5. I just wanted to do justice. Didn’t fit the profile of a judge, so they killed my career and my dreams. Nobody believed in Jeremiah, either. I wish you a happy and a healthy new year. L’shana tova.

  6. I was looking through a personnel file of a client and I found some allegedly “objective” measures of his character from some sort of canned Gallup-type test geared towards blue collar workers If the results of the tests were relevant to a character trait relevant to the case, I suppose they could come in under FRE 405 subject to foundation and Daubert. I think the Clifton Strengths Finder is more geared towards higher end employees, I think lower wage workers are subject to other tests. It might be worth checking to see if any of these personnel tests have been subject to Daubert challenges. I believe the EEOC suspects that some of these personnel tests have a disparate impact on certain protected classes.

  7. I can’t speak to the voodoo/ science debate, but I can speak to the usefulness of these tests.

    Our local (state) district court uses the MBTI as part of its “New Judge Orientation” program. (I’m an INTJ.)

    I took the Cilfton Strengths Finder because my wife told me to – and she’s substantially smarter than I am. (Strategic, Input, Ideation, Analytical, Learner – the life of the party, right?)

    I’m glad I took the tests- not because I was unsure of my strengths and weaknesses, but because a study of the categories helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people I work with and how best to relate to them. This is particularly helpful in generating consensus for rule and policy change – not everyone thinks like I do, but I need both their short-term votes and long-term support for the projects and issues I work on – and I’m better at that after taking the Clifton and MBTI tests seriously. So, as a state court judicial officer, I think these tests have been very useful. I imagine that even lifetime-appointed Federal judges occacsionally need to “win friends and influence people” to address larger issues – or to just avoid being perceived as an ass by their staff. So I suspect that these tests would be useful to federal judges, too.

    While I’m not sure that the tests are more scientific that a Ouija board, but they have been very useful to me. And that counts for something.

  8. The first problem to watch out for with these kinds of tests is statistical invalidity. Is the test actually based on some statistical results from a population? Or is it just nonsense. I’ll assume that something from Gallup is reasonably statistically grounded.

    The second problem to watch out for is reification. Just because something is statistically detectable doesn’t mean it’s real or important. IQ testing is like this. It’s testable, repeatable, and statistically significant, but does it really measure anything to do with what we call intelligence just because they call it an “intelligence quotient”? That is, does what it measures really have anything to do with what we mean when we say someone is “intelligent”? Maybe. In any case, this is also something worth pondering with the results of the StrengthsFinder.

    The third problem to watch out for is the conditions under which the test is valid. For example, many psychology tests are only valid in a psychological counseling setting. That is, an implicit part of the test is that the person has asked for help with a psychological problem, or has been ordered to take a psychological evaluation. So a psych test that says someone on a psych hold has an obsessive compulsive personality disorder might not be valid when administered to an employment candidate. Or a federal judge. I’m not sure what limitations StrengthsFinder has in this regard.

  9. Dear Benchwarmer,

    Thank you very much for your engagement. I really appreciate it. For what it is worth, my views are very similar to yours. As for being “perceived as an ass” by the staff, that ship sailed long ago for me. If took the AssFinder, I would be two standard deviations above the mean. Oh, well.

    Thanks again Judge. All the best.


  10. Windypundit,

    Thanks very much. All good points.

    Regarding your first point, Gallup is very cagey about releasing data on validity testing and the like. In fact, I did a fairly deep dive and could not find any published results. Nor is there any peer reviewed studies about the StrenthFinder that I was able to locate. Now, Gallup is a for-profit company and treats its stuff as proprietary–I understand and appreciate why that is so. Nonetheless, the absence of confirmatory information is worrisome.

    All the best.


  11. Since tests are validated against other tests, I would like to take the Ur test, probably fail. There was a fascist attitude test developed by some of the Frankfurt School, not around any more. You and bench warmer nailed it. Remember some Cicero but can not make it fit.

  12. Are personality inventories like the MBTI® and the Clifton StrengthsFinder® more like voodoo than science?

    Speaking from the august heights of my 40-yr-old MS in Experimental Psychology, such tests are snapshots and as such have all the validity and usefulness of snapshots. Stipulate that the snapshot is accurate; it’s only accurate for that moment and those conditions of the taker’s total environment.

