December 20, 2014

Brain Efficiencies

What is your brain's hotline?

What is your brain’s hotline?

What if every time you wanted to pick up a pencil and write something, you had to stop to decide which hand to use?  Which hand would you use to eat? Brush your teeth?  Pick up something off of the floor?   If this were so, we would be pretty inefficient and get very little accomplished.  Fortunately, nature gave us hand dominance so we could go about our day doing ordinary things without getting tripped up by decisions of which hand to employ,.


Yet dominance doesn’t mean we don’t use the non-dominant hand!  We use it often and would be greatly challenged if we didn’t have our other hand.   We are wired this way in that we have brain- dominance for efficiency, while the other limb serves as an important second choice.


As a lifelong student of the brain, I was intrigued when I first learned how to use MBTI assessment.  Here, as in hand dominance, we have brain efficiencies that center around 4 cognitive parameters:

·      Extraversion versus Introversion-what is the primary source of our energy?

·      Sensing versus iNtuition-do we gather information by going from concrete details to concepts or concepts to concrete details?

·      Thinking versus Feeling- do we tend to employ analysis or empathy first when making a decision

·      Judging versus Perceiving- do we prefer a structured, predictable environment versus one that unfolds?


When administering the MBTI, I often have clients tell me “I do both”, which is true and it is the case for each and everyone of us.  In fact, an individual might use an opposing preference so much that it almost feels like the actual preference!  The gift of neuroplasticity allows the brain to change in response to the environment. The MBTI and other similar instruments try to identify the baseline cognitive preferences (not skills, not traits) so that you can leverage your natural strengths while becoming aware of what is out of preference – what might need a little extra attention, what might even be a blind spot!


Ultimately, the MBTI and other preference instruments take your four “brain efficiencies” and identify a whole personality type, commonly known by it’s 4-letter description- ENFP, ISTJ, ESFJ etc… There are 16 identified types.  However it is important to note that knowing your brain efficiencies in no way puts you in a box or says can only do certain things.  It’s merely a point of self –awareness and a pathway to effective living and personal development.


Do you know your 4-letter personality type? Is it empowering?  Confining?  How does this knowledge serve you?

Panning for Gold in a World of Tips and Suggestions

panning for goldWho feels overwhelmed by all of the tips and suggestions out there about how to be more effective in work and in life? Blogs, books, and articles.  100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask! (That’s a lot of questions!). Do This in the Morning and Be Productive All Day!  Webinars. Ted-Ex Talks.

All of these are sources of useful information and they are potentially sources of information fatigue. Too much to do.  Too many tips to remember. Too many ideas to put into action. What am I supposed to really do?  It’s like panning for gold.  Rarely do these sources of information result in an action plan that will bear resilient behavioral change.  Wouldn’t it be great to develop your own personal wisdom around what you need to do?

An article in Forbes magazine (June 2013) titled Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work , makes essentially the same point. Developing a knowledge base and degree of self-awareness is only the first step.  Behavioral change requires most critically, a plan of action that you help design (mainly to tap into intrinsic motivation) and movement.  It simply can’t stay in your head.  You have to build the new mental-behavioral muscle just like would build a muscle in the gym.  You have to act!  That’s how you really learn!

One of my clients who is an emerging leader in the education industry recently brought this truth to light.  She was part of a leadership program that my partner, Dr. Jane Kise and I use called, Intentional Leadership.  Here is the protocol:

Step 1 (The Awareness Phase): The protocol begins with assessment including determining personality type-to articulate natural strengths and increase awareness around probable inborn blind spots. It also includes an assessment of emotional intelligence-to gauge how the “people skills” of leadership are currently being used.  Another way to describe these skills are interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations).

