Published: July 13, 2012
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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So Many MBTI Questions, So Little Time

I’ve been inundated with questions about the MBTI and Majors PTI lately, and I’m happy to see so much interest in self-awareness and how to put self-awareness to good use as a leader. This month, we’re going to focus on three of the discussions which are hot today. I’m going to geek out and get a little bit technical here. I hope you enjoy the subject matter as much as I do.

If you have a different burning question, please send us your request at lighten@selbygroup.com, and I’ll include it in a subsequent issue.

What’s the difference between the MBTI and the Strengths Finder? Should we use both in our company?

It’s my opinion that the two don’t have much in common, though they have not been tested together so we don’t have evidence one way or the other. Conceptually, though, they seem to me to be trying to do two very different things.

Let’s start with the Strengths Finder. The Strengths Finder assessment helps you identify what you believe your strengths to be. Simply believing that something is your strength doesn’t make it your strength, though. A more accurate name might have been Perceived Strengths Finder, but who on earth would have bought a book with that boring name?

To learn if your perception of your strengths is accurate, you will need to also get data from trusted sources and a reasonable metric. For leaders, the most common way to get feedback on your strengths in the workplace is through confidential developmental 360-degree feedback and performance metrics. For most individual contributors, it’s a performance metric, though modified 360’s can also be used. They are essentially not 360’s but 180’s.

You can also get feedback on your strengths by asking directly or through the annual performance management process, though that doesn’t always result in a completely honest or well-informed assessment -- except perhaps from your spouse. I’m completely serious about your spouse being the only person who’s likely to give frank feedback. Well, I do hope your spouse doesn’t have you on a performance management plan, but if that’s the case, I’m afraid we’ve gone way beyond my area of expertise.

Now let’s turn to the MBTI. The MBTI, despite lots of writing indicating otherwise, is not necessarily trying to help you identify your unique strengths, either. It helps you understand what your natural patterns of mental energy may be, based on Jung’s theory of the personality. The MBTI is trying to give you a snapshot of patterns that are thought to be hard-wired in utero. The intent is to provide you with insights that you can use to make your perception clearer and your judgments more sound.

We have found over time that certain types are often associated with certain strengths, blind spots, and challenges, but – this is the most important part – the data is at the herd level, so it doesn’t apply to every individual with that particular type code.

By itself with no context, I believe the MBTI has limited usefulness. However, in context, it can be a great jumping off point to help you improve your self-awareness and self-management in a wide variety of situations.

It could be interesting to use both tools in an organization, but at this point it seems cumbersome. I work mostly in the technology and science sectors, so perhaps my view is biased, but I do find that my clients have a pretty low threshold for how many self-awareness tests they want to take and understand. I usually pick my assessments based on their goals and keep the number small.

One assessment is ideal for a more tactical or focused context, such as a training or teambuilding event or addressing a particular challenge. Two or three complimentary tools can provide a robust, well-rounded picture of the self for those with a more strategic and long-term development plan. This often includes executives, key talent, and high potential individuals who are part of a larger strategic culture change or leadership development investment.

As a guideline to leaders, I recommend that you choose your internal or external consultant and leave it to the consultant to pick the right instrument for your needs. That level of expertise and good judgment is what you should be paying them for.

Where can I get a free MBTI on the internet? I don’t want to pay for it.

You can’t. The authors weren’t trying to create a tempting assessment as a means to upsell books or consulting services, so it’s a freestanding product. There’s an on-line version with an on-line interpretation, but it’s not free.

If you want to explore what your type might be without paying for an assessment, pick up some of the many books on psychological type and read them. You won’t get a customized report, but as you read through the books and reflect on how the content applies to you, you’ll learn more about yourself.

You don’t have to take an assessment to understand Jung’s theory and apply it for your own growth. It can accelerate your process, but it’s not essential.

Look at this long bar on the Extraversion/Introversion chart in my report. This means I’m very extraverted, right?

You are going to be so disappointed in this one. The long or short bar in the chart in your report is called the Preference Clarity Index (PCI score), and it’s a bit of a distraction. It’s not a measure of you; it’s a measure of the test.

(If the researchers at CPP are reading this article, you are going to gag at the way I’ll now describe this, but here goes.)

If your bar is very long on the Extraversion side, it isn’t telling you that you’re very extraverted. The test isn’t designed to tell you the amount of any preference because Jung’s theory wasn’t about amounts or degrees of anything.

A long bar in the Extraversion chart is saying, “The form probably got it right because you consistently answered the questions about Extraversion in the same way.”

Likewise, a very short bar doesn’t mean that you’re not very extraverted or that you’re balanced or that you have some of both. Those are all measures of degree, and the second is even a measure of mental health (balanced vs. unbalanced) which this test isn’t designed to measure, either. Seriously, you could be the next Ted Kaczynski and this form would have no way of knowing.

A very short bar just means that the form had a harder time giving you a clear answer based on how you responded to the questions.

Compared to what you thought that bar meant, this is pretty boring, isn’t it? Ah, well. I try to bring you riveting reading, but sometimes the myth is more exciting than the reality.

 



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