In the workplace, are you a flaming F or a flaming T?

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September 3, 2002 // UPDATED 1:30 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

If you thought the SAT determined your educational fate, wait til you have to take the Myers-Briggs at work

Forget about your degree that you spent thousands of dollars to earn. Forget about your intelligence, flexibility, discernment, experience. When it comes to enjoying success in the business world, it comes down to four letters: ENTJ.

ENTJ is one of 16 four-letter personality types identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric test widely used throughout corporate America for team building and leadership training. Ideally, it's designed to help people get a better understanding of why people approach the world in different ways. Officially, one personality type is not better than another.

Yeah, right.

Who are these ENTJs who get the top jobs? Natural-born leaders: strategic, decisive, problem-solvers.

So much for their strong points; ENTJs are also an impatient bunch, and as a rule, are not naturally in tune with other people's feelings. Typically, ENTJs have difficulty seeing things from outside their perspective. So much for team building.

"Where does that leave the 15 other personality types?" I asked, as we stepped on the escalator to take us down to the lobby.

"On the lower rungs of the corporate ladder," said Bunny.

"So, does this mean if I'm not an ENTJ, I should forget about a career in corporate America?"

At this point Bunny, pressing the elevator button for the 14th floor, hesitated. She then chose her words carefully: "I think the way to look at it is to recognize that as an INFP, you might not be comfortable in an environment that tends to reward ENTJs."

With that, the elevator door closed.

INFPs, however, account for only 1 percent of the population. INFPs "have a profound sense of idealism derived from a strong personal morality. They conceive the world as an ethical, honorable place."

Famous INFPs include: Mary, mother of Jesus; Tom Brokaw; Homer; Virgil; and William Shakespeare -- not a shabby list, but not exactly a list of business tycoons.

Just how seriously do business people take their ratings on the Myers-Briggs? So seriously, that they'll try to beat the test. Stephen, like Bunny, is a Myers-Briggs consultant. "A few years ago, an executive who had just come into the organization after a major re-org hired me to give his entire team the Myers-Briggs. When I started reviewing the results, I saw they were very skewed." said Stephen.

"In what way?" I asked.

"Let's just say that quite a few of the team members ended up with the exact same Myers-Briggs as their new boss," said Stephen. "When I asked them about it, they said they answered the test the way they thought their new boss would answer it."

That's why, across town, Cheryl is using every possible strategy to avoid taking the Myers-Briggs. Her company loves the Myers-Briggs so much that it requires employees to include their personality type on their nameplates.

"Isn't that an invasion of privacy?" I asked incredulously.

"You would think so," said Cheryl.

"I take it that there is a preferred personality type at your company."

"Of course," said Cheryl, "Why do you think I'm avoiding taking the test! I could sabotage my own career -- I have no idea whether my personality matches the preferred one in this organization. I prefer to keep them guessing."

Did I mention that ENTJs are mostly male?

Historically, women taking the Myers-Briggs were not very likely to see a "T" in the third spot of their personality type. Instead, that third letter was more likely to be an "F". Fs are people who are concerned with whether their decisions and actions are worthwhile. Fs believe they can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation.

That kind of thinking can quickly get you overlooked for the next promotion. And so, an interesting thing has happened on the way up the corporate ladder: women are now turning out ENTJ scores at a phenomenal rate -- a rate now equal to their male counterparts.

Have women's basic personalities really changed that dramatically during the past generation? Or, is there a simpler explanation: are women faking it?

I think that women are still flaming Fs disguising themselves as flaming Ts because it's not safe to show their true personality preferences. However, America could truly benefit from a little more "F" and a little less "T."

Elana Centor is a former Downtown resident who owns a Minneapolis writing/marketing company. If you have a workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact her at ecentor@mn.rr.com.