Myers-Briggs: Leadership Tool for Women

Looking to improve leadership and diversity at the same time? Try tapping into personality traits to overcome gender barriers and communication hurdles at work.

Despite the growing trend of more progressive values in the workplace, it’s not uncommon for even the most forward-thinking office to have some unconscious baggage lingering near the watercooler.  Most executives will not readily admit it, but communication failures often run rampant.

For all leaders, especially women, it is increasingly important to understand how others perceive one’s behavior. Self-awareness lays the foundation for clear communication and more productive work relationships.

There are tools that can help when psychological hurdles posed by gender or other stereotypes impact one’s performance or self-perception in the workplace. For instance, psychometric instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Instrument assessment can help employees across all levels develop self-awareness, identify psychological blind spots and create strategies to overcome stressful situations by taking control of one’s personality.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, communication preferences are often dictated by one’s personality type. Individuals who take the MBTI fall into one of 16 different personality types based upon their preferences for Introversion vs. Extraversion, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving.

It has been observed that women with an MBTI preference for Thinking (vs. Feeling) are more likely to be called “aggressive.” As a preference for Thinking is more common at the C-level, this might create challenges for female executives, who may face more negative reactions to behaviors typical for their type than their male counterparts. However, these barriers can also be self-imposed, the result of perceived attitudes or judgments that may or may not be there.

Regardless of whether obstacles are pronounced or projected, they are difficult to overcome and result in displaced energy better suited for tackling tough boardroom questions, rather than questioning one’s effectiveness as a leader.

Communication challenges take different shapes for every personality type. For example, individuals with the ISFJ personality type (Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judging), which trends highly across administration and office-support roles, by nature may not openly welcome changes without a concrete plan for implementation. Based upon these preferences, it would be understandable if a person with ISFJ preferences in the office experienced heightened stress levels if a new policy is imposed with minimal warning or explanation.

To maneuver this type of potential communication-breakdown, the key for people with ISFJ preferences is self-awareness. By recognizing in advance these types’ situations can result in strife, individuals can implement certain behaviors, or “flex,” his or her style to help mitigate unnecessary frustration. Thus, even when other perspectives seem unfair, leaders recognize the need to remain open-minded and listen to all parties before reacting to a particular situation.

On the other hand, people with the ENFP (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving) preferences, common among leaders in marketing roles, will often take the ball and run when it comes to general guidelines and information. Specific commands may actually impede the implementation and execution for people with these personality types. It would not be out of character for someone of this type to feel overwhelmed or bombarded if a superior were to assign tasks and require an overly-fixed or granular methodology for their execution.

With people who have a preference for ENFP, it is not uncommon to withdraw if they perceive their contributions as undervalued, or if they are working with someone who is judgmental, overly analytic or unauthentic. For these leaders, the key is to recognize when they are working alongside others who are perhaps more reserved. In these instances, people with ENFP preferences should proactively work to tone down the pace with which they engage with these colleagues, and make a conscientious effort to appreciate and give direct feedback — recognizing these instances as the opportunities for growth.

Sensitivities toward gender roles could exacerbatethese kinds of conflicts or communications failures — or create a backdrop for them, which can be destructive for efficient teams — and lower productivity and morale. By staying cognizant of one’s natural preferences and inherent blind spots, leaders can take steps to quickly address miscommunication, or prevent it all together.

Keep in mind the following as guidelines for flexing your personality type without burying your authentic self:

  • One’s preferences are implicit, so they are never wrong.
  • Not everyone understands how their preferences work — sometimes it may fall to us to do the flexing, but there may be people in our lives who flex for us.
  • Flexing takes energy. Pay attention to when you and others need a break to recharge.