Myers-Briggs, Leadership Training and EdTech

Why academic leadership training, including edtech leadership, needs to let the MBTI go.

January 24, 2016

How many leadership seminars, professional development opportunities, and conferences have you attended where the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI) has been featured?

In my edtech world, support and utilization of Myers-Briggs appears to be pervasive.  Myers-Briggs is particularly popular in leadership development seminars and workshops. The test is presented as a method to better understand personality types (both ourselves, our colleagues, and our reports), so that we may align projects and teams more productively.

My guess is that you have done this test -- and you can probably share M-B personality type if you are so inclined. It would be entertaining to discuss is align to personality types of extraversion (E), introversion (I), thinking (T), feeling (F), sensing (S), intuition (N), judging (J), and perceiving ( P ). Let me guess - you are an INTJ, or maybe an ESFJ.

It is comforting to think that if we can just understand ourselves and others better that we will be able to create more humane and productive workplaces. The intentions behind utilizing the MBTI are all good. The people I know that utilize the MBTI are creative and successful edtech leaders, colleagues that I respect and admire.

At this point in my career, however, I can no longer silently acquiesce to yet another leadership development session where the MBTI is administered or praised.

The problem, of course, is that social scientists have long known that the MBTI has little reliability, and even worse validity.

The MBTI does almost nothing to explain job performance, and is a terrible predictor of which occupations (or tasks) that individuals will choose, be selected for, or thrive doing.

In a summary of the research on Myers-Briggs, Adam Grant of Wharton wrote that:

"When it comes to accuracy, if you put a horoscope on one end and a heart monitor on the other, the MBTI falls about halfway in between".

We enjoy taking and discussing the MBTI because -- a: we love to categorize ourselves and others into types, and b: the results are always positive.

As an article on the Vox.com titled Why the Myers-Briggs Test Is Totally Meaningless puts it:

"This isn't a test designed to accurately categorize people, but rather a test designed to make them feel happy after taking it. "

It is fine to recognize how the MBTI makes us feel, but those of us in academia (including -- maybe especially academic technology) should be forthright in separating science from entertainment.

Relying on an instrument that has been so discredited in scientific circles for our own leadership and management decisions will hurt our credibility amongst our academic peers.

Worse yet, use of the MBTI runs the risk of feeding the myth the productive and performance of our colleagues (and direct reports) is related more to personality type than to context.

If performance is based on immutable personality factors, then we no longer need to pay so much attention to the work environments that we create.

If getting the best out of our people only requires us to understand and work with their “unique” personality type, then we are off the hook for fighting for adequate staffing -- private office spaces -- and reasonable degrees of autonomy and security for our employees.

If a team’s performance is determined by the mix of personality types of the team members, then we no longer have to pay attention to the diversity (or lack thereof) on the team.

As academic technology leaders and emerging leaders we can do better than to keep supporting the personality-type/MBTI myth. We can pay attention to what the research does say about productivity, and have the courage to jettison some long held practices and assumptions that are not supported by the research.

We need to leave Myers-Briggs Type Indicator behind.


Back to Top