Step 2 (Determining Leadership Priorities): Each leadership role calls for a different set of leadership priorities.  Using the ILA card sort, 40 such priorities are reviewed and discussed with the client.  First it’s narrowed to 10/40.  Then 3/40 which forms the basis of the goal setting.  In the coaching conversation, the number can be toggled slightly however, the fewer goals you have, the higher your chances of succeeding with each.  Moreover, the leadership priority might be something that you want to address in one small part of your leadership role, as was the case with my client.

Step 3 (Goal Setting/Follow-Up With a Coach):  The protocol then explores exactly what the client wants to accomplish, determining what strategies, and what in settings this new behavior will be practiced.  An integral part of this process is to look at the self-assessment data.  Will any of these leadership priorities tap into my strengths?  Likewise and even more critically, how will my blind spots factor in?  Could they potentially derail me if I don’t plan for them?

Case Study:

My client, a rising and well-respected leader in the education industry took the MBTI Step II personality assessment and verified as an INFJ.  INFJ’s are introverted, and tend to be brilliant, complex, emotionally self- aware and empathetic.  Yet, they tend not to be naturally assertive.  Indeed, the lowest EQi sub-score for this leader was assertiveness.  She sorted through her leadership priority cards and settled on fair-mindedness and accountability as leadership priorities she wanted to address.  The INFJ type tends to lean toward harmony and avoid conflict but in a complex leadership role, my client recognized that she needed to develop these skills too.

How do you develop these skills though when your natural tendency is to seek harmony.  Do you change and become a different person?  Absolutely not!  Being able to achieve harmony in group is a gift.  Keep that in your back pocket!  And intentionally develop the other complimentary skill, that of assertiveness, to use as needed.   Ultimately, this leader made the goal to practice assertiveness in one setting.  She was on an advisory committee that met once per week.  This would be where she would start. The best part is that a specific, mindful, practice of a new skill has a way of making that skill stick- thus making it a go to possibility when a different situation called for it’s use!

My client reported to me that her goal was exactly what she needed.  She was able to practice her new skill carefully and feel successful doing it because she was giving it special focus in a specific situation.  Further follow-up found that she was getting used to using this new skill in other situations:

“At first it was difficult to speak up when I wanted the meeting to go in a different direction. I did realize that it’s ok because it’s not my usual style but one that I was motivated to develop when I needed it.”

I am the biggest Twitter feed addict on the planet. My morning always involves a scroll through Twitter to catch up on the news and read various new articles on the brain, leadership, business tips and trends.  I can also say that there are so many suggestions that it is impossible to rely on information alone to craft your life and career.  You really do have to give it some thought, clarify your intentions, and set a few reachable goals at a time.

For more information on the Intentional Leadership Protocol.  Click here

For more information on my partner, Dr. Jane Kise.  Click here



The INFJ Bartender

bloody maryThe MBTI is often used as a career counseling tool.  It can be an effective way to explore strengths and blind spots leading to increased clarity around career choice.   It is not meant to be limiting but often the findings are taken literally even if the individual is explicitly advised to see the exercise as explorative not prescriptive.

I know an INFJ who is a teacher by day and a bartender by night. It is true that her main occupation is in the field of education and that she is a very talented writer as well.  Still, she enjoys being a bartender and does not “hate it” as some psych type websites might suggest.   Steer clear of bartending!   Too many details! Remember, you’re an introvert!

When using MBTI to discuss career choices, it’s important to tap into an individual’s essential motivation.  For instance,many bartenders like the excitement of crowds and the party atmosphere. Some like the opportunity to create a new drink.  Some like the idea of serving.

In the case of this INFJ, she likes bartending because she works for a high end catering company so she gets to see new places and beautiful buildings.  She gets to practice the art of social chat, something that doesn’t necessarily come easily to many INFJ types, but she likes to work on it in this setting.  She also likes to create drinks and serve them in a new way.   Finally, she sees this as an opportunity to create balance in her life, and to step outside of intense, complex energy that comes with being an INFJ.

