Leadership Studies Don’t Work, and I’m an INTP

I am an INTP. We are one of the smallest of the Myers Briggs groups, and that does create problems for us at work. But more importantly, it explains why studies about leadership, are (usually) irrelevant.

Someone told me that leadership and strategy are the two business related words that are entered most often in search engines. That's a shame because they are two of the things most difficult to discuss and apply. Leadership studies, for example, try to draw out traits of good leaders. The idea is that you can either hire people with these traits, or work on developing these traits, and through that you can build good leaders. But that misses a key point. It misses that I am an INTP and you aren't. What makes me a good leader isn't what makes you a good leader.

Let's take an example. What makes a good basketball player? Well, how about the ability to dribble well? That's true. Learning to dribble well will make anyone a better basketball player than they were before. But does that mean you should practice dribbling? Not if you are 7 feet tall. Sure, a center that can dribble has advantages, but it's more important that a center can rebound and score. So instead of spending time dribbling, a center should work on rebounding and post moves. What about a guard with post moves? Well, that's cool and all, but really a guard should work on dribbling and passing. Leadership is the same way. I need to work on different things than you do. Saying that trait x makes you a good leader makes as much sense as saying that skill x makes you a good basketball player.

But don't misinterpret this. I'm not saying there are 10 things that make a good leader and INTPs have 3 already and need to work on 7, but ENTJs have 5 already and only need to work on 5. I'm saying if you studied INTP leaders and any other kind of leaders, you would come to differnent conclusions about what makes a good leader. It all comes back to something a track coach once told me about making athletes run faster. He said you first analyze the athletes to determine their strenghts and weaknesses. You do a little work on correcting the weaknesses, but mostly you focus on amplifying their strengths. Taking advantage of what you are good at is more important than improving on what you are bad at. Why? Because someone else will be good at the things you are bad at. It's just the idea of comparative advantage applied to individuals.

So don't waste your time figuring out the secret to leadership. Instead, spend time figuring out what you are good at, and how you can harness your strengths. And if you want to be a good leader, figure out how you can do that for other people too.

That's the secret. Work is all screwed up because everyone tries to put everyone else in a box. I work well in a cubicle so you must too. I work better with my own office so you must too. I need long lunches, so everyone should take them. I like to work through lunch, and everyone else should do the same. No. They shouldn't. Your work style is individual, and work environments should be individual as well. Understand and apply that, and you will become a good leader.

  • Rob

    I’ll go one further, when it comes to leadership, it’s not just the studies that don’t work. It is the idea that Leadership can be drawn out of the myriad of activates that, for lack of a better word, a leader does.

    I am constantly seeing lists of attributes differentiating Leaders and Managers. The focus appears to be to differentiate managers and leaders along the lines of what is sexy and fun. Leadership is about doing the sex and fun stuff while management is about doing all the other stuff. Interestingly enough, Management activities tend to fall within the realm of the measurable while Leadership activities fall within the realm of the intangible.

    It seems to me that a whole Leadership Industrial Complex of run by leadership Gurus with a new book to sell has been using this artificial dichotomy to completely distort the importance of “Leadership” to organizational success. I’ve been attempting to establish a better understanding this phenomenon. What are your thoughts, do you believe we are experiencing a Leadership Epidemic?

  • Abhay

    Hi Rob,

    It’s funny that you focus mostly on independence, because INTPs value that and provide that to oother people more than anything.

    I think INTPs are the most inspiring forms of leaders out there. We really are amazing as leaders, but we hate doing it and tend to prefer to be left to our own devices.

    From my experience ( I am an iN*tP) We provide huge depths of clarity to people in groups. So what ends up happening is, people in groups gain out trust (albeit over a long time), and often end up coming to us with their emotional or life issues.

    Eventually, this results in a huge level of respect and admiration, which can lead to almost fanatical trust and faith in the INTP leader’s ideology and inspiration. From my own experience, the guys under my leadership (I’ve never been able to lead women, though am much improving on it), often made huge sacrifices that you wouldn’t normally expect unless during a crisis situation within an organisation. This was simply due to the independence they were given to fullfil taks and roles, and their belief behind the purpose of what they were doing and the clarity i gave them.

    it’s simply unfortunate that in the modern time-driven organisation, with short-term groups and commitiees such leadership is never allowed to florish.

    I think when it comes to leadership, INTPs are the most amazing and romantic forms of leaders out there.

  • Manish Pasayat

    I believe rather than looking at things in our perspective we should try to play with what is available outside. Lets see – INTP the rarest of the types and the most logical thinkers, the innovators and great economists etc etc, Along with these we have secret sides to us , we have a shadow function. Every personality has that. Its ENTJ our shadow function, it activates under stress and constant pressure. Well i do not know if it is good or bad, but it is very much usable , also we have a reverse function i.e ESFj the feelers, we have empathy on our side too. and the greatest discovery is that as an introvert we can can use them all and command time-frame activation and deactivation of all these functions. So the trick is that we should push ourselves to environments that affect these functions/personalities. WHY/ Lets see, life is limited we will probably not be doing many things in a lifetime but we can choose what we can do in a lifetime, so when it comes to leadership it will be leading smartly rather than by dictatorship or liberally.. We need to have a mix of all, so by activating ENTJ side, it will give sheer power and vision to move ahead in a very less time, a power boost to improve things up. ESFj activation will give people to like you and make you more open towards you. It will make you the cynosure of prosperity , and there is the INTP side. This side will be the core of all activities revolving around. So when people like you, they listen to you, they respect your decisions, and they work for your vision. A leader now a days is someone who can do all these three activities but the toughest task is moving the body and willing to sacrifice the pleasure seeking mode of natural INTP tendency i.e free thinking. Its a power only when it is channelised to a single domain to gain supremacy.