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Personality tests, Tanzania style: reflections

When I took a group of student leaders through DISC, I tried to contextualise it somewhat, but many of the questions played out very differently in Tanzania from how they would in Australia. For example, even the guy who was a super strong D ticked the box in the quiz that said if someone said something in a group that he disagreed with, he would keep quiet. There are cultural factors which override natural personality preferences.

All up, the group heavily skewed towards S and C. Of the 50 student leaders who were there, 2 were lions, 4 rabbits, 12 white ants and a whopping 32 were mother hens. I followed up on this later with some friends, to ask why they thought there were so many in one quadrant.

We agreed that the corporate structure of life in Tanzania favours the S and C. The Dominant and Influencers draw attention to the themselves, and might tend more to acting out of their individual preferences. But in Tanzania, it is not encouraged to stand out. Steady and Compliant types are more focused on meeting the needs of others around them.

One friend has been on her own journey of moving from S/C to more D/I as she has gotten older. She suggested there are many who might otherwise be D and I who are socialised towards S and C, especially during this time of life when they are still vijana (youth) with many obligations to those further up the hierarchy.

There were some cultural assumptions at work about leadership. The S group thought they might be easily manipulated by others’ feelings and thus unable to give orders, which is how they defined leadership. The group assumed that only the Lion / Dominant would be a good leader. It took a bit of talking about to help them see how a D style of leadership can bring  obedience but not love or even loyalty. The I group saw their propensity for fun as a liability to group life rather than an asset to help people relax and a means by which people learn.  I spent quite some time talking around the idea that each of these types can exercise leadership but that they will do it in a different way and with different concerns.

Finally, something that every group brought up in assessing their strengths and weaknesses was what kind of impact their personality might have on time management. This is something that students generally struggle with, from getting assignments in on time to running conferences to time. They write very detailed timetables or ratibas, often down to 5 min intervals, but then can run late by hours. Even though as a speaker you get passed little notes in 10min intervals by the MC telling you how long you’ve got left in your time. Students do not consider poor time management at all acceptable and agonise over what went wrong and what they will do differently next time, so it’s often at the forefront of their minds as they think about leadership. (I must say, they did an extraordinarily good job at this particular seminar on running to time.)


Categories: Culture Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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