The MBTI instrument - my most valid tool

Posted 23 Mar 2016 by Hile Rutledge, President OKA

About Hile Rutledge

Hile Rutledge on MBTIOKA President Hile Rutledge has over 20 years experience in the practical application of psychometric tools, specifically developing self-awareness throughout organisations. Hile is the author of books such as MBTI® Introduction Workbook and co-author of the best-seller Type Talk at Work

In advance of presenting ‘Answering Type’s critics and defending the MBTI instrument’ at the MBTI User conference in June, Hile has provided his thoughts on MBTI – his most valid tool.

The MBTI instrument - my most valid tool

There is and has always been a steady stream of criticism facing the MBTI assessment; no tool and/or psychological model so popular and successful will escape without rivals and detractors. While some of this criticism is carefully constructed, it all has the same agenda – to build the case against the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment and to diminish the efforts of anyone who finds it to be useful or enlightening.

What I find disheartening – as I do whenever these tired arguments are trotted out – is how instrument-centric this line of thinking is. The false argument becomes about which tool is more ‘right’. And in my 24 years as an organization consultant, I have come to see plainly that the real client work is not about the tool, but instead about using these tools to help increase client self-awareness so that they can more effectively manage themselves.

Be more aware and better manage yourself.

What are your innate preferences? What are your motives? Which patterns of behavior have you developed and why? What are your strengths and how can you harness these? What are your weaknesses and how can you mitigate these? While it is interesting to know the styles and tendencies of others, my real breakthroughs come when I can empower individuals to know themselves more clearly and manage themselves better. That is how we help build leaders, teams, organizations and communities: with increased self-awareness and better self-management.

Given this goal – which I would argue is the true goal of all good OD work – we have countless assessment tools at our disposal to help us engage clients in the field of self-awareness, self-management, development and behavior change. Tools include the Big Five, the EQ-i, the California Psychological Inventory (CPI), the 16 Personality Factors (16PF), the SDI, the Hogan and many others.  In fact, I will use any tool that gives me responsible feedback my clients can use to illuminate their path and move toward self-development.

Having said that, while my professional toolbox is full and varied I have found nothing that surpasses the MBTI assessment in its ability to spark powerful, deep client insight. The MBTI assessment is a restricted tool – you must be qualified to purchase and use it. This requirement is in place to ensure that only trained consultants, coaches and trainers use the Indicator. From its inception, an essential component of an MBTI administration has been interactive feedback and the client’s self-assessment and engagement with the content. The tool is an important piece of the process, the launching point. It is, however, neither the authority nor an end in itself. By the way, I would argue that no other tool should be either.

What I like best about the Myers-Briggs assessment and its underpinning model (Psychological Type) – as opposed to the host of trait-based tools at our disposal – is that it speaks to personal preferences and not to specific skills, performance or ability. Ironically, the MBTI feature on which most critics focus is perhaps the thing that has made (and kept) the tool so popular for so long: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator never claims to indicate what I do well. It never indicates what job I should take or what partner I should choose. For these reasons, metric-centric folks claim the MBTI assessment does not give us outcomes that matter. On the contrary, I believe (as have millions of Type users over many decades) that the MBTI assessment is a tool of self-awareness. It never tries to select us, grade us, or rank-order us. It does not try to predict what we will do next or who will succeed or fail in any given endeavor. 

What it does do instead, is indicate my preferred way of gathering information in the world and my innately preferred way of making decisions about those data. The MBTI assessment also indicates where I tend to energize as well as the behavioral face I prefer to show the world. The MBTI tool offers no judgment, no normed scores, no bell curves – just a value-neutral template to understand my own tendencies. It is a tool to help me understand me. It is not – and has never been – a test. To many critics this is the tool’s greatest sin, but for me and other Type professionals, this is its greatest gift.

Many Type critics want tools to measure, rank, predict and select. These are all fine things to want, but if that is what they are after, they are right to avoid the MBTI assessment. If, however, what is being sought is a client-centered tool that builds self-awareness and helps lead to better self-management and growth, there is no better option than the MBTI assessment used by a qualified MBTI trainer or coach.

Since Isabel Myers started her work on the MBTI assessment in the late 1940s, the Indicator has drawn scorn from a sub-set of critics. But since the instrument became publicly accessible in the mid 1970s, it has become (and remains) the most popular personality assessment tool in the world. Fads don’t last forty years. The MBTI assessment is here to stay. And, unfortunately, so are those who would prefer the work of personal self-awareness and development to be constrained and defined by metrics, rather than merely informed by them.

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