The take-away?  The MBTI is an instrument that helps you identify career options that are likely to be a good fit.   It can help you identify essential energizers in your cognitive make-up. I like to think of the career choices suggested for each type as the “favorite” in a horse race, not a storyline that will play-out exactly the same way for everyone of that type.  Always leave room for the dark horse. It’s critical to tap into motivation.   What makes you want to explore that job or career?  A conversation with a counselor or coach can help an individual identify those factors.

Always look at assessments as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.   They aren’t meant to tell you who you are but to help you find out what is true for you.  Even if a job or career seems like a mismatch, take a second look because maybe it isn’t.

What career have you wanted to try but convinced yourself that you were the wrong type to pursue it?

The Nature of Introverted Feeling: A Sword Planted Firmly in the Ground

The introverted feeling function seems to be a collection of strong values and convictions rather than a soft, fluffy sort of function

The introverted feeling function seems to be a collection of strong values and convictions rather than a soft, fluffy sort of function

How does introverted feeling actually present itself?  Is it strong?  Fluffy and accommodating?  What do you think of when you imagine someone who prefers introverted feeling?

Last night, I was Skyping with my friend and colleague, Sue Blair,  about the nature of introverted feeling.  According to Jungian theory, individuals who are INFP and ISFP use introverted feeling as a dominant cognitive function and individuals who are ENFP and ESFP use it as an auxiliary function.  In all 4 of these types, introverted feeling is a big part of how they see the world and how they operate.

Sue Blair will be a keynote speaker at the 2013 Association for Psychological Type Conference in July.   One of her many contributions to the type community is creating visuals to represent the eight cognitive functions.  Recently she conducted a workshop in England that included creating these visuals.

In the workshop, one overall observation was that if the cognitive function was dominant or auxiliary for an individual, the visual representation tended to be positive.  If it was a non-preferred function, it tended to be a more negative visual.  I am not surprised by that because as an ENFP, contemplating introverted sensing reflexively brings up a picture of confusion for me, someone struggling with incomplete thoughts, almost like someone sitting in a care center at the twilight of life not being able to recall much of anything.  Since it’s a blind spot for me, my picture is one of deficiency.

Meanwhile, introverted feeling is my auxiliary function.  In the workshop, introverted feelers used the visual of a sword planted firmly in the ground.  To me, that was exactly IT.  Introverted feeling is definitely not pliable but a way to assess relevancy with conviction.  In fact, I harken back to when I was in coaching classes and someone made this remark about me:  “You are very easy going and playful until someone hits on something that really matters to you.  Your posture changes.  Your face changes.  It’s clear that you feel strongly about that issue.”

It will be interesting to see Sue’s presentation at the APTi conference in Miami on all of the type functions presented in visuals.  I suspect her presentation will spark some interesting discussion. Click  here if you want information about her talk or to access information about the conference in general.


What Really Influences Our Behavior?

What really influences our behavior?   Is it the brain as described by the newest findings in brain science? Is it our personality?  Our upbringing? As a coach, I use certain lenses to help individuals uncover personal potential.  Therefore,  it’s tempting to zero in on those aspects to which I am most familiar: personality type (MBTI), emotional intelligence, and the latest in brain science.   However, I have to mindful of all of the factors that might lead to a particular behavior or mindset.

For instance, brain science is currently very popular.  As an individual who worked with brain injury for 25 years prior to starting a coaching practice, I am thrilled with all of the progress that is being made in the field, particularly neuro-imaging.   However, with all of the interest and energy comes the concomitant hype.  Here is where we have to be careful not to attribute any one factor to explain behavior without considering other possible factors.  The truth is, most of our thoughts and acts are a result of what author of A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Richard A. Burton calls “a weighing of all inputs.”

In the diagram below, there are multiple factors that influence behavior as seen in the left hand column.  These factors are weighed and the most relevant ones lead to mental sensations, thoughts and actions at any given moment.   If an individual does “X”, “a”, “b” and “c” may have led to that particular action so it’s important to consider all of these.

