How to develop high potential people using MBTI personality insights

Posted 09 February 2022 by
Melissa Summer, The Myers-Briggs Company

6 min. read

Knowing how to develop leaders within your organization involves so much complexity that it takes trained human resources professionals to juggle all the balls without dropping something.

But you don’t immediately jump right to executive leadership training as soon as you bring on a new employee. Developing your company’s future leaders starts with hiring and onboarding high-potential new employees. And while the MBTI® assessment shouldn’t ever be used for hiring, it’s a fantastic development tool to onboard new employees and give high potential hires a starting point for their own professional growth.

There are many ways to make sure that all new employees have a solid and realistic overview of what your organization is all about. And high potential new hires are like band members arriving with a wide array of different instruments. 

The trumpets and the saxophones won’t be playing the same parts from the same sheet of music, but HR professionals need to ensure that everyone is playing the same song. This requires a sort of initial inventory of who’s who and how they best work together. 

And since we’re dealing with unique human beings, it saves a lot of time and stress if you first figure out what motivates your people. Find out what they want in the workplace, and what they want in life. It also increases employee engagement.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a great place to start with helping new employees understand their own motivations, and how those motivations might differ from their colleagues, managers and direct reports. 

Having taken in the insights revealed by the MBTI tool, employees and managers alike can move forward together with a greater understanding of what each person needs and has to offer. When wildly different people with different personalities are able to better work together through increased mutual understanding, it greases all the cogs in the machine. It allows the organization to run more smoothly, with less drama and friction, and can help move people out of their comfort zone with non-confrontational language. 

Once you establish a positive organizational culture and healthy work environment, you can identify those new hires who naturally distinguish themselves through talent and superior performance. 

New hires, new teams and the MBTI assessment

Organizations are often made up of teams led by managers. And teams need to be cohesive units that work well together. While some personality assessments are designed to identify your high-potential (HIPO) team members, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is NOT used for that purpose. However, the MBTI assessment can help HR staff optimize teams so that all personality types work together, by better understanding each other. 

Using tools like the MBTI, new teams and formed teams bond and learn how their different personality types complement one another’s strengths. The MBTI assessment can also help new hires cement themselves on a new team by understanding the whole team’s strengths and blindspots. 

For example, what if your new high potential employee has preferences for Sensing. Say they’re put on a team where everyone else also has those preferences. That team will all take in information in a similar fashion. Knowing this is helpful for that reason, but also because the team would know that no one on the team prefers Intuition (the other way of taking in information). The team can then intentionally look for the information they may have missed the first time that someone with preferences for intuition would notice. 

Team building with the MBTI assessment will help potential leaders better understand the team rather than figuring it out on their own. This helps to set them up for success in the future.

How to develop leaders--by taking a walk

For former U.S. Army commander Colonel (Retired) Matthew Klimow, now U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan, developing leaders was an art as well as a science. 

He taught junior officers under his command to practice “management by walking around.” 

What he meant wasn’t only checking the small things leaders notice, he also meant checking in on your people. As a leader, especially a senior leader, one may not always have a good idea of how people are feeling. You might not know if they’re engaged, satisfied, or enjoying a sense of fulfillment in their work. It pays to take a walk, look employees in the eye, and ask simply and sincerely, “How’s it going?” 

Klimow urged junior managers to take a daily walk–to get outside their office. He warned them to avoid relying on the often-skewed view a mid-level leader can get by only absorbing information from emails and meetings. He did this so often himself that junior soldiers (who in most other units would feel their hearts skip a beat if the colonel strolled by) felt at ease with the commander. 

Klimow would often stick his head under a truck where a soldier was working and simply ask, “How’s it going, Joe?” 

When leaders express sincere interest in the welfare of their people often enough, those people develop enough trust to be honest. 

“Sir, things could be better,” the mechanic might say. “We’re short on Hummer parts.”

And Klimow understood that that’s the kind of critical information he might never hear in a meeting. Knowing about it, he could fix it before maintenance became a mission stopper.

During his time as an Army commander, Ambassador Klimow had every officer in his organization take the MBTI assessment. Klimow knew that the military is made up of human beings with personalities, and despite the regimented structure of life, people are unique. 

Once his junior officers had a chance to take the assessment and consider their results, Klimow had an “officers’ call” at the officer’s club. Here, people could socialize a bit, then formally and methodically talk about what the insights they’d gained through the assessment. This contributed to an excellent professional climate in Klimow’s organization. After the formal officers’ session, Klimow urged his subordinate commanders to do the same in their battalions and companies. 

In his mind, and in the reality of his smooth-running unit, understanding people was the first step in how to develop leaders.

Aside from encountering hidden problems, walking around granted Klimow a superpower–seeing firsthand who performed above and beyond what duty required. He’d sometimes hand out unit coins and take note of the name of the person he’d noticed. 

That got the attention of junior leaders who were overjoyed that one of their own had received a verbal commendation. Klimow kept those names handy, and when opportunities arose for advancement, he’d check that list of HIPO individuals. Those outstanding performers tended to receive promotions to positions of greater responsibility at a faster rate than their peers, and many went on to become senior leaders themselves.

Understanding the sources of team stress

How do we recognize developing team stress, identify its sources, and come up with remedies? 

In 2011, psychologist Martin Seligman developed a theory of well-being known as the PERMA model of well-being.  It supports what he refers to as “flourishing,” the basis of most recent research on well-being. Seligman’s work provides a useful tool for evaluating and cultivating well-being in all sorts of organizations, from elementary schools to government agencies.

The PERMA model consists of five factors: 

Well-being researchers like Seligman and his colleagues stress that well-being is only one factor involved with our level of satisfaction with our lives. Other factors include our genetic heritage, intelligence, personality, and our place in society. All this contributes to our success and sense of fulfillment in the workplace.

Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a scientifically-valid psychometric assessment that meets the standards set forth by both the American Psychological Association and the British Psychological Society. There are three ways to be able to use this tool with your own teams.

  1. MBTI Certification - attend a virtual or in-personal MBTI Certification Program so that you can understand, administer and run individual and team development sessions.
  2. Find an MBTI certified consultant or coach who can administer the MBTI assessment and run the individual or team building training for your organization. 
  3. Contact us to discuss the type of training you might need and that would be most helpful to your organization. 

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