Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for Leaders

This was the very first article I first shared in the winter of 2013. Although I still agree with the explanation, I do question the value and validity (over time) of these tests and if they even add anything beyond listening to your colleagues and understanding how to communicate effectively.


What do personality and leadership have to do with one another? It turns out, a whole lot! It is not only education, heritage and luck that determine who will become a leader, but personality too. In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) several personality styles have come on top. This article will explain the basics of the MBTI, the ‘leadership’ personalities and its implications for leadership.

The MBTI was developed in 1962 by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. Their studies were based on the psychological types by Carl Jung. From this, they extrapolated 16 different personality styles, defined by eight characteristics on four dichotomy scales. The questionnaire to measure with the MBTI consists of 26 questions. Some variations use more questions and others say you can define each characteristic by one question.

Although the validity and precision decrease, by asking four questions you can get a good and fast feel for your type.

  • Attention and Energy: Where do you prefer to focus your attention? Where do you get energy? [E/I]
  • Information Intake: How do you prefer to take in information? [S/N]
  • Decision Making: How do you make decisions? [T/F]
  • Interaction with External Environment: How do you deal with the outer world? [J/P]
If in the first your answer is from other people you are Extrovert. If it is from retreating for a while to power up, you are Introvert. Another indication could also be: talk (E) or think (I). For the second question if you rely on your eyes, ears, and other senses you are Sensing. An Intuition person would answer along the lines of gut feeling or vibe. On the third question, a Thinking person will (solely) consider the facts, while a Sensing type will consider the feelings of the affected persons more strongly. The final question is decided by how you interact with the environment. If you are actively exploring new possibilities you are Judging, if you wait and adapt to new situations you are more Perceiving.
Now take a moment to define you four letters and MBTI-type. For more information and a more extensive test see here.

In the MBTI there are no good or bad types. Every one of them has its riches or benefits and pitfalls or blind spots. In the general public, the most common types are: ISTJ (11-14%), ISFJ (9-14%), ESFJ (9-13%), and ESTJ (8-12%). So how do these compare to those in leaders of businesses?

They show both a strong overlap with the general public, as well as certain trends that are linked to the leaders only. The styles are: ISTJ (18.2%), ESTJ (16.0%), ENTJ (13.1%), INTJ (10.5%). As is evident in both categories Judging is the most pervasive category. In the leader group there are however also only Thinking, and no Feeling types in the top four.

It is theorized that skills like decision making and logical thinking are preferred over considering feelings and making less rational decisions. Within business leaders, you can also see that intuition is valued (but not as much as the more rational sensing). This could be due to the positive effects of making fast decisions or the ability to make decisions based on less information.

But what are the implications of these types, are there really no good or bad types? As you can see there is a strong preference for the Thinking type. The problem with this is that about 65% of the male population and only 35% of the female population have this type. So by default women have a statistical setback in the leadership game.

This disadvantage, however, does not have to be too great. In every great team, it is best to have a diverse account of personalities. For when everyone is an extrovert you may end up with a house full of hens, and when everyone is the sensing type, who will consider the (irrational) feelings of your clients?

To conclude it is clear that some styles are more pervasive in leaders and that these are built on the rational thinkers who take the lead. They have with them the skills to lead a team and to manage a company. And at the same time build on the skills and influences of all the other types with which they are surrounded.


References & Further Reading:

1. Briggs, K. C. (1976). Myers-Briggs type indicator. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

2. Barr, L., and N. Barr, Leadership Development: Personality and Power. Eakin Press, 1994.







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