The topic of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (“MBTI”) has come up three times in the past few days – in a graduate school-sponsored webinar on leadership where it earned disparaging remarks from the facilitator, in a conversation with a colleague who was confused about its use, and in reading Patrick Lencioni’s recommendations about its application in his fabulous book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” So I got to thinking about the concerns I have with the use of the MBTI:
1. Too often participants in a session based on the MBTI walk away with little more than a four-letter label and an overly-simplified explanation of the results. Instead of serving as a tool for personal growth and development, the results are frequently used to stereotype, to justify bad behavior, as excuses for shortcomings, or to screen employees. This is particularly disturbing to those of us who study Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung’s theory and appreciate its richness and complexity and who fully understand its limitations.
Jung (and subsequently Myers and Briggs) developed this framework not to label people, or as Jung said, “not to put them in drawers,” but to help them be more effective! In fact, Jung referred to his model as a compass, “just as arbitrary and just as indispensable.” For our voyages of self-discovery, the results are indeed a compass and just another datapoint, as Professor Jennifer Chatman called all results of personality assessments.
2. My second concern is that the richness of Jung’s model is too rarely explored. Jung believed that people are not “introverted” or “extraverted.” It’s the functions they use to take in and process data that are introverted and extraverted. This important nuance explains why many people respond “BOTH!” to the question of which orientation to the world – external or internal – provides them with the most energy. In addition, Jung believed we have all the functions – Sensing and Intuiting, Thinking and Feeling – within us. Of course, it is true that people develop preferences for using one function of another, but it’s also true that we all have flexibility – if we want to develop those other sides of ourselves. It’s often just a question of reaching in and pulling out the appropriate function for the moment. For example, “Do I need to look at specific detail or do I need to step back and see the big picture?” Or “Do I need to make a decision based on quantitative or qualitative information?”
3. Finally, the MBTI is not the only answer, particularly when it comes to leadership development. It doesn’t address the dark side of personalities or help define values as two of the Hogan assessments do. It doesn’t identify the ability of a leader to work the spectrum of behaviors that are appropriate for the situation (is it a strategic or operating challenge?) or for the person being managed (do I use a directing or enabling style?), as the Leadership Versatility Index does. And of course, without the Breakthrough Creativity framework, it doesn’t identify creative talents! (For information on using the Jungian framework with creativity, be sure to check out The Eight Creative Talents.)
The MBTI certainly has its strengths. It is non-judgmental and recognizes the many different ways individuals communicate, make decisions, and solve problems. It thus promotes greater tolerance, appreciation and understanding of self and others. When used correctly, the MBTI can be a powerful instrument to deepen self-awareness, build trust and improve teamwork.
What has been your experience with the MBTI? What do you see as its strengths and shortcomings?