To assist in understanding your leadership style and how you can communicate effectively with others in the workplace, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can provide revealing and useful insights. The MBTI can help you recognize that people do not all speak the same “language.” Understanding the concepts and framework of the MBTI can bridge differing perspectives that affect teamwork and work relationships. It can be a tool to aid in working together more effectively on a project and in helping learn how to promote each other’s best quality work. It also provides pathways for discovering each other’s values and needs and for finding avenues for developing oneself.
Successful workplace leaders belong to all MBTI types, because the MBTI is a tool only and does not purport to explain everything about a person’s thinking or actions. For example, it cannot predict how people will behave; however, it can be very powerful in recognizing patterns of behavior and identifying the multiple lenses people have for perceiving the world and making decisions.
Katherine Briggs developed the MBTI philosophy based upon constructs originated by Carl G. Jung, a Swiss psychotherapist and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology. Isabel Briggs-Myers, Katherine’s daughter, further developed the MBTI by creating an instrument to help individuals identify their personality type. The MBTI consists of four poles of opposites. Individuals’ attraction to one side of each pole is referred to as a “preference.”
The four MBTI poles identify one’s preferences in the following areas: interpersonal response, taking in data, making decisions, and problem-solving approach.
Interpersonal response: Are you drawn to the outer world of people and action (extraversion) or the inner world of thoughts and ideas (introversion)?
Data intake: When you are learning something new at work, do you prefer data that engage your five senses (sensing) or do you prefer to identify patterns and connections, grasping the big picture (intuition) before learning about the details?
Making decisions: Do you prefer to decide through objective analysis (thinking) or through how decisions might affect yourself and/or others (feeling)?
Problem-solving approach: Do you prefer closure (judging) or process (perceiving)? For example, do you feel most comfortable having things decided and moving toward closure in problem-solving (judging) or do you prefer to keep things open until all data are available before making a decision (perceiving)?
How can the understanding and application of the interpersonal response preferences affect one’s leadership, communication, and professional development?
Leaders who prefer introversion generally like to think things through before expressing their ideas. When working with persons who prefer introversion, circulating an agenda before a meeting, asking if they would share aloud, and giving more thinking time can encourage more participation and sharing of their ideas.
For leaders and team members who prefer extraversion, it can be helpful to give enough time to talk new ideas out and to check in with each other. Extraverts are drawn to people and action; so working together in the outer world gives them energy.
Persons with the sensing preference are oriented to the present and tend to speak in factual and concrete language. They generally trust that a person with expert knowledge will give them the necessary information, and they accept the incoming data. They tend to speak in a sequential manner and seem to easily identify tasks and ideas in steps of first, second, and so forth. Their perception scans the environment and takes into account what is realistic and practical. When communicating with those preferring sensing, it’s helpful to provide a roadmap when expressing the overall goal and to give practical application of concepts.
Team members who prefer intuition will readily grasp the big picture, trusting their hunches and data that come to them quickly. Those preferring intuition are drawn to the “why” of things and generally love to ask and formulate questions. It’s important to give the big picture to persons with intuitive preferences as they need the underlying concept on which to hang the details. Persons who prefer intuition appreciate novelty and will often get bored if you want to repeat the same processes without incorporating some new or interesting approach.
Persons with the thinking preference tend to remove themselves from the decision-making process and use facts and ideas to weigh and balance potential outcomes.
Persons with feeling preference tend to place themselves within the decision-making process, weighing and balancing their values.
In working with thinkers, it’s important to outline objective results. In working with persons with the feeling preference, it’s important to take into consideration values and how the decision affects people. Good leaders must employ both thinking and feeling to get the best results to which a whole team will be fully committed.
Persons of either preference would probably say they want to treat people in a “fair” way, although the definition of “fair” may be very different. People with the thinking preference generally define fairness as treating everyone exactly the same. People with the feeling preference are more likely to define fairness as doing what’s appropriate for the situation or person(s).
