The implications of Myers Briggs for leadership focus

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If we are to grow as leaders without burning out, it is necessary for us to understand ourselves. For many, this (never-ending) journey of understanding starts with the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator and the process of identifying themselves among sixteen types.

Much controversy has surrounded the personality test; Merve Emre remarks in the critically appraised What’s Your Type?,“There are times when, confused and lacking direction, we speak the language of type to affirm our understanding of ourselves and the people we love, and there are times when we want desperately to guard our individuality from type’s sly encroachments.”

Psychological type theory does not begin with Myers Briggs, but with Carl Jung. It was he who acknowledged that understanding our type, “creates individual lines of development which could never be reached by keeping to the path prescribed by collective norms.” And this is not something a leader can afford to ignore.

Myers Briggs et al. is still essential

“There is a deep gulf between what a man is and what he represents, between what he is as an individual and what he is as a collective being. His function is developed at the expense of his individuality. Should he excel, he is merely identical with his collective function…” – Jung, Psychological Types

The most widely understood (though often misapplied) aspect of the Myers Briggs’ Personality Indicator is introversion vs. extroversion. People with a tendency for extroversion usually get their energy from acting and interacting with the world. Those who lean toward introversion find energy in withdrawing a little, finding their own space and having opportunity to think.

But the implications of type for leadership focus stretch far beyond someone’s comfort in a social setting. Learning our strengths or weaknesses for intuition, sensing, thinking, feeling, perceiving and judging is to hold up our true strengths against what we believe the characteristics of a leader should be– and to notice the discrepancies. It is to confront the gap between our capacity to impact the world and the expectations that are placed upon us, or the expectations we have of ourselves.

The true characteristics of a leader are different for everyone

The leadership qualities we understand to be effective are often at odds with our true competencies. As Jung explains in his Psychological Types, the way we are wired to draw and focus our energy is “the line or curve representing the optimal discharge of energy and the corresponding result in work.” It is the sweet spot in which we can operate optimally: work, live and make decisions.

That sweet spot is, according to Jung, “simply the expression of flowing and self-manifesting energy… the predetermined course along which a constantly self-renewing current is directed.” In other words, for our leadership focus to be optimal, sustainable even, we have to engage with the strength we have, rather than the strengths we do not have. Otherwise we might climb a ladder of promotion, but lose ourselves and our true impact along the way.

Successful leaders are free from imitation

“In a flash I knew that what I was superior at – dreaming – was the cause of what I was inferior at = paying attention – something that in turn my mother, my father, my teachers and my peers had all tried, with little success, to shame me into being more responsible about…” – John Beebe, Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type

John Beebe was suffering from depression before a therapist opened his eyes to the fact that his lack of focus was tethered to his capacity for dreaming. Before this realisation, he had been trying to force his leadership qualities into a shape that would not hold for him.

“Realising that I was an intuitive type gave me a lot of energy,” John explains, “the opening up of my typology led to a great deal of energy pouring into my psyche from the Self. My new problem, replacing the depression I had come to therapy with, was a tendency to get too excited.”

While the Myers Briggs’ indicator has its limitations, getting to grips with it has unlocked previously overlooked capacities for countless leaders. It’s a starting point to understanding your truest contribution to the world – something of simplicity to expose the wood we have long missed for the trees.

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