Adapted from A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind by Robert A. Burton

Adapted from A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert A. Burton

Meanwhile, what does this mean for people trying to understand one another?   Be careful about getting too narrow in your thinking.  In MBTI personality-speak, we like to say, “You are more than just your personality type.”  Likewise, as we learn about brain science and new findings are revealed, we have to be careful to say, (for instance) “he is behaving a certain way because he has an overactive amygdala at the moment.”

I would also add that the more you can become aware about the multiple factors that may be influencing your own thoughts and actions at a given moment, the more likely you are to be able to mindfully weigh the inputs for your own best possible outcome.  So there is substantial upside to being open to as many lenses as possible to explain why we do what we do, and it’s seldom just one.







Leadership and the MBTI Step III

Janes bookJane Kise has written another fabulous book. In this newest offerring, she melds together emotional intelligence, psychological type, and brain science to help you discover what matters to you and how to resonate with these values.

The book begins by the reader choosing 10 areas that matter most out of 40 possible options (each one is described). Just a few of my 10 choices were adaptability, mentoring and challenge. Next, these choices are assigned to one of 12 lenses of leadership. For example, adaptability fell into the Planning vs. Flexibility lens. Each chapter explores a lens and shows the reader what optimal use of that lens looks like and what underuse and overuse looks like. Practical suggestions to sharpen that lens are then offered.

I also noticed that the book has some useful connections to my MBTI Step III assessment.   For example, mentoring was one of my values but one can over mentor by offering too many suggestions or by trying to prescribe a path for someone else that fits with my vision.   The suggestion on my MBTI Step III was, “Be sure those individuals need or want this advice.”

Yes true!  ENFPs are full of possibilities, and they often see the potential in others before anyone else.  The key is encourage the path but not dictate the path.  As my daughter once said, “Slow down on those ideas, Mom.  It’s like being in a batting cage but the balls keep coming before I’ve had a chance to swing at anything.’

Intentional Leadership is not only a good read like all of Jane Kise’s books.  It’s a resource to help you optimize your leadership style.


ENFPs: The Ultimate Yes And!

red phone

There are many reasons why people don’t answer the phone.  I am among those who shun ringing phones, but maybe not for the reasons you might expect.  I am not shy nor do see phone calls as an intrusion. It’s just that I can’t resist agreeing to a possibility only to regret having said yes later on. Yes and!…

At the height of my former career as a speech pathologist, I was on the on-call list for at least a dozen facilities at once.  The sheer number of places I worked at gave me the variety I craved but it also tended to overextend me regularly. Moreover, although I had glorious flexibility in my schedule, it also meant that I had to field numerous phone calls asking me to work.   Just about every time, I would say “yes.”

ENFP personality types come out of the womb saying “yes.” As dominant extraverted intuitives, we are game for just about any possibility, especially those that occur as a result of the energy in the moment.  Yes and! is a phrase that is used in improv theatre.  It means move the energy forward on that idea.  No but kills the energy. To say that ENFPs (and our personality cousins the ENTP) are made for real life improv would be very accurate and fitting.

However, there is a downside to this adaptable, move the energy forward approach to life.  A brilliant scheme might have a schedule conflict that was ignored as mere nuisance detail at the time.  Or upon further consideration, you may realize the idea is incompatible with your values (In type-speak we call that Auxiliary Introverted Feeling).  There were many times that I agreed to go to the hospital only to regret that I wasn’t spending the day with my children.  Or what if the idea was perfect at the moment but really perfect for someone else to execute instead of you?

Strategies. Long ago, I developed the strategy to let most phone calls ring through to voice mail so I could control the “Yes And!” energy and make more conscious decisions about what I would agree to do. I really hate disappointing people (one of my introverted feeling values) and I found this was a way to curb that possibility.  I do find that if I have just a small buffer period between when I get a request and when I respond to it, I am more likely to make a good decision. At the same time, it isn’t my only strategy.  Email is another way that I tap into my judgment function.  I have also learned to say, ‘Let me get back to you.”, although that requires a heavy dose of mindfulness, because I can quickly get caught up in the energy of the moment.