    A man’s personality is a composite result of the inputs from his genes, his upbringing, his education, the social and physical environments in which he behaves over time, and so on. As a result, his personality evolves to a greater or lesser degree over that time, as JV Benchwarmer illustrated with his response (he overtly changed his behavior, but that change, as it becomes habit, impacts to a degree what’s observed of his personality).

    Accordingly, such tests need to be repeated at intervals, and the trend both observed and correlated with the taker’s successive environments, giving increasing weights (at uncertain rates of increase) to his education and to the social and physical environments.

    That trend will matter more than any of the snapshots that make it up.

    There’s also the problem of test fatigue in sitting through an excruciatingly dull questionnaire that takes an hour to complete. That can contaminate later answers.

    There’s no need to reach your second question because of my answer to your first.

    Eric Hines

  13. Judge:
    My guess is that these are similar to a lie detector test, i.e., a tool that allows for possible further investigation but not something worthy of being considered scientific.

  14. Eric,

    Thanks for your insights. I think the analogy to a snapshot is very helpful. The same with respect to your point about the importance of trends.

    All the best.


  15. ExCop-LawStudent,

    STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN? You realize, my young friend, that I am nearing my 68th birthday. Oh, never mind, SRV is really good and even I have to admit it.

    All the best.


  16. Your honor, if I may clarify, I’m not that far behind you, in my 50s. Also, you have always seemed to have good taste, and you would have been in your 30s when SRV hit the national scene.

    Best wishes,


  17. ECLS,

    Sorry about my erroneous assumption. To be truthful, I have come to depend upon age as a part of my shtick. I ought to employ it with more care.

    Speaking of shtick, see here

    All the best.


  18. Subject: Re: BBP Alert: Personality Inventories and Judging
    Author: Beverly Griffeth-Bryant
    Topic: Art of Judging
    Title: Personality Inventories and Judging
    Type: Answer

    The Clifton StrengthsFinders is an online measure of personal talent that identifies areas where an individual’s greatest potential for building strengths exists. By identifying one’s top themes of talent, the Clifton StrengthsFinder provides a starting point to help individuals to discover how to build upon their talents to develop strengths within their roles. Science has been used to develop this assessment with over 40+ years of work. See Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 Technical Report http://www.strengthsquest.com/content/…StrengthsFinder_Technical_Report.pdf
    As a Gallup certified Strengths Performance Coach and advocate, I have found through my work with my court unit, the assessment is a great way to help employees understand themselves and those they work with. The assessment results, provides an unbiased understanding of how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves their talents. My role over the last ten years has been to encourage employees to examine their results and identify ways in which to build their talents into strengths by acquiring skill (basic skills), knowledge (facts and experiences) and practice to build their talents into strengths.
    The Clifton StrengthsFinder’s purpose is to facilitate personal development and growth and the starting point for conversation with employees, managers to capitalize on an individual’s greatest talents build them into strengths (the near perfect consistent performance of newly formed strength) and apply them to new challenges in their work and life.
    While I am not very familiar with the dynamics of your role as a federal judge and without having a coaching conversation with you, your top five tell me that these talents are probably in play in your role daily as you hear and decide cases that come before you and how you manage your caseload. Input, Learner, Intellection, and Analytical are talents you probably leverage in your role as a federal judge, and probably how you approach things in your personal life. Your Achiever talent says you probably start your day with an agenda in mind of what you want accomplish both at work and in your personal life. Whether you are a paper list maker or a mental list maker, results and being productive is what you seek daily. I would also note that these talents are usually never in play alone. When Input, Learner, Intellection, and Analytical are in play, it is because you are seeking results.
    For a manager or supervisor in the federal courts, this assessment can be quite valuable. As a manager, this tool and a strengths conversation can provide insight for a manager about their employees. The manager gains an understanding and focuses of their employee’s strengths and can develop ways to manage the employee’s weaknesses. As a manager or supervisor, this assessment can also provide great insight about the teams they lead and provide a springboard for how the team can operate and be more productive.
    I hope this has answered your questions.


  19. Anon.,

    Gosh, thanks very much for your thorough and detailed comment. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to write. As for my scores, the StrengthFinder results seemed remarkably accurate.

    All the best.


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