I’ve been observing for the last four years an emerging and accurate identification of an obstacle that exists that has contributed to the ever-present gridlock between the current president of the United States, President Barack Obama, and the United States Congress (the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives). However, one of the things that is missing from the conversation is the real what and why behind the obstacle and the solution to removