Personality Type in Leaders: What Works
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of
the most frequently used self-report assessment tools in management
and leadership development programs around the world. It is a way
to provide information about a person's preferred way of behaving
and can be beneficial for building self-awareness and ultimately
emotional intelligence. It is used in leadership development, team-building,
communications training and executive coaching.
Yet many who take it put it away in
a drawer and don't remember their profile because they don't
understand its' significance. Does
it really matter to know that one is an gESTJh
or an gINTJ?h The importance lies in the value of self-management
based in heightened self-awareness, as well as in being able to
understand others quickly and efficiently. Understanding and accepting
fundamental differences in human behaviors is essential for people
in organizations to work together well. Self awareness is the cornerstone
for developing emotional intelligence.
Psychologists have been trying to categorize
behaviors and personality styles for centuries. In
the early e30s
the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed his theory of psychological
types from his work in both developed and primitive societies,
trying to find universal elements of human consciousness. Jung
believed that all humans are born with certain mental and emotional
possibilities and he identified two primary cognitive functions:
perceiving function: The ability to gather, store and retrieve
information by observing the world around them as well as their
own memories and inner states
judging function: The ability to reflect upon that information
and to organize it in such a way as to understand it and to
then make decisions
Jung saw that all humans have a natural
impulse to relate meaningfully to the world and people through
productive work and significant relationships. The
way that they do this is through gathering information, processing
it, and making decisions to act„Ÿ through
behaviors, thinking or speaking. He also believed that people have
natural preferences and differences in the way they do these things.
In 1941, Isabel B. Myers and Katharine Briggs
applied Jung's theory to developing an assessment instrument that
would provide a structured, systematic way of recognizing these
basic individual differences. Developed and refined over sixty
years, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is also known as the MBTI.
After taking the self-report questionnaire, a person is given a
four letter profile, representing preferences on four dimensions.
the person an E (Extraversion) or an I (Introversion): Does
he or she prefer to direct their energy to and draw energy
from the external world? Or does he or she prefer to direct
their energy to and draw energy from the internal world?
the person an S (Sensing) or an N (Intuitive): Does he or she
prefer to gather information through focus on what is actually
present, the data available to the senses? Or does he or she
gather information through Intuition, focusing on the connections
and patterns between data?
the person a T (Thinking) or an F (Feeling): Does he or she
prefer to organize and structure information and make decisions
through logical, rational thinking? Or does he or she prefer
to make decisions by a process of valuing the impact on people?
the person a J (Judging) or a P (Perceiving): Does he or she
prefer to organize the external environment through order,
structure and schedules (Judging)? Or does he or she prefer
to keep the environment as open and unstructured as possible
to include more information, possibilities and spontaneity
How People Interact at Work
These basic human differences in ways
of perceiving and processing information show up in work habits.
The differences in styles can be
the root cause of many interpersonal conflicts. A person who values
data and focuses on what is actually present (S) will often seem
too analytical and detail-oriented for a person who focuses on
the big picture and uses intuition (N). A person who makes rational,
logical decisions (T) may seem to be missing the boat by ignoring
values and ideals, when seen through the perspective of a person
who is an gF.h gT'sh
can view gF'sh
as too emotional and illogical while gF'sh can feel
that gT'sh are too task-oriented and uncaring.
One of the biggest sources of conflict
over work habits shows up in differences on the fourth dimension,
gJh and gP.h
A person whose style is a gJh
will be an early starter, will organize their work with attention
to deadlines, and may find it offensive when others are late
or indecisive. On the other hand, many people prefer to keep
their options open, allowing time for additional information.
They will wait until the last minute before completing or deciding.
The two different personalities can drive each other crazy in
a work environment.
People who are extraverted may find that introverts are hard to
read, and may even go so far as to judge them as aloof, uncaring,
and even arrogant. Introverts may unfairly judge extraverts as
being superficial, inconsistent, and insincere.
The value of doing any assessment lies in
discovering one's own fundamental preferences and traits and how
to use one's strengths, while at the same time diminishing the
impact of weaknesses. Receiving professional feedback when results
are presented should include exploring the concept that strengths
can show up as a liability under stress or fatigue. Thus, being
an extravert is a real advantage for establishing and maintaining
interpersonal relationships, but there are pitfalls. Too much time
spent in interacting with others may deter one from spending the
necessary time analyzing and thinking things through, for example.
There are things to be learned from others with the opposite behavior
preference. In fact, one of the biggest benefits from learning
about the MBTI and other assessment tools, is that it helps people
develop an understanding and appreciation of others not like one's
There is great value in learning about one's psychological preferences,
how they differ from others in a team environment, and looking
at balance. A person has the capacity to act in opposite ways than
is their usual preference or habit. Working with an executive coach
can help explore ways of achieving balance and exploring out-of-preference
behaviors that might be beneficial.
Some studies suggest that as a person ages
and matures, he or she is better able to explore and consider using
behaviors that are out-of-preference. Thus, an executive who has
focused on rational, logical decision-making throughout his or
her career may decide at mid-life to incorporate values and explore
feelings of stakeholders. An introverted executive may feel comfortable
and secure enough at mid-life to begin to reach out to others and
explore his or her extraverted tendencies. Working with an executive
coach at mid-career on these issues can be very beneficial.
The Isolated Executive: Extraverted and Introverted Styles
When an executive moves up the hierarchal
ladder in the organization, the promotion is often accompanied
by an increasing sense of isolation and loneliness. Goleman,
Boyatzis and McKee coined the phrase gCEO
diseaseh to describe the isolation of top executives in their
book Primal Leadership (HBR Press, 2002) . It refers to an information
vacuum around leaders created when people withhold important and
sometimes unpleasant information.
