REVIEW: Personality Types and Equilibriums

Article Title: Effective Leadership Styles by Kavitha Sethuraman and Jayshree Suresh

Summary

Sethuraman and Suresh’s study assesses the relationship between MBTI personality types and situational theory. The hypothesis was that if leaders are aware of their MBTI personality type and also the MBTI personality types of their followers (staff), in the context of situational theory where leaders are required to adapt their leadership styles to suit a particular situation and staff body. This concept links to the broader concept of context, how leadership should suit the specific context of a school all elements considered to achieve a positive outcome. Using this approach, Sethuraman and Suresh are able to determine readiness levels which are measures of one’s ability and willingness to perform a specific task. What is particularly interesting about this study and the hypothesis is that it focuses on the interrelationship and dynamism between leaders and followers and focuses on how it can be successful, supportive and prosperous; in simpler terms what it aims to highlight is what good leadership looks like. The argument for context and situational response is strong and by taking a pre-existing and trusted phycology-based personality measure and analysing how personality can both lead and be adapted in leaders is a progressive and suitable approach when assessing leadership in education.

There is a total of 16 possible MBTI personality types that are concluded with four letters that represent personality aspects from the following pairs and particular order. It is important to note that results are on a scale and therefore some people can be equally introverted as extraverted for example or on the other end of the spectrum have a much larger introverted disposition than an extraverted one. The pairs and order are:

Extroversion/Introversion (E/I)

Sensing/Intuitive (S/N)

Thinking/Feeling (T/F)

Judging/Perceiving (J/P)

Just to exemplify, I completed a MBTI test and my result was that I am an INFJ which means that the personality aspects that are more prominent in my personality are introversion, intuition, feeling and judgement.

With the summary established, the way that this post will play out is that I will pick out certain statements and conclusions and comment on their contribution in understanding the dynamic being assessed. Some of the concepts and issues that will be discussed will link to some of my previous posts and teacher interviews, especially when looking at the synergy between leaders and staff and the importance of having the knowledge of stakeholders’

interests and strengths in order to decide on support and development practices.

‘A leader has to know his subordinates in order to keep them motivated so as to change his/her leadership style for getting the task done and ensuring their subordinates stay motivated. In this regard knowing the MBTI personality type of their subordinates will help the leaders lead effectively.’ (pg167)

This point links to an argument that was made in one of my previous blog posts, What Sustains a Fulfilling Life in Education, in that subordinates (staff) thrive when they feel like they are able to pursue and develop their creative interests, intellectual dispositions and strengths. This can only be supported in a teaching role if their leaders are aware of their interests in the first place. Whereas in this study the focus is on leadership having a knowledge on the MBTI personality types of their staff, one could argue that as it has been researched and theorised that personality can inform leadership styles, personality can also inform interests and strengths, and therefore if leaders are aware of the personality types of their staff collectively and as individuals, this knowledge will contribute towards effective support in order to develop and sustain fulfilment, which in turn has a direct impact on teacher recruitment and retention. This understanding will also help improve working and trust relations between leaders and staff as well as a more effective implementation of situational leadership and context response.

‘On the other hand, knowing the MBTI type of a leaders is essential for leadership developments.’ (pg167)

The emphasis here is on leadership development rather than a simple understanding of what a particular leader’s personality type is. One of the enquiries that I will be making in my PhD project is looking at leadership development and the support leaders receive pre, during and post leadership appointment in order to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills and expertise to successfully fulfil their roles and responsibilities. When speaking to teachers discussing leaders and what they think a good leader is or should be like, competency is a key factor that in all of these discussions. As teachers are expected to have a certain level of competency to fulfil their job role, the same expectations apply to leaders and so it is important to look at what is done to aid an up and coming or a new leader’s competency to undertake and fulfil their role.

However, going back to this point, the opinion seems to be again a contextual and situational one – if support providers whoever they may be know the MBTI personality type of a leader then they can choose the appropriate support schemes, programmes and mechanisms to support her or him that would be particularly suitable and appropriate for that individual’s personality type. This deduction clearly highlights the huge onus Sethuraman and Suresh are placing on the MBTI personality scale in deciding courses of action and outcomes and with the scale being very particular, this underpinning pedagogy could limit the scale of application of the study’s concluding approach as one would initially have to agree to accept the MBTI personality scale as a measure of personality. If disputed or rejected, then the approach becomes inapplicable.

‘Researchers have revealed that knowing one’s own MBTI type will enable the person to be aware of his or her leadership preferences which in turn might help in identifying appropriate style of leadership to be adopted with the followers’ (pg168)

Here, the focus is on the leader having a deep and comprehensive understanding of their own dispositions according to their personality types. Of course, the assumption can be made that everyone has an innate almost implicit understanding of their preferences, like and dislikes, personal behaviours, attitudes and responses and perspectives. However, by codifying this understanding using the MBTI categories and associated analyses, a leader can become clear on their personal strengths and dispositions and can help them choose leadership styles and techniques that would suit them. This moves away from the argument of having a blanket standard approach of leadership of what a good leader looks like and instead looks at the leadership potential and capacity of a leader. To have this approach, which seems to be much more suitable and useful approach to take when trying to ascertain and understand good leadership practice, it is imperative that the individual leader her of himself is acutely aware of their strengths (as well as areas of improvement) and from awareness are able to make appropriate decisions and strategies that would suit all stakeholders involved, including themselves. Again, the importance of context is touched upon again here as it specifically acknowledges the ability for leaders to be able to understand situations, events, crises and successes and respond accordingly when leading their staff.