Everyone has specific blind spots associated with his/her personality type.   Much of the time, we struggle with these challenges without really understanding what underpins them.  Self-knowledge is a way to learn how to compensate for the areas that are likely to trip us up. Sometimes it’s one of our strengths that can be overdone and actually become a liability.   ENFPs/ENTPs, does this sound like you?

Can the MBTI Work With Brain Injured Clients?

brain-injury-high-definition-fiber-tracking-mapImagine contracting encephalitis (brain swelling) from a mosquito bite.  The brain swells resulting in significant  brain damage.  In my former profession as a speech pathologist, I encountered such a client.  She was in her 30’s and her memory was deeply affected by this virulent infection.  She could say hello to her daughter, turn around, then forget her daughter was even in the room.   She also forgot many other things like when to take her medication or complete some other important task.

One day, we decided to address the problem with some sort of a strategy.  I came in with the idea of using many bright post-it notes that she could place all over her house to remind her to do what she needed to do.  I reasoned that the colorful post-it notes would get her attention and she would follow through on the task.   She replied, “No, that will clutter up my house and I hate disorder.  I want a nice leather-bound book to write things down in.”   Secretly, I thought to myself, “HA!  You will lose that in an instant!”  Guess what?  She was right.  The strategy of a neat, organized book was better for her than a bunch of colorful post-it notes.  What’s more, she kept this book in a logical place so she didn’t misplace it.

In my current profession as a personal development coach and MBTI Master Practitioner,  people will inquire whether the MBTI is valid for people with mental illness, developmental syndromes like Aspergers, or brain injury.   For example, in the case above, could I have given the MBTI to this client to see what her type is.   Would that have been valid?  My answer would be probably not, however you would have to consider the big picture, the degree of recovery and other variables.  Still, the MBTI Assessment was designed for normal personalities, normal being defined as individuals who have no significant history of brain injury, developmental syndromes,  or mental illness.  That can’t fact can’t be ignored.

However, could I use the principles of psychological preferences to understand the client better?  Absolutely.

The client I mentioned above looks like she had an “SJ” temperament.   Clearly she liked order and my “brilliant” idea of using colorful post-it notes might have appealed more to someone like an ENFP, like myself.  Observing that difference,  I could then make some plausible guesses about how she might like the rest of her treatment to unfold: routine, predictable, and purposeful rather than colorful and playful which is my preference.

The bottom line here is that just because the full-blown MBTI probably isn’t appropriate for those individuals who don’t fall into the category of “normal”, some of the principles can be successfully applied to connect better and meet the needs of those individuals.  The key is to remain open-minded, always listening for more clues to help you determine what they may need.

Ann C. Holm

(Ann is a former speech pathologist who worked with brain injured clients for 25 years prior to starting a coaching practice in 2009.)

Pinterest and the INFJ Personality Type


Pinterest is a pinboard-style photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies, and more.

A few days ago, I was moping around because all of my holiday company had left, particularly my college age children. One of my daughters is a teacher and an INFJ.  She said to me, “Oh mom, quit dragging around.  Let’s make you a Pinterest.”

Pinterest, a pinboard-style photo sharing website that allows users to organize theme-based images is one of her favorite ways to relieve stress.  Even when she was a young child, pictures, particularly if they were unusual, attracted her attention.  She loved “mags” (her magazines) and the best gift she ever received was her first digital camera.  It was no surprise that Pinterest soon became her favorite social media website.

The INFJ personality type tends to rely on the visual part of the brain more often than other personality types. In fact, according to Dr. Dario Nardi’s The Neuroscience of Personality both the INTJ and the INFJ are strong visual thinkers who use the O1 and O2 regions of the brain frequently.  (“O” stands for the occipital lobe of the brain which is the visual cortex).

