One of the main aims of executive coaching is to build self-awareness (Whitmore, 2002). Using an assessment tool suited to the executive coaching topic and the client’s situation can be the start of this process. One tool I find valuable for raising awareness is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is particularly the case when helping an executive coaching client to understand interpersonal relationship issues.
The MBTI is a psychometric assessment based on Jung’s theory of personality types (Briggs Myers, 2000). The outcome of the assessment is that individuals are classified into one of 16 personality types based on their reported preferences. It is a widely used instrument, Briggs Myers (2000) reports that it is administered 3.5 million times worldwide each year. I have found it of great value in executive coaching. It provides a way for clients to understand their personality type, how this affects their perceptions of others, and how in turn others may perceive them. An appreciation of type enables clients to see that ‘each type represents a valuable way to be’ (Briggs Myers, 2000, p. 8). I find this perspective enables clients to feel less defensive and vulnerable when discussing their personality type.
I have noticed however like Boyle (2008) that use of the MBTI early in coaching can lead to a ‘shift in style and energy’ because in giving feedback the coach can be acting in the role of an expert. Rogers (2008) also observes that the use of psychometrics has the potential to disturb the executive coaching partnership and give power to the coach. It is important therefore to consider carefully when to introduce MBTI. Like Boyle I favour its use after contracting and goal setting. In this way there is some time to build the coaching relationship and establish rapport. There are however other writers who express cautionary comments about the MBTI and psychometric assessment and it is sensible in to be aware of their views.
Rogers (2008, p.105) identifies that the first question that should be asked is ‘why are you using a psychometric assessment at all?’ Rogers (2008) and Bluckert (2006) identify that some coaches may use such tests, without thought for their purpose, in order to overcome a lack of confidence. An Executive Coach using psychometrics therefore needs to ensure the tool used relates to the topic and that the insights arising from its use will lead to behavioural change (Bourne, 2007). Pettinger (2005) highlights issues with the psychometric properties of the MBTI and expresses doubts about the inferences and conclusions that can be drawn from it. However the test manual for MBTI (Briggs Myers et al., 1998) reports that test re-test reliability is much greater than that achieved by chance and in terms of validity there is good evidence for the four dichotomies.
Flaherty (2005) believes that in using assessment models there can be a risk of viewing clients as a certain personality type which results in setting up an expectation of a certain behaviour and that this can become a self fulfilling prophecy. A knowledge of your own and your client’s MBTI type is useful in executive coaching, it is however important to be careful about creating mental MBTI stereotypes. I have also experienced situations where clients use their MBTI type as an excuse for their behaviour rather than using it as a means to understand and resolve differences. Pettinger (1993, p. 6) believes that MBTI ‘forces the complexities of human personality in to an artificial and limiting classification scheme’. I would argue as a qualified user of a range of personality tests that all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have the potential to do this. A trained user should be aware that the results in themselves are not ‘the person’; they only have real meaning through discussion with the client. It would be inappropriate to reduce a unique personality to the outcome of a psychometric assessment, whether that is a number of trait scores or one of four MBTI types.
I am conscious of the criticisms of the MBTI and the drawbacks of psychometric instruments. However in my experience the MBTI has significant benefit when used in the right context. In this respect I agree with Rogers (2007) who states that the MBTI ‘consistently delivers insight and learning’.
Bluckert, P. (2006) Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Bourne, A. (2007) ‘Using Psychometrics in Coaching’. In: S. Palmer and A. Whybrow (eds.) Handbook of Coaching Psychology. Hove: Routledge. pp. 385-403.
Boyle, J. (2008) ‘Reviewing the impact of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (Mbti) on a coaching practice’, The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching, Vol. VI, Issue 3 [Online]. European Mentoring & Coaching Council. Retrieved from: http://www.emccouncil.org/uk/public/international_journal_of_mentoring_and_coaching/index.html [Accessed 16 February 2011].
Briggs Myers, I. (2000) Introduction to Type. 6th ed. Oxford: Information Press.
Flaherty, J. (2005) Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others. 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
Pettinger, D. (2005) ‘Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 210-221.
Pettinger, D. (1993) ‘Measuring the MBTI …and coming up short’, Journal of Career Planning and Placement, Fall 1993 [Online]. Retrieved from: http://www.indiana.edu/~jobtalk/HRMWebsite/hrm/articles/develop/mbti.pdf [Accessed 11 March 2011].
Rogers, J. (2007) Sixteen Personality Types: At Work in Organisations. 2nd ed. London: Management Futures Ltd.
Rogers, J. (2008) Coaching Skills: A Handbook. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Whitmore, J. (2002) Coaching for Performance. 3rd ed. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.
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