‘Understanding this will enable a leader to adjust his/her leadership style according to the readiness level of the followers which helps in achieving high leader member exchange’ (pg169)

Following on from the previous point, in this particular statement a leader’s knowledge of their MBTI personality type to choose appropriate leadership styles is specified in being reciprocal of readiness levels in staff. As previously explained, readiness levels are a measure in which one is able to determine how willing and invested someone is to complete a set task. Therefore, the determiner or strongest influential factor in a leader adapting their leadership style to suit situation would be how willing her or his staff are to achieve and engage with the situational task whether that be curriculum design, introducing extra-curricular clubs or piloting a new marking policy etc. This leveller highlights the importance of having staff morale, staff dedication and commitment and teacher fulfilment, all of which fall under what I believe to be the umbrella term teacher wellbeing. If staff are not willing engage and achieve set tasks then the outcome will be significantly poorer compared to staff who adopt the opposite approach. Therefore, here we can dissect the synergy that has been the underpinning ideal of the study and understand how in order for a leader’s MBTI personality knowledge to be effective there must be existing working levels of readiness. If that’s not the case then leaders must prioritise working on increasing readiness levels to calibrate energies and relationships so that a positive exchange and subsequent positive outcome can be achieved and for Sethuraman and Suresh’s approach to be adopted. This is one of the premising ideas of my PhD project when I ask the question of what good leadership looks like, it’s not so much about what the leaders is like or what traits or personality they possess but rather what do they do to ensure teachers are content and fulfilled in their roles to an extent that they are committed to achieving set tasks that are ultimately directed by leaders. For me, that is a strong indicator of good leadership.

‘The selection of an appropriate leadership style depends on the situation as well as the personalities of leaders for influencing. Knowing and understanding the different types of personality preferences of a leader, can form the basis of a leadership style which will result in high probability of success. This will also help the leaders to flex their leadership styles appropriately as and when there is a need. It is found that a leadership style need not be inborn, but can be developed.’ (pg171)

As the concluding paragraph of the paper, Sethuraman and Suresh emphasise the importance of an awareness of personality types of leaders and staff in order to achieve successful and optimal outcomes, the adaptability of leadership styles and strategies in response to situation and staff readiness and lastly, and quite emphatically, that leadership styles are not necessarily directly informed by personality but can be changed and modified through choice. This conjures up the nature versus nurture debate, biological versus environmental factors, in terms of how a person and their personality is composed. On the surface, this final sentence from the academics here could directly contradict the strong argument of personality impact that has been made throughout the paper. However, if we place an onus and importance on context and situation and how important it is for leaders to be able to respond and lead in appropriate ways based on events then adapting and changing approach becomes essential for effective and efficient leadership.

By changing leadership approaches in posed contexts does not mean one is concealing or betraying one’s personality as a leader, the suggested development instead focuses on providing leaders with more tools, perspectives and abilities to add to their toolkit that may differ from their go-to tools but will enable the leader to achieve their outcome effectively. This approach also goes against the great man theory and trait theory where the belief is that some people are born leaders and therefore neglect the virtue of education, training and development and inclusivity, the first theory being a great example of this just by the language of its title, and therefore is more acceptable and useful approach to take when we consider the leaders we have in education today.

Conclusion

There is great benefit to be reaped from learning about what good leadership looks like. The angle taken by Sethuraman and Suresh was underpinned by a psychological tool of personality categorisation and an educational concept of shared efficacy with great importance being placed on leader adaptability and awareness of one’s own strengths and areas of improvement as well as of those of her or his staff. The research and findings progress this line of enquiry looking at how both stakeholders work together to achieve a set task and outcome. As this is a dynamic that takes place every day in every school in the country, the results of such research can have an applicability impact on a macro scale and is directly relevant in understanding leadership practice in English schools. What seems to be emerging is the importance of a relational equilibrium between leaders and their staff where each stakeholder in their capacity has the readiness, willingness and commitment to achieve.

This equilibrium does not necessarily have to be based on personality types and self-efficacy but rather is based on the adequate situational and contextual response in which stakeholders find themselves in, especially leaders as they are the ones who direct staff and therefore have greater potential and responsibility in establishing a working and prosperous equilibrium. If we accept that this is what is needed as an indicator of good leadership, what would be interesting to look at next is how leaders and staff contribute towards establishing a flourishing relationship, whether there are some non-negotiables when it comes to this or sticking with the reoccurring argument of context, how many different successful examples of this achievement exist and what are they, all of which I will look at in my own project.

References:

Sethuraman, K., Suresh, J. (2014). Effective Leadership Styles. International Business Research. 7 (9).

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