You zig while I zag – reflecting on some Myers-Briggs training


The way we make decisions and solve problems was described in terms of a zigzag by Isabel Briggs-Myers. Friend and colleague Julia McGuinness walked a group of us through the zigzag and highlighted how the hierarchy of what Myers-Briggs refers to as our “mental functions” affects the way we make decisions. Typically decisions flow from sensing (defining the problem) to intuition (considering possibilities) to thinking (weighing consequences) to feeling (weighing alternatives). This process reflects the pastoral cycle used for theological reflection (with the process often described as experience > exploration > reflection > response) and Kolb’s Learning Cycle (with accompanying learning styles inventory).


Each of us has a hierarchy of mental functions. There are two pairs of functions. The first pair is about how we perceive, and they are sensing (S) and intuition (N). The second pair is about how we judge, and they are thinking (T) and feeling (F). Each of us has a preference one of those functions in each pair – they become the middle two letters in a Myers-Briggs profile. One is known as the “dominant” function, and the other is the “auxiliary”. Anyone who knows their MB profile can work out which is dominant depending on whether they are “judging” (J) or “perceiving” (P) types and whether they are extravert (E) or introvert (I). For example, someone who is ESTJ has thinking as their dominant function, sensing as their auxiliary, intuition as their “tertiary”. The hierarchy for an ESTJ is thus:

  1. thinking
  2. sensing
  3. intuition
  4. feeling

Elise Enriques Touchette at Shine a Light Coaching identifies them as driver, passenger, disengaged child in the back and baby rather than dominant, auxiliary etc, making the point that we have to make an effort to engage the disengaged child (the one less inclined to function). She uses a square to describe the ideal decision making process from sensing to feeling via intuition and thinking. The process is squared and divided into equal quarters.


But life is not like that. We start our own decision making processes from out positions of strength. We have a mental function that drives us, that gets us going. The driver for the ENFJ and the INFP is pictured at the top of the right hand diagram, and the shape within the triangle is the measure of the time, ability/inclination/preference the driver brings to the process. Thinking is the baby in the car – there is little ability, inclination or preference to “apply logic”. (I know – I am an INFP!)

The hierarchy of mental functions demonstrates that we find some things easier than others (as if we need to be told that). It reinforces the fact that we need each other to complement one another – that we do need to collaborate in ministry, learning, everything. It reminds me that I need to stretch myself in some directions I find difficult and that I need the help of others for what I find well-nigh impossible.

What is true for us as individuals is also true for any group. The hospital chaplains I mentioned above are not the only group in which the mental functions aren’t equally shared. Any congregation, family, business organisation has its strengths and has its weaknesses which they will need to address either by finding help from the right sources or by making the effort of stretching out from my comfort zone. For me that will be concentrating more on the larger picture (N) and learning to look more at the facts (S). The “T” I might have to leave for another life.

Likes and dislikes

> If “no man is an island” (John Donne) why are we so insular? I often hear people report back from their holidays on friends they made while away. “We had so much in common” and “we all had similar backgrounds/jobs”. I wonder if we like the people who are most like us.

I’ve enjoyed the work of many people who have highlighted the many different styles of personality and behaviours we have. This is how we have been made. Some of us are built for a quick sprint, others for the long haul. We are individuals who need to like those who aren’t quite like us. Practical people lose patience with visionaries. Visionaries may regard the practical people as a bit boring – but both need each other. Those who can crack the whip can move people forward but may be seen as insensitive by those who are conscious of the feelings of others. To get anything done we all need to work together and talk together.

This is not a new insight. God from the beginning of time said “it is not good for man to be alone”. The stories of Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babylon are both examples of how difficult it is to come to terms with our differences. Centuries later St Paul was shocked by the divisions in the Corinthian Church. Members had taken sides liking those who were like them. Paul calls them to order encouraging them to think that they were members of one body and that they needed to get co-ordinated. Every part of the body has a different function – fingers, bowels and eyes. Each member is gifted differently and we need to learn to like what we’re not like – otherwise we can’t live together or work together for a better world.

Paul’s is a good lesson (as is Belbin, Myers-Briggs and all those working on similar lines) for the Lambeth Conference (coming soon), and any group of people. Paul insists that it is all possible if we have a mind on the bigger picture and allow God to do the knitting.

written for Grapevine June 2008

>Leadership Style

> I have to talk with other clergy about collaborative ministry. It begs the question about my leadership style.

According to because I am – in Myers Briggs terms – a campaigner (INFP for those who like the letters) – which means I have a strong sense of value, a passion for issues and champion the cause. According to that my leadership style ought to be very useful where a group has lost its sense of identity or is doing too many unimportant things. Apparently it’s not a good idea to ask me to lead where there is a problem “which needs to be solved with dispassionate objectivity” – but I think most people have discovered that already!

The logic of this is that different personality types have different leadership styles, and that different styles are necessary in different situations. Does that sound obvious? Doesn’t it then become obvious that leadership needs to be exercised collaboratively and that leadership team members need to complement one another, so that there is a range of styles.