Life is indeed lonely at the top. People may appear more reluctant
to share information, staff members may be less forthcoming about
emerging issues, and colleagues don't engage as openly in dialogue.
Many executives struggle to make sense of this loneliness. It is
also very important to look at the extraversion/introversion dynamic
and how that contributes to a leader's isolation.
Extraverted leaders tend to make quick decisions
and move into action, sometimes before enough time for reflection
and analysis. They may think out loud, and share ideas without
forethought which may then be leaked or taken as decisions or policies.
Introverted leaders may continue to reflect when it is time for
action and their preference for internal processing may exclude
others. Both types of leaders become isolated through externally
created conditions and self-imposed ones. They either move toward
isolation because their colleagues and staff pull away, or they
remove themselves from the interactive field when problems arise.
Knowledge of how the introversion/extraversion dynamic contributes
to creating isolation can help.
Extraverted leaders are drawn to interact
with the external world and to bounce ideas off of people. They
are likely to bring people together to explore issues. However,
the extraverted executive may overwhelm and intimidate people,
push ideas prematurely, and unintentionally reveal confidences.
Then when ideas are leaked or taken as decisions rather than mere
brainstorming possibilities, the executive feels betrayed. The
extravert may then stop sharing information and become cautious
. The extraverted executive finds this immensely difficult as he
or she cuts off a vital source of inspiration and energy, because
extraverts draw their intellectual vitality from interacting with
the external environment.
For the introverted leader, isolation
can also become extreme and no longer beneficial. While
introverts seek out solitary time in order to process internally,
this may cause others to perceive them as aloof, distant, unapproachable
and even arrogant. When gathering information, the introvert
needs to read, to analyze and reflect. Information is often preferred
delivered in written form, rather than verbal. The introverted
executive typically develops strategies for creating solitude
even in the midst of busy organizational life. Thus, appointments
may be difficult to get, meetings may be highly structured and
organized, and there may be little room for spontaneous sharing
and brainstorming. The introverted leader may be ghard
Under stress, the introverted leader will disengage and retreat
to quiet space, leaving others to wonder. This dynamic contributes
to isolation which recreates itself as others withdraw from interacting
with the leader.
The introverted leader may be surprised when they discover that
their natural style is so often misinterpreted. He or she can learn
to involve others and to share information more frequently . The
extraverted leader needs to understand how to continue to work
with others without the dangers inherent in sharing information
prematurely. Both psychological types can benefit from learning
about and trying on out-of-preference behaviors. Working with a
coach is highly recommended.
What Type Makes the Best Leader?
Thousands of reports on the MBTI types of
leaders and managers illustrate that all types occupy leadership
positions. All types can be effective leaders because all types
are valuable and have important contributions to make. Understanding
leaders' type preferences is useful for exploring strengths and
potential weaknesses, for developing self-awareness and emotional
intelligence and for understanding the impact of their behaviors
The question usually arises, what type makes
the best leader? All types can be effective as well as ineffective.
Studies of thousands of leaders and managers world-wide have shown
some profile types to be more predominant, however. This is not
to imply that these types make better managers, only that they
are more predominant in leadership positions.
In one study of 26,477 persons in a Leadership Development Program
at the Center for Creative Leadership, the following percentage
frequencies were reported:
1. ISTJ 18.2%
2. ESTJ 16.0%
3. ENTJ 13.1%
4. INTJ 10.5%
Clearly, there is a majority and an
overrepresentation of Thinking and Judging preferences among
leaders and managers. The structure
and values of most organizations favor logical and decisive behaviors.
It may be that Thinking and Judging behaviors have become the
accepted definition of what it means to lead and people with
these preferences are seen as gleadership material.h
The major differences in type distributions
of men and women in the general population is on the Thinking-Feeling
dimension. In the U.S. , about
65% of males prefer to use Thinking as their way of making decisions,
while only about 35% of females report a preference for Thinking
. Throughout the world, in other cultures, the pattern of males
reporting a preference for Thinking is 20%+ higher than that
of females (Kirby & Berger, 1996).
Women in management positions sometimes show a greater percentage
of Feeling types than in male management groups, but typically
Thinking is the preferred type for a majority of these women (McCaulley,
The question, what type makes the best leader,
cannot be answered. The only question that can be answered is which
type is more predominant in leadership positions.
Barr, L., and N. Barr, Leadership Development: Personality and
Power. Eakin Press, 1994.
Bridges, W., The Character of Organizations: Using Jungian Type
in Organizational Behavior. Davies-Black Publishing, 1992
Heifitz, R., Leadership Without Easy Answers, Belknap Press, 1994.
Jung, C.G., Psychological Types , (H.G. Baynes, trans., revised
by R. F. C. Huss), The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 6,
Princeton University Press, 1971.
Myers, I. B., M. H. McCaulley, N. L. Quenk, and A. L. Hammer, MBTI
manual: A Guide to the Development and use of the Myers-Briggs
Type Indicator ( 3 rd ed.), Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.,
Walters, G., The Isolated Executive: How Executive Coaching Can
Help, in Executive Coaching, Practices & Perspectives, Fitzgerald,
C. and J. G. Berger, eds., Davis-Black Publishing, Inc. 2002.
Resources is a Leadership Consulting, Training and Executive Coaching
Firm Helping Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally
Intelligent People; Emotional Intelligence-Based Interviewing and
Selection; Multi-Rater 360-Degree Feedback; Career Coaching; Change
Management; Corporate Culture Surveys and Executive Coaching.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams
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