Power Players

Ray Dalio had CEOs like Bill Gates and Elon Musk take a personality test—here's what he found that makes them so successful

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives at federal court in New York, on Thursday, April 4, 2019.
Natan Dvir | Bloomberg | Getty Images

When billionaire Ray Dalio stepped down as CEO of Bridgewater Associates in 2011 after 35 years at the helm, the new management struggled with the transition.

So Dalio — who is known for working by a set of principles and systems for success — analytically dissected what was missing without him running the company.

The missing piece, Dalio and his team found, was that he was a "shaper."

"A shaper is someone who comes up with unique and valuable visions and builds them out beautifully, typically over the doubts and opposition of others," Dalio writes his book "Principles: Life and Work." Apple's Steve Jobs was the most iconic shaper, he says.

Bridgewater has long used personality tests for recruitment and management purposes, according to the book. So to figure out how to build up the team's "shaping" skills, Dalio had the best shapers he knew complete an hour-long personality assessment. Shapers including Microsoft co-founder Bill GatesTesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey took the test, according to "Principles."

(Though "Principles" does not say what assessment was given, Dalio has tweeted that he finds the "Workplace Personality Inventory and Team Dimensions Profile in conjunction with the Golden Personality Profiler and Myers Briggs to be exceptionally accurate.")

Shapers, Dalio learned from the tests, "have a lot in common." Here are the characteristics of elite shapers, like Musk and Gates, according to "Principles."

They have a fierce commitment to achieving goals

"They are all independent thinkers who do not let anything or anyone stand in the way of achieving their audacious goals," Dalio writes.

Their extreme determination can come off as abrasiveness

"At times, [shapers'] extreme determination to achieve their goals can make them appear abrasive or inconsiderate, which was reflected in their test results," Dalio writes. "Nothing is ever good enough, and they experience the gap between what is and what could be as both a tragedy and a source of unending motivation."

This characteristic revealed itself in the "concern for others" assessment category, and as Business Insider pointed out, the famous CEOs Dalio assessed "all ranked quite low," according to the book.

That doesn't necessarily mean they are uncaring — Bill Gates has donated more than $45 billion to charitable causes, for example. Instead, writes Dalio, "in speaking with them and reviewing the questions that led to these ratings, it became clear: When faced with a choice between achieving their goal or pleasing (or not disappointing) others, they would choose achieving their goal every time."

Personality assessments are valuable tools for getting a quick picture of what people are like in terms of their abilities, preferences, and style. They are often more objective and reliable than interviews.

They have vision, but also flexibility

"They have very strong mental maps of how things should be done, and at the same time a willingness to test those mental maps in the world of reality and change the ways they do things to make them work better," Dalio writes.

That means they are "simultaneously creative, systematic and practical. They are assertive, open-minded at the same time," Dalio writes.

They're resilient 

"They are extremely resilient, because their need to achieve what they envision is stronger than the pain they experience as they struggle to achieve it," Dalio writes.

They have the ability to see the big picture...

"Perhaps most interesting, they have a wider range of vision than most people, either because they have that vision themselves or because they know how to get it from others who can see what they can't," Dalio writes.

...and an eye for detail

"All are able to see both big pictures and granular details (and levels in between) and synthesize the perspectives they gain at those different levels, whereas most people just see one or the other," Dalio writes.

(Musk, for example, was as enthusiastic to show Dalio the key fob that opens a Tesla as he was to talk about the strategic vision for the car, according to the book.)

People's personalities are pretty well-formed before they come to you, and they've been leaving their fingerprints all over the place since childhood

They're passionate

"Above all, they are passionate about what they are doing, intolerant of people who work with them who aren't excellent at what they do, and want to have a big, beneficial impact on the world," Dalio writes.

See also:

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Wharton Professor Adam Grant: Why Elon Musk wants his employees to always speak up
Wharton Professor Adam Grant: Why Elon Musk wants his employees to always speak up