Know thyself: MBTI

“If one is estranged from oneself, then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I was having lunch with a relatively new acquaintance, and two minutes into the conversation (she was 20 minutes late) she was sharing her life with me. Veronica[1] charmed the waiter, was quick to tell me that the restaurant needed to be re-decorated and – over the course of our one hour conversation – enthusiastically covered six different (pretty much unrelated) topics.  Based on our brief exchange, my hunch was that she was an ENFP…

What’s an ENFP?!  An ENFP is one of 16 ‘types’ that were developed in the 1940s by a mother and daughter team.  The types are known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Based on the theory of Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (who observed that differences in people are not random but rather the result of an individual’s innate preferences) and through subsequent research Myers and Briggs developed four components of the MBTI: Extraversion versus Introversion (where do you get your energy), Sensing versus Intuition (how do you take in information), Thinking versus Feeling (how do you make decisions) and Judging versus Perceiving (how do you operate on a day-to-day basis).

One of the most interesting aspects of the MTBI is the identification of a person’s dominant mental process or the area of their greatest cognitive ability.  The indicator differentiates between two kinds of perception: Sensing (the ability to perceive details and seek the fullest possible experience through your five senses) and iNtuition (seeing the big picture, seeking the furthest reaches of the possible and the imaginative), and two kinds of judgment: Thinking (being objective and deducing, seeking rational order through the non-personal logic of cause and effect) or Feeling (stepping in to the situation, taking an empathetic view and seeking rational order in accord with your key values).  All of us use all of these processes, but in a different order and at varying levels of competence. Your dominant function is often seen as the ‘captain’ of your personality, while the other functions serve the captain’s goals.

The MBTI is today the most widely-used personality measure, with over 2 million indicators administered annually in the U.S. alone. It is used globally and has been translated into over 30 languages. As a certified MBTI career and executive coach, I frequently work with my clients on developing hypotheses as to their particular personality type. A significant amount of research exists around the careers that people of particular personality types tend to enter, as well as about the tasks that those with a certain personality type tends to enjoy.

Questions my clients ask:

What can taking the MBTI do for me as a manager and leader?

Further my career

The more you know about yourself, the more you will be able to direct your career to where you can add the most value through playing to your proven competencies. You will have more insight as to which roles ‘replenish’ you, and which drain your energy.  This, in turn, will enable you to adjust how you work and help to reduce your stress levels. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will also help you to relate to others from a position of self-assurance, strength and confidence. A 25-year longitudinal study shows that higher self-confidence boosts income levels and career satisfaction[2].

Recruit the right talent

Understanding typology is useful when it comes to hiring the best person for a job.  In addition to checking for competencies and skills, understanding psychological types will enable you to ask the right questions, cut through the hype and ‘work out’ the person sitting across from you more quickly.

Maximize employee retention

Matching an individual’s talents with job requirements is a powerful means of maximizing your employee performance and their job satisfaction. Understanding your employees’ needs, and their strengths and weaknesses (and letting them focus on their strengths), can boost employee engagement levels by over 70 percent[3].

Manage conflict effectively

Focusing on challenges in typological terms (rather than interpersonal ones) will build relationships in a constructive way, allowing individuals to recognize, accept and value the differences in people. It allows for different ‘typological’ points of view to be heard, and for individual needs to be met.

Optimize goal setting

Including a broader range of different perspectives, needs and ideas promotes the setting of more realistic goals that are more likely to be accepted in an organization, giving you the needed buy-in as a leader.

Build strong teams

The best teams, the ones that produce results, are not the ones where all members have the same preferences and strength profiles.  The best teams are well-rounded; bringing in a mix of different strengths. Encouraging differences rather than judging them allows individuals to maximize their contributions to the team from a position of strength. Bringing transparency to this process helps to build teams that will work at their optimum performance.

Where can I take the MBTI?

There are a number of variations of the assessment.  The most comprehensive  is the MBTI Complete, a 60-minute assessment that requires 93 responses, as well as ‘self-understanding’ questions.  A shorter version is the Form M assessment which focuses on the core 93 items and takes 20 minutes. Stay away from ‘pseudo MBTI’ sites… If you look for trusted sources, I recommend that you either contact CAPT or CPP, who both offer the MBTI and can also refer you to a certified MBTI practitioner to go over the results in person (highly recommended, read my reply to the next question).

Why is it important to consult a certified MBTI practitioner?

To verify your results

The MBTI is one of the most reliable and valid self-report personality inventories: but no psychological assessment is infallible. It is possible that your MBTI results and your ‘self-estimated’ preference type differ on one or more of your preferences. You could be going through a particularly stressful time in your career or life that makes it difficult for you to determine your normal way of functioning, for example, and a certified practitioner should identify this. You may also have had difficulty with developing a clear preference on one or more of the preferences, or you may struggle to answer questions which relate to who you really are; there is the temptation to respond to the questions in terms of how you behave in particular situations (‘learned preferences’) or how others want you to behave or be.  Take the example of a client of mine who was an excellent public speaker. Perhaps unsurprisingly he undertook the test and came out as a ‘slight extrovert’.  When we went through the verification step, however, and tested the hypothesis of him being an extrovert, we found (after some probing questions) that he was actually a moderate introvert, who got most of his energy from working away from an audience. Through exercises and insightful questioning, a certified coach will help you to clarify your preferences and ensure an accurate assessment.

To develop insights and concrete take-aways that will help you be(come) a better leader

Determining psychological type through the MBTI however, is only the beginning. You must learn from and apply the findings of your MBTI: the next step is learning how to use the strengths of your type and also to be aware of the ‘blind spots’ of that type. Through establishing your type – and through working with a certified coach to understand this – you can develop this self-awareness, realize peak performance, improve communication and relationships, and clarify goals and life purpose.

Coming back to Victoria… at the end of our lunch she wanted to know more about me, and what I do.  I explained and a few weeks later she gave me a call: she needed some help with her career, as she was struggling with her transition from corporate finance to interior design. As part of the process of defining her values and motivations, she took the Myers-Briggs. Her four letter result was: ENFJ.  We tested this hypothesis, and after she had learned about the specifics of her ‘type’, she confirmed that it rang true. She was a clear extrovert, highly intuitive, very much saw the potential in people and often functioned as a catalyst for individual and group growth. It transpired that she was very sociable and could be an inspiring role model, and she was (in contrast to my initial thoughts!) highly structured in her approach and very methodical and systematic in how she organized her day-to-day schedule as well as her long term plans.

This said, with her new insights and the self knowledge that she developed as part of her consultation, she was more aware of her strong points and blind spots, and was able to push her ‘dream career’ forward.  She is now enrolled in a prestigious program in Manhattan, and is enjoying her ‘new life’.  A happy ending!

[1] Not her real name

[2] Judge, T.A., & Eirich, G.M., 2008, How the rich (and happy) get richer (and happier): Relationship of core self-evaluations to trajectories in attaining work success, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 849 – 863

[3] Source: Gallup Organization