The Building Blocks of Leadership: An Exploration of MBTI Leadership Assessment (Part I)

Vol. 3, No. 12

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a speaker, writer, and leadership development consultant. At the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Dr. Tyner serves as Clinical Law Faculty and Director of Diversity. She teaches in the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil rights clinic. Dr. Tyner has also developed a comprehensive leadership curriculum which focuses on training lawyers as leaders who facilitate the process of social change. Her book entitled The Lawyer as Leader: How to Use Your Legal Skills to Plant People and Grow Justice will be published by ABA Flagship in 2014.


Lawyers are called upon to lead. For instance, we lead as problem solvers by helping to resolve our client’s challenges and as gatekeepers of justice by providing pro bono legal services. Despite being endowed with this mantle of leadership, leadership development is a missing link in our professional development. This article seeks to fill this void by offering key tips on how to become an effective leader, which requires training and practice. Research has demonstrated that the exercise of leadership is a learning process in which one seeks to strengthen one’s leadership platform through practical skills development and ongoing self-reflection. This learning process is key to becoming an effective leader. Effective leaders recognize that establishing a firm leadership platform begins with developing core leadership competencies, like reflective listening, emotional intelligence, and collaboration with others.

An integral part of this learning process is the exploration of these core leadership competencies: Which do you possess and how can you strengthen those skills? How will you develop new skills? There are many assessments tools which can guide you in this explorative journey. One such example is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (otherwise known as MBTI). MBTI can aid you in understanding how to lead more effectively and discover new areas of development. This article will provide an introduction to MBTI as a leadership assessment instrument and focus on the most common personality types of lawyers. The next article in this series will explore how your personality type melds with leadership and practice of the law.


An Introduction to MBTI Personality Assessment

MBTI is based upon the psychological studies of renowned Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, during the 1920s. In the 1940s, this assessment tool was developed by two women, Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myer. Millions of people across the globe have taken the MBTI since its inception in 1962. The MBTI assesses one’s personality type based upon four scales. The test offers four sets of alternatives that inform one’s understanding of their mental processes. Your results are determined based upon interactions among preferences. Based upon your preferences, you are characterized by a distinctive personality type.

The first sets of alternatives focus on the two kinds of perceptions:

  1. Extraversion (E) v. Introversion (I). This category explores where energy flows. Extraversion is characterized by one who finds energy from the external world, people, and activities, while introverts tend to place value on the inner world by deriving energy from the inner world of ideas and feelings.
  2. Sensing (S) v. Intuition (N). This category explores how one perceives the world around him/her. Sensing is characterized by a trust in concrete experiences. This type tends to observe facts and conceptualize reality based upon experience. Intuitive types embrace ideas and new possibilities.

The second sets of alternatives focus on the two kinds of judging:

  1. Thinking (T) v. Feeling (F). This category explores how one assesses information and engages in decision-making. Thinking focuses on objective standards which follow logic, while the feeling type makes decisions based upon subjective values and evaluates the impact on others.
  2. Judging (J) v. Perceiving (P). This category explores attitudes on closure and finality. Those who are judging types feel freedom in making decisions. One who perceives embraces possibilities by keeping things open.

Each individual prefers one of two ways of interacting/operating based upon the two items in each scale. There are 16 possible personality combinations that inform your unique personality traits. These “psychological types” can aid you in identifying your strength areas and other areas where you can improve in order to be more effective in your work. They are not meant to be limiting to a specific type of work or practice area. For example, during my college years, my MBTI results on the first scale were evenly balanced in the middle with a slight leaning toward being an introvert. As noted above, introverts tend to direct energy inward and are energized from operating in their inner world. This rang true because my favorite place was the library, and I found refuge in reading books. When I received my MBTI results, I was convinced that I should avoid public speaking and abode in my inner world for the rest of my life. Therefore, I ruled out any possibility of becoming a trial attorney and decided to focus on being a transactional attorney. Little did I know, the assessment was a tool for me to understand how to work resourcefully and strengthen new possible competencies. While in law school, I decided not to let the introversion label serve as a hindrance for me but instead became committed to strengthening my oral advocacy skills through participation in moot court and street law outreach. I also became cognizant of when I had begun working in isolation within my inner world. I then would make a conscious effort to find ways to embrace my extravert energies by seeking collaborative work projects and building relationships with my peers. Over time, I found confidence in balancing the strengths of my middle ground of being slightly more introverted while embracing my extraversion qualities.


Most Common Personality Type of Lawyers

My personal example provides context on how MBTI can aid lawyers in having a deeper understanding of their personality traits and how they impact the practice of law. According to the MBTI Foundation, personality type assessments have been studied extensively in the legal profession among law students. MBTI has also served as an invaluable tool for lawyers who seek to use this concept of personality type to further understand jury members and their listening and communication preferences.

Dr. Larry Richard, J.D. conducted extensive research on the personality types of lawyers. He conducted a nationwide study of lawyers’ personality types by surveying more than 3,014 lawyers. The culmination of his research findings may be found in his article entitled: “The Lawyer Types” was published in the ABA Journal (July 1993 edition). Dr. Richard discovered that lawyers share more similarities than differences. The top 6 MBTI types found in lawyers are:

  • ISTJ—Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging (17.8%)
  • ESTJ—Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging (10.3%)
  • INTJ—Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging (13.1%)
  • ENTP—Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Perceiving (9.7%)
  • INTP—Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Perceiving (9.4%)
  • ENTJ—Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging (9.0)

The MBTI Foundation provides an overview of each personal type referenced above. This table serves as a valuable resource for gaining a deeper understanding of the most common lawyer types.


Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging

ISTJ types are the most common personality type for lawyers. They are characterized as: “practical, matter of fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions.” These are the basic competencies required to conduct legal research, analysis, and writing.


Extraverted Sensing Thinking Judging

ESTJs share many similarities with the ISTJs since they are also practical, realistic, matter-of-fact, organized, and focused. They maintain a clear set of logical standards and systemically follow them while expecting others to do the same.


Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging

INTJs are implementers of ideas and goals. They “quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through.”


Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceptive

ENTP are strong advocates and debaters. They are “quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically.”


Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceptive

INTP people are thinkers who theorize and develop new ideas. They “seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interactions.”


Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Judging

ENTJs are characterized as the “Executive” because they are natural leaders who can develop long-term strategic goals. They are described as “frank, decisive, assume leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems.”



Understanding your personality type is one of the first steps in discovering your leadership style. It will aid you in enhancing your oral advocacy, project management, listening, and communication skills.


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