So, I asked my daughter how she feels after she works with her Pinterest board.  She reported that she is more relaxed and more energized after doing it.   Then she said, ” I wonder if there are many INFJ-related “pins” on the board so we searched “INFJ” on Pinterest. There were pages and pages of them!   Just to test this out further, we searched other types and found several pins for other types such as the ENFP but not nearly as many.   What’s even more interesting is the the INFJ personality type is present in only 1-2% of the population yet they had the most pins related to their type!

What’s the upshot of all of this?  First, Pinterest might be an effective stress reliever/energizer, particularly for this personality type.  Further, it might serve as a perfect way to organize thoughts and keep track of details for multiple personality types but especially for the INFJ.

I woud love to hear from INFJs who use Pinterest.  Does this sound like you?

Ann C. Holm


Identifying Type in Fictional Characters and Celebrities


ESTJ King Triton having a discussion with his ENFP mermaid daughter, Ariel.

On more than one occasion, I have been asked to identify the personality type of a fictional character or a celebrity.  It can be fascinating to speculate on what type an individual appears to be.  At the APTi 2011 conference, one of the evening activities was titled Type in the Movies. A panel of type experts, with input from the audience, debated the personality type of certain movie characters. While this was meant to be an entertaining exercise, it illustrated that one could potentially support multiple viewpoints when rendering a verdict on personality type.

Shortly after Steve Jobs died, a psychological type group on LinkedIn started a thread discussing Jobs’ type. The most frequently occurring response seemed to be INTP but there were other possibilities backed up by strong evidence. Some made the case for ENTP, INTJ, INFP as well as ISTJ. Unfortunately, his true type will remain a matter of conjecture in the absence of an assessment and the all-important type verification process.

I was further reminded at how important it is to verify type in one of my recent projects. Each participant in the project completed an MBTI® assessment. Of the 20 who participated, 5 individuals had a verified type that was different than the reported type. The most gratifying part of this exercise was to sense the resonance within the individual when the true type emerged.

Nevertheless, identifying psychological type in fictional characters and celebrities can be a useful exercise, if it helps to provide an archetype to illustrate general characteristics of a given personality type. Already, such archetypes exist in the psychological type literature:  the INTJ Mastermind or the ENFP Champion, for example. While this can create an oversimplification of the nuances present in each personality type, it can help to give an overall picture that can be easily grasped by a type novice.

That isn’t to say I haven’t struggled with a recent project in which a client has asked me to identify the psychological type of certain fictional characters. I can clearly see the value in using a general example to illustrate a certain personality type, be it a theoretical archetype such as The INTJ Mastermind or a fictional character such as Ariel the Mermaid being an ENFP. However, I find myself caught up in circular  thinking when trying to honor both the simple and the complex aspects of identifying psychological type.

Ariel the Mermaid wants to live on land and ignoring the “detail” of not having any legs is vintage ENFP-think. The ENFP tends to be long on both ideas and dreams, and yet a little short on details. Because she is out exploring, Ariel is never on time for singing practice with her mermaid sisters. That’s a pretty simple ENFP call.

However, there is rarely universal agreement on many other examples that are readily available and discussed on websites such as LinkedIn. Returning to the subject of Steve Jobs, there were hundreds of excellent arguments given by writers as to what type Jobs likely was. This is the conflicting perspectives that often bring me to a stalemate when someone asks me to type someone who either hasn’t revealed his/her MBTI verified results, or can’t because she lives under the sea in a mermaid kingdom.

So how do I tend to resolve this for a client?  I try to be clear about the distinction between the complexity of a verified personality type and the general characteristics that are observable and can be useful to illustrate a general archetype. Then I try to select examples that are pretty clear such as Ariel the Mermaid as an ENFP and to avoid characters where multiple perspectives are equally convincing.

I wonder what others think about this topic. Can fictional characters and celebrities serve as valid examples of type or should the practice of using them be avoided altogether?

Featured in The Bulletin for APTi , March 15, 2012