Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Leaders come from all personality types

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Bill Clinton with Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention
When I teach project management, the topic of personality styles invariably comes up. Whether you use Myers-Briggs, Disc, Belbin or any other typing, there are different personality styles. It is useful to know other people's styles so that you can modify your own style when you need to influence these leaders.

Another reason I teach styles is to point out that, while each style has its own pluses and minuses, no team would work if comprised of only one style. The best teams are comprised of a good mix.

I'm old fashioned so the personality typing I use comes from Hippocrates who divides the world into those whose temperaments are dominated by the excess of the four body fluids: Blood, Black Bile, Yellow Bile and Phlegm.

Schematic showing the 4 humors or body fluids. Schematic based on a picture from the book "The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World by Brian M. Fagan"
This corresponds to Air, Earth, Fire and Water. As a consultant, I recognize a 2 X 2 matrix turned 45 degrees. If you spin the above diamond 45 degrees clockwise and label the y-axis Introversion-Extroversion and the x-axis People Oriented vs. Task Oriented, you get the core of any personality typing method. And it's enough to be able to type others without putting them through a long questionnaire. On another post I'll provide more details of this.

I usually finish out the presentation, after my students know enough about the personality types to recognize them, by asking if any one type is dominant in leaders. I use US presidents as an example. Are US presidents more likely to be Introverted or Extroverted, People or Task Oriented. The answer is typically 'No.' This was pointed out in a recent NY Times article comparing the styles of Bush, Clinton and Obama.

I'm going to use my own non-scientific method to type the last few presidents. Let me know if you agree.
Type                                                            Example Presidents
Extroverted/People Oriented (Blood)          W. Bush, Clinton, Reagan
Extroverted/Task Oriented (Yellow Bile)   Obama, Johnson
Introverted/Task Oriented (Black Bile)       H. Bush, Nixon
Introverted/People Oriented (Phlegm)         Carter, Ford


  1. Ok, first of all, I think the NY TImes stole their story idea from your blog! Copying is the greatest form of flattery!

    Second, I hate the idea of putting people in boxes... but Obama is usually described as cool and analytical, not fiery. I hate the idea of putting him in the box with Nixon, though! Perhaps we should give historians some time and revisit this again in a few years.

  2. Washington insiders during the Carter administration say that part of his undoing was his stubborness and failure to cooperate. So not sure how 'people oriented' he really was.
    --Killer Bee