Many senior officers now have a Twitter account. This is good because service personnel have a direct line to and from their leadership. Senior officers are increasingly revealing a little of their personalities in their posts. Surely this is good too? It breaks down some of the old stereotypes, humanises the leadership and allows service personnel to get to know those who command them.
Sadly, there are downsides. Social media is, after all, social, and our enemies have access to all this information on personality as well. This is a problem for UK defence and poses a counter intelligence challenge.
Analysis of personality traits and back-stories of key opposition officers used to be more prevalent than it is now. Two decades of facing amorphous and flexibly-structured adversaries has reduced the demand for this type of intelligence, but the overarching purpose pervades. By using this data to analyse a personality, you can narrow down their decision-making biases in any given situation. With enough personality detail, you might second-guess them more often than not.
As a simple example, some senior leaders will fit Myers’ and Brigg’s ‘Commander’ profile of being ‘ENTJ’. Online posts demonstrating thrill-seeking, an innovative nature, and a thirst for challenge would lead an analyst to suspect someone is an ENTJ. So what? ENTJ’s tend to be optimistic, decisive, and quick to act.
Meanwhile, a ‘thinker’ (INTP) leader identified online through theoretical postings, an intellectually critical nature, and a dislike of inconsistencies, might be expected to seek highly logical solutions to problems and to spend time collecting information before acting.
Analysist’s can use these human factors and commanders’ personality traits in other ways beyond predicting future actions. Personality characteristics give insight into how to interact with a person by understanding actions that that person would view positively to facilitate co-operation. It is also useful to understand barriers to a particular person’s cooperation; actions which they view negatively.
This information, whilst positive for a UK audience, is very useful for adversaries with malicious intent.
A second tier of danger is exposing too much personality. This is particularly pertinent in the bear-pit that is Twitter – it is easy to offend! Older generations might scorn snowflakes, the Army certainly tried to recruit them, but there is also an inescapable fact; when the momentum of Twitter opinion turns against you then you’re in trouble.
Rightly or wrongly (and I daren’t express my personal opinion) Twitter leaves behind a trail of persona-non-gratas who have fallen out of favour with the mob. These people have had personal details exposed online, have been hounded out of their jobs, and have faced intense (though often short-lived) intrusion into their lives. When you show the world too much of your personality, you will inevitably reveal sides to yourself which polarise opinion and that’s when the trouble begins.
My guilty secret is that I like knowing the personalities of senior officers; I find similarities between generals and myself and this gives me hope for my prospects. So, I hope our leaders keep showing us their human side.
officers should continue to be relatable, but my advice is that they shouldn’t
fully exposure their nature. Throw some curve balls, act outside of type
from time-to-time, and keep people guessing. Always, always think about
what adversaries might be able to surmise from what you post.
 Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. MBTI makes four binary personality distinctions which lead to sixteen leadership personalities. A good overview is at: https://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/tt/t-articl/mb-simpl.htm Take the test yourself at: https://www.16personalities.com/ . The Financial Times discusses the accuracy and value of MBTI at: https://www.ft.com/content/8790ef0a-d040-11e5-831d-09f7778e7377
Cover photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
Rich is in the Military Intelligence community. He currently commands Specialised Counter Intelligence capabilities including open source intelligence and digital forensics.