Leadership Styles

Women, Leadership and Personality: Insights Form the Myers-briggs Type Indicator

Sarah Cooper asked:

The MBTI is extensively used for leadership development training and coaching in companies all over the world. Based on psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of personality types, for more than 50 years it has been the most widely used psychometric instrument for understanding normal personality differences.

How does the MBTI work?

The MBTI identifies your natural preferences in four areas or dichotomies:

1.Where you get your energy from

Extraversion(E) the external world of people, activities and things; or Introversion (I) the inner world or ideas and experiences

2. How you take in information

Sensing (S) a focus on facts and present reality; or Intuition (N) a focus on patterns and future possibilities

3.How you make decisions

Thinking (T) using objective logic; or Feeling(F) subjective and values based

4.Preferred lifestyle

Judging(J) Planned, organised, liking things settled; or Perceiving(P) Flexible, spontaneous, keeping options open

This yields 16 possible personality type combinations.

Is there a “Leadership Type”?

It is simplistic to label any one category as a “leader type,” for various reasons

1.We are more than our personality type. The MBTI does not measure factors such as intellectual ability, emotional intelligence, or skill level – all of which would impact on a person’s potential for leadership.

2. Different types have different strengths, all of which can be important in a leadership role.

3. We are not “boxed in” by our type. MBTI theory holds that whilst our underlying type does not change, as we mature we develop the non preferred parts of our personality and so become equipped with a wider choice of behaviours. This development is both a natural process and something which we can cultivate consciously.

Interestingly however, research across different countries has consistently shown that Thinking and Judging (TJ) types are the most frequently occurring in managers and leaders. Kirby, 1997 notes that because these types are so prevalent, it may be that “Thinking and Judging behaviours have become the accepted definition of what it means to lead, and therefore, people displaying these behaviours are seen as ‘leadership material.'”

Leadership strengths associated with Thinking-Judging include a focus on creating order, structures and processes, use of logical reasoning to analyse problems, and an emphasis on competence and efficiency. However there are also potential weaknesses such as limiting creativity and flexibility, failing to include and consult with others, and a tendency to rush decisions.

It is therefore clearly unwise for any organisation to rely too heavily on a TJ management or leadership culture; fortunately this beginning to be more recognised.

What does this mean for women?

It’s significant. Thinking – Feeling (T or F) is in fact the only dichotomy which shows a gender bias. Women are more likely to report as Feeling types (75% ). In part this may be due to pressure to conform to what is considered socially desirable.

The implications for women aspiring to leadership positions within predominantly TJ organisations are obvious. According to type theory, people are most effective and fulfilled when they have identified and developed their natural strengths. In an environment which rewards TJ skills, women with different preferences may not have been given the opportunity to develop their own natural leadership style.

So how can I use personality type theory to help me be a better leader?

First, take the MBTI questionnaire with an accredited practitioner to establish your MBTI type. Once you understand your type, you can apply your learning as follows:

1. Seek opportunities which will allow you to use your strengths. If you are a Feeling type, you may find these in Human Resources, Training and Development, or client facing roles where people skills are important. But remember any type can do anything – do not feel limited by your type.

2.Recognise that the goal of healthy type development is to acquire a repertoire of skills which you can draw on as appropriate; so work on your least preferred areas as well.

3.Identify the dominant organisational culture (likely to be TJ) and work on developing your skills in these areas, particularly if these are your least preferred behaviours.

Above all, use your new knowledge as a framework for understanding and appreciating colleagues’ viewpoints and behaviour. Through understanding others you greatly increase your capacity for influence – as Blanchard states “the key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


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