by CHRIS GILMORE
From working with at-risk youths to lecturing at school principals conferences, Michael White has faced his share of daunting audiences. But now the Coast-based personality profiler is seeing a new challenge: one stemming from the Covid pandemic.
Michael runs AusIDentities, which uses profiling to help people recognise their inner strengths and weaknesses, and to promote teamwork and understanding. He has helped thousands of people in workplaces, schools and other organisations since it began in 2005.
“As a result of Covid, the focus of my work has fundamentally changed in nature, moving from an emphasis on team dynamics, learning styles and leadership to much more about mental and emotional well-being, supporting people that are not coping or not receiving the support they require,” he says.
“Education is a great example of this, as the focus of schools remains on the curriculum even while the vast majority of teachers and students tell me it needs to be more about managing mindsets, coping with stress and the prevention of depression and despair. It’s not just our young people who are most at risk, but also the adults that are expected to continue teaching algebra and the conjunction of verbs at a time when we are told the world is in crisis. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Michael’s work is based around classifying people as one of four different animals – dolphin, kangaroo, eagle or wombat – based on their personalities.
“I discovered ‘personality types’ while I was at uni, which changed my life,” he says. “I ultimately switched careers and became a youth worker and got trained as a suicide prevention counsellor back in 2001. The kids I worked with back then – all teenagers – loved what I did, but found it hard to remember the theories surrounding personality.
“I had heard about the ancient use of animal totems to highlight differences between people and set about developing my own model predicated on the four elements of fire (red kangaroo), earth (wombat), air (eagle) and water (dolphin). I have since found out that the local Gubbi Gubbi people did the same thing thousands of years ago.”
Michael – who says he’s all four animals but predominantly a dolphin – stresses that the animal types are broad generalisations and each person will have some qualities from each of them.
“When I deliver our flagship program Who’s Who in the Zoo, whether for students or adults, I always highlight that we are the whole zoo and that each of us will have elements of all four animals within our psyche,” he says. “One animal type does tend to dominate our thoughts and actions but the qualities of the other types are also there, waiting to be developed.”
What does Michael say to those who doubt the effectiveness of personality profiling?
“So much work has been done globally to validate the benefits of understanding personality differences that it is hard to refute what we do,” he says. “In the USA some leading psychologists developed their own system for working with the different personalities of children as young as seven years old – the age of reason – so I tend to point to their research as a way of ‘deflecting’ criticism. Personally I try not to defend what we do, and ask people instead to consider the possible consequences of not understanding the innate and often differing needs of our children.”
Born and bred in the UK, Michael travelled the world for many years working in hospitality before returning to uni in his 30s to study sociology and psychology. It was then he says he became obsessed with the power of personality profiling.
“From a young person’s perspective, it helps them discover what they are good at, what careers they might be best suited to and how they best learn,” he says. “From an adult’s perspective, it helps to discover your strengths and your blind spots, and how to best engage with your significant others like work colleagues, life partners and your children.”
Michael admits he’s worked with some challenging groups – “I once had a local government department that was not speaking with their sister office further up the coast and I had to ‘teach’ them how to communicate better … I think I used the same PowerPoint as when I work with grade six!” – but ultimately feels a sense of satisfaction from helping people find their sweet spot.
“Most of all though it is receiving letters from kids whose lives have been changed for the better since learning about type differences, just like how my life was changed,” he says.
Michael is scheduled to speak at the Queensland Foster and Kinship Care Conference at Twin Waters from November 5-7.
What the four animal types represent
They are sensitive and dislike unpleasantness of any kind, often going out of their way to avoid conflict. Dolphins thrive in harmonious settings and like to take a sensitive and caring approach to people and situations.
Naturally curious, Eagles love to learn and master new skills in pursuit of their goals. They take a broader view of the world and by nature are the most academic of the types.
Playful, friendly and active, kangaroos can have a tendency to ‘leap before they look’, which can get them into trouble but also make them fun. They frequently become bored or disinterested, however, they can also be very creative.
They are the most practical and grounded of the types, and are happiest when their knowledge and experience can be put to use. They love to be a part of something bigger than themselves, like a team or organisation, where they can exercise their innate sense of duty.