Hile is now CEO of Otto Kroeger Associates, OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates) Myers-Briggs (MBTI) Qualification Training, Teambuilding, and Leadership Training. Here's the note he sent out today. I probably don't agree with every single letter of his type guesses, but I like his analysis of how type differences become "weaknesses..."
Wow, What a Race: Final Reflections on Type and Election 2008
By Hile Rutledge, INFP and Chief Executive Officer, OKA
Here in the final week of the race for President, let's step away from policy debates and character insults, and look at this historic contest one last time before we actually vote, through a type lens.
It is striking how so many of the criticisms being leveled at each candidate are rooted in strengths they have. In other words, so many of the liabilities (or what are offered as such) are simply type preferences being disrespected or misunderstood. As someone who has made his career using type and other tools to build self-awareness and improving the effectiveness of communication, teams and organizations, I want to take every opportunity I can to reframe positively my perceptions of others - assuming good intentions when I can - and to see even troubling, problematic behavior as a strength that has merely been misapplied, misunderstood or taken to an extreme.
To this end, let's see what kind of lessons might be offered up by John McCain and Barack Obama.
John McCain, Warrior fighter pilot turned quick-draw political maverick: ESTP
Throughout his career-and especially in this campaign-John McCain has been quick to respond, to react, and to change. When the financial crisis hit in September, McCain was quick on the draw with comments and plans in response to the situation as it changed from day to day-even hour to hour. While this reactiveness and flexibility-hallmarks of ESTP-are frequently praised, this behavior also has earned McCain the reputation of being erratic and someone more prone to engaging in tactics, not strategy.
McCain seems (and has always seemed to me to be) an open, talkative, expressive man energized by the groups he is with. He thrives in a town hall event setting, engaging directly with voters. It was McCain who invited/challenged Obama to a long series of town hall meetings throughout the fall as a way of interacting with the issues and each other. This likely preference for Extraversion (and ESTP more broadly), however, also brings with it a tendency to speak unfiltered thoughts and feelings that reflection might have withheld. Admitting to a reporter in this election cycle that he did not know a lot about the economy, saying on the morning of what would prove to be an economic calamity that the fundamentals of the US economy were strong, and in the debates, referring to Obama as "That one" - these were all statements that flowed from the moment relatively unfiltered, yet my guess is that, if he had his preference, McCain would likely retract these "off the cuff" thoughts. It feels like we lament that our leaders don't often enough give us their unvarnished, "unspun" thoughts, but then when they do-there is a price to pay. This is the Extravert's dilemma.
McCain also has a reputation, well highlighted in this contest, of being a bit of a rebel, a maverick who will speak truth to power and go his own way even in opposition to his own leadership and political party. It is this maverick, "go against the grain" approach (again, very much in keeping with ESTP), that has brought McCain much of his distinction and power, but it is this same set of qualities that lead some people to not trust his motives and loyalties. If you are part of the establishment against which he is pushing, it's easy to see why someone might see the maverick as an inconsistent flag-bearer.
Barack Obama, The community organizer turned visionary agent of change: INFP
Barack Obama has earned a reputation over the last 18 months as being rather contained and reserved-a calm hand on the rudder. His internal campaign motto is "No drama Obama". These qualities reflect a reserve and containment that have served him well-especially during this recent economic meltdown. This same calm, unflappable manner, however, has also earned Obama criticism for being passionless and aloof. In a memoir, Obama shares an emotional recounting of a personal moment of crisis and awakening when he fell to his knees and wept. This is an emotional display that we in the outside world don't get to see and from someone so generally calm and reserved can only imagine. One commentator quipped that Obama acts as though he understands emotions far more than he feels them-this is a statement leveled against many Introverts.
From his first job as a community builder and organizer to his presidential campaign, Obama has been driven by values around empowering people, fostering harmony, and finding common ground. He came onto the national stage in 2004 with a speech denouncing our tendency of seeing blue states and red states; instead urging us to be the United States. He reminded us of our gun-owning, church-going friends in the blue states and the gay and lesbian friends and family we have in the red states to emphasize our common bonds-the bridges that connect us rather than emphasize the issues that tear us apart. This tendency to harmonize and idealize, typical of INFPs, while inspirational to some, creates skepticism in others and a concern that an embrace of harmony reflects an unwillingness or inability to get tough and combative politically.
Barack Obama has shown a special skill for writing, for crafting artful and at times inspirational speeches (and books). While a polished and effective speaker, it is the quality of his pre-written messages (IN specifically and INFP more generally) with which he is so often associated. A criticism consistently leveled against Obama is that he depends too much on pre-written addresses (tele-prompters are used even in short rallies and campaign stops) and not enough on more unscripted addresses and events. The desire to have messaging known, controlled, and even rehearsed is a common introverted behavior, but one that leads many to question the connection and even authenticity of the speaker.
Reframing the Debate through Type
So, is John McCain quick to react or is he erratic? Is he a maverick or just contrary? Is Barack Obama calm and cool-headed, or is he distant and aloof? Is he an idealist or a visionary? Type suggests that the answer to all these questions is "yes."
Type shows us clearly that every benefit comes with a liability, but the flip-side of this reality is that nearly every weakness or troublesome behavior is also rooted in a strength that has been misapplied, overdone, or misunderstood. This means that type is a great vehicle to help us both correct our ineffective behavior and to help us reframe the perceptions and judgments we have and make of others. This presidential race is going to be over in a week, but the work to help clients, leaders, and teams understand how to use type to improve their performance and to reframe positively those around them goes on. In the midst of what has been a contentious and at times bitter race, it has helped me to reflect on this silver lining.
Good luck to both John McCain and Barack Obama, and don't forget to vote!