Imagine that you are the coach of a kids’ sports team. The team has a great season and makes it to the championship playoffs, held in a town a plane ride away. There is enough money to send some team members to the playoffs, but not all of them.
So how do you decide who can go?
Robert Gaarder, a leadership coach and consultant on organization development, has heard dozens of answers to this question over the years, including “Send the best players,” “Have them draw straws,” “Send the kids who’ve been playing on the team the longest” (this reporter’s), and even “Send them all—I’ll pay the airfare out of my own pocket, because it’s just not fair otherwise.”
Your response reveals more than your attitude to youth sports, Gaarder says. It suggests whether you depend primarily on detached thinking (“T”) or empathic feeling (“F”) when making decisions. T/F is one of four dichotomies that make up the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the popular personality test based on the theories of Carl Jung. Developed by two American women, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, during the 1940s and ’50s and first published in 1962, the Myers-Briggs test is now taken by more than a million people per year worldwide. Its 126 forced-choice questions attempt to classify a person’s innate preferences according to T/F and three other dichotomies: extraversion/introversion (E/I), sensing/intuition (S/N), and judging/perceiving (J/P). When the four scales are combined, 16 different four-letter personality types emerge.
Gaarder, who holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in organization behavior and development, first encountered Myers-Briggs in graduate school and has made it an important part of his consulting business. “There are a lot of instruments out there, but the Myers-Briggs, I find, is the best in terms of leadership development,” he says. “There’s a high degree of validity and reliability. There’s been so much research done on it [the test]—hundreds or thousands of doctoral dissertations.”
For the past decade, Gaarder has worked mainly with small-to-midsized architecture and engineering firms, for the most part in the Washington, D.C., area. He acts as a one-on-one executive coach with the firm’s managing partner, or he advises a team of leaders who want to move the firm in a new direction. Whenever he works with an individual, he requires that person to take the Myers-Briggs test, as well as submit to what he calls “a 360 review” (a performance review based on feedback from peers and subordinates as well as superiors).
So far, he’s administered Myers-Briggs to about 125 architects. When he reached 100, he sat down to review their tests in the aggregate—and was surprised by what he saw. Among the general U.S. population, the most frequent types are, according to estimates by the Myers & Briggs Foundation, ISFJ, at 13.8 percent, ESFJ, at 12.3 percent, and ISTJ, at 11.6 percent. But among Gaarder’s group of 100 architects, just one was an ISFJ, and not a single one scored as an ESFJ.
By contrast, the most frequent type among the architects was ENTJ—extraversion, intuition, thinking, and judging. ENTJs accounted for a whopping 31 percent of the architects that Gaarder tested, despite the very low frequency of the type (estimated at 1.8 percent) within the general population.
Gaarder cautions that his data is skewed toward firm leaders, with whom he normally works. “I’m working now with principals, associate principals. I’m working more at the top of the organization,” he says. “Nonetheless, they’re architects. The fact that 30 percent of them are ENTJs, and the general population is like 2 percent, is huge.”
Besides an apparent predilection for architecture, what qualities do ENTJs share? “Frank, decisive, assume leadership readily,” according to the thumbnail portrait on the Myers & Briggs Foundation website, a description adapted from Isabel Briggs Myers’ book Introduction to Type. “Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems.”
In Gaarder’s less stilted words, “The good news is, the ENTJ has a lot of leadership qualities. They can envision the future. They are these grand-scale organizers; they think in terms of systems.” It makes sense, then, that the architecture-firm principals in Gaarder’s group overwhelmingly scored as ENTJ (16 of them) as opposed to other types (three ISTJs, for example).
However, the flip side of big-picture thinking can be a hazy attention to details. “A consistent problem in a lot of architecture firms [is] they aren’t good at managing the details, at follow-through. … I had one architect tell me, ‘I leave the details to the engineers.’ Which drives the engineers crazy.”
Managers tend to hire people like themselves, with similar strengths and weaknesses. But Gaarder recommends that ENTJ architects, to complement their own talent for large-scale thinking, look to hire project managers with the qualities of a different type, ISTJ (introversion, sensing, thinking, judging). Thorough, dependable, and organized, ISTJs bring sharp focus and assiduous follow-through to an enterprise, qualities their ENTJ colleagues may lack. (Managers can keep personality types in mind as they hire, but the Myers & Briggs Foundation’s ethical guidelines for use of the test strongly warn against using it to screen job applicants.)
Another common drawback of the ENTJ type is a go-it-alone attitude—a lack of empathy and an impatience with teamwork. “There’s an arrogance about an ENTJ, often,” Gaarder observes. “It’s like, ‘Well, I know what’s best for this client.’?” Collaborative practice and team-based “design thinking” may be all the rage in the profession right now, but clearly, they don’t come naturally to a great many architects, who’d rather present their own ideas for others to implement without discussion.
To make an enterprise truly collaborative, all architects—and ENTJs in particular—need to strive for self-awareness, so they can understand their limitations as well as their talents. “What do I do in groups? Am I listening? Am I really open?” are a few of the questions that Gaarder suggests they ask themselves. In his leadership training sessions, he does an exercise in which participants plan a project, first by themselves and then as a team. “It takes three times as long to do it as a team, but they get a better product,” he notes.
Of course, 100 is a relatively small number of tests to draw any sweeping conclusions from, and the test itself is not without its critics, who charge that it’s vague, unreliable, and unscientific. That said, there’s something compelling about Gaarder’s findings, which seem to support anecdotal wisdom about “the typical architect.”
And what to do about the kids’ sports team? “Send the best players”: It’s a classic ENTJ response.