I sometimes hear people dismiss the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as being a bit like a horoscope, where the type descriptions are so general that they can apply to almost anyone. To back this up, they quote short extracts which do indeed sound as though they could fit a broad range of people. The horoscope analogy however fails when significantly different or complete opposite types are compared. The detailed descriptions show how each personality type is more than just the sum of each of the dimensions; it is the way the dimensions interact that gives MBTI its richness.
Another common criticism is about the either/or nature of the dimensions when taken in isolation; quite rightly, people say they are neither completely one thing nor the other. Once you get beyond the initial explanation of the model however, it’s clear that MBTI supports this, showing we all use each of the preferences at different times and in different ways. For each personality type though, there is an order in which the preferences are usually applied. As well as having meaning in its own right, the Judging/Perceiving dimension holds the key to this hierarchy and how the other dimensions all knit together.
Taken on its own, the Judging/Perceiving dimension is about how people deal with the outer world. People with a Judging preference are inclined towards a planned and structured approach to life; they like to be organised and prepared, making decisions to reach closure and completion. A Perceiving preference on the other hand is more spontaneous, taking the outside world as it comes, remaining flexible and keeping options open so that new opportunities can be responded to as they arise.
Leaders with a Judging preference focus on goals, objectives, and outcomes. They make decisions fairly easily, although they can sometimes do so rather too quickly. They like things to be settled, and having made a plan will stick to it, possibly at the expense of additional information that doesn’t fit. They anticipate problems, planning how to manage risks and avoid last minute stresses.
Leaders with a Perceiving preference place more emphasis on direction and approach. They like to keep plans flexible to allow them to incorporate new information and ideas right up until the last minute. They respond well to the pressure of approaching deadlines and solve problems as they arise. Any compulsion to settle things too quickly can cause anxiety, and in their attempt to keep options open, they may struggle to make decisions or avoid them altogether.
The potential for frustration when working with someone of the opposite preference is clear. Judging types struggle with the way Perceiving types fail to make detailed plans and stick to them. Their casual approach and spontaneity can be interpreted as being disorganised, and their tendency to leave things to the last minute as slapdash. Perceiving types find those of a Judging preference equally testing. Their plans and schedules can appear rigid, raising questions about their ability to adapt to change; their need for order can come across as controlling, and the desire to make early decisions as having a closed mind and being afraid of uncertainty.
Useful as this dimension is in understanding differences about how people relate to the outer world, it also holds the key to exploring the MBTI in greater depth. It indicates how the dimensions combine and interact, making for a richer, more dynamic model of personality than if we just looked at them separately. It is all too easy to think that the model suggests we only use the four identified preferences, but this is a misunderstanding. Every personality type uses each of the four basic mental processes of Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling; they just use them in different ways. The Judging/Perceiving preference shows us which of these we use externally and which internally, which is important because Extraverted Sensing for example has a different flavour from Introverted Sensing. This in turn reveals the hierarchy in which we use the functions, showing us not only our Dominant Function, the one we use most often and that is probably best developed, but also how the others all have their place.
Knowledge of type and type dynamics can be hugely beneficial to anyone in a leadership position. It provides insight into our own personality, helping us to develop an authentic leadership style. It can also help us understand our impact on others, how to communicate, influence and motivate, and how to resolve conflict and improve teamwork. While even a superficial understanding of psychological type can be useful, a more detailed knowledge can provide a model for lifelong growth and development.
This is the final part of a series of four related articles looking at leadership in terms of the dimensions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It first appeared in TrainingZone.
The other articles in this series