Stop Building on Shifting Sand

I am, by nature, a planner. I revel in the details and the development of strategy. I love to watch the execution of a good plan unfold. I thrill in the calculation of the impact, the tallying of results. But, I have also learned that sometimes it is necessary, even prudent, to go off-plan. In the world of organizational management, we like to call this emergent strategy (among other things). My plan for today was to publish the first of a 3 part series on engagement, but instead we are going off-road, and beware, the gravel may fly!

I’m a perpetual student, working on another graduate degree. As such, I have come, yet again, to the place where I am required to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. This is the third time in four years that I have been required to do this. I am sure that many of you have taken this test as well, whether as the result of some team building effort in your organization or perhaps, like me, you have been a student in pursuit of a degree that involved business, leadership, or management on some level. You may have even taken the MBTI as part of the screening process for a new job. For some time, it was all the rage in terms of determining your probability of success in a position.

Yet, it is scientifically invalid. I have personally gotten different results each time I have taken it, as have many others. The inconsistency of results alone is enough to red flag its accuracy. It is a psychological personality assessment designed by a mother and daughter team with no background in psychology. Its categories are not separate and distinct, as they seem to be represented, but are just opposite ends of a spectrum in each case. For more than a decade, the MBTI has been debunked in academic and professional circles many times over.

Why am I ranting about the MBTI? What does that have to do with your non-profit? What does that have to do with any non-profit? Why should you care about whether the MBTI gets me twisted? Besides, isn’t the MBTI helpful in understanding why we, and others, behave the way we do?

My rant today is spurred on by the content of required reading for this course. Content that asserts organizational success can be achieved solely through understanding these different personality types and responding and managing each one appropriately. They call it “typewatching.”  Never mind the abundance of academic evidence which contradicts the accuracy of the MBTI. The authors of the material appear to attribute every single organizational inefficiency and obstacle to a conflict between MBTI personality types.

If it sounds like I am just complaining about course content like a disgruntled grad student, let me clarify HOW this affects YOU as a non-profit leader. This is a class being taught right now, to graduate students, right now. This material is being taught as a credible way to pursue maximal organizational effectiveness. The candidates coming to you with degrees in organizational management, even advanced degrees, have been taught to use this approach. While the MBTI may give some insight into personality types and help identify why certain conflicts occur, it is not the comprehensive tool that it is represented to be, and it has been called into serious scholarly question.

As a lover of scripture and an avid Bible student (Th.M, Biblical Studies), I couldn’t help but measure everything in this material against the truth of scripture. Many of the undesirable behaviors that are attributed to personality types, that the authors say should just be excused as type differences (they can’t help it), are overcome by spiritual maturity and growth. The concept gives a pass on accountability for the way people treat each other. The MBTI has, indeed, helped some organizations on some levels over the years, I will cede that point. But, here’s the thing: the pursuit of relevant truth and sound practices when left to scientific research will always be subject to the downfalls of empirical and observational methods. There will always be some type of bias on the form of the researcher, no matter how diligently they work to reduce that bias. The tendency is always to corroborate or disprove a belief that is already strongly held from the outset. There was a time, not so long ago, when doctors recommended cigarette brands as a healthy form of recreation. There will always be fads fueled by new research which is debunked by later research that disproves the fads which, for a time, were accepted as rock solid gospel truth in academic circles. It’s a vicious cycle.

While there is certainly value to be found in secular research and experience, as Christian non-profit leaders, the only dependable truth is the timeless and eternal truth of scripture. As simple as it may sound, we have truly been given a depth and breadth of wisdom for organizational management within the bounds of scripture that can lead to thriving, sustainable organizations that advance God’s Kingdom. Any consultant, any expert, any leader that comes on board that doesn’t operate from that wisdom, from that model, first and foremost, measuring all other advice against Biblical truth, will NOT produce maximum effectiveness for your organization. They will miss crucial distinctions in leadership approach shaped by stewardship, discipleship, and the Gospel message itself. If this is not truly the foundation that your organizational house is built upon, it will eventually crumble.

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