Persons who prefer judging are more comfortable with employing the decision-making processes—thinking or feeling—in the outer world. Persons who prefer perceiving are more comfortable using sensing or intuition in the outer world.
Qualities that generally accompany judging include desire for closure, being scheduled, and being methodical.
Qualities that can be noticed in persons preferring perceiving in the outer world are being in the moment, spontaneity, and adaptability.
The MBTI can be a valuable tool in sorting out what’s needed to optimize learning and decision making. The interaction of our preferences is referred to as the dynamics of type. The orientations of extraversion/introversion and of judging/perceiving are paired with the mental functions of how we prefer to learn new things (data intake) and to make decisions. How these four pairs of preferences work together provide us with a more specific framework for understanding what might be driving our patterns of behavior.
Once a person’s MBTI type is identified, the combination of the four preferences is represented with four letters. The first and fourth letters—either E or I as the first letter, then either J or P as the fourth letter—refer to whether one’s orientation of energy, extraversion/introversion and judging/perceiving, is within the outer world or the inner world. The second and third letters—either S or N as the second letter, then either T or F as the third letter—refer to a person’s mental functions and how they use their minds. This combination of letters in a person’s type code points to a hierarchy in the mental function relied on most, whether it is sensing/intuition or thinking/feeling. Each type code contains one mental function that is extraverted and one that is introverted.
MBTI theory postulates that it is important to focus on our preferences first since they correlate to our strengths. Generally if certain processes are more natural for a person, the individual is more likely to have developed some strength with it. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory states that people who are at the top of their game have placed an extraordinary number of hours in that field. It would appear from this theory to be difficult for an individual to spend so much time engaging in an activity if the individual did not enjoy the practice and hadn’t developed some capacity in it.
When leaders become conscious of the interplay of their own preferences, there can be a kind of security in understanding what they need to do to progress toward their goals. Conversely, comprehension of MBTI type can lead a person to better understand the needs of their team members and/or direct reports. The development of leaders’ less-preferred preferences can also help them become more well-rounded in their work and assist in taking on challenging arenas more gracefully.
An example of the application of MBTI in one’s career can be shared from a strategic planning consultant whose MBTI type is ENFP. ENFP indicates that her favorite function is extraverted intuition, and her supporting function is introverted feeling. For years she has worked with business executives and their leadership teams in strategic planning. She is skilled at developing lasting relationships which helped her secure contracts and employment. Helping teams work together to examine possibilities and plans (extraverted intuition) was quite satisfying for her. Later in her career, she moved toward coaching and enjoyed the meaningful interaction and development of individuals in their leadership journeys (introverted feeling). As an extraverted intuitive with introverted feeling, she is good at generating new ideas for problem-solving and not only has strong understanding of her own personal values but is fairly adept at tracking the motivations and values of others.
Strategic planning often attracts persons with preferences for intuitive thinking (NTs). While the tough business arena did always energize her, coaching was a relief to the objective, logical thinking required in strategic planning. Because the arena of coaching, which includes human advising and support, typically attracts ENFPs, she was able to satisfy the intuitive side of her which craves novelty and doing things that are new and different.
Using MBTI typing in the same way, you can pursue a fulfilling career. Understanding your preferences will serve as a valuable guide when applied to career choices and personal interactions in the workplace.
Wendy C. Horikoshi is a strategic coach and leadership trainer. She has served as an adjunct professor in the cross-cultural psychology and graduate management programs at JFK University as well as adjunct faculty in the qualifying program of the Association of Psychological Type’s Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Horikoshi is a certified neurolinguistics program coach and holds a master’s degree of education in multicultural curriculum from California State University. Prior to independent consulting, she worked as an academician/administrator/researcher at the University of California youth development program in Alameda County. Horikoshi is a founding member of Prism Coaching: Transforming Perspectives, a multicultural leadership coaching practice. She coauthored Teamwork Tools: A Revolutionary Approach for Trainers and Managers and has published research on the MBTI, leadership, and cultural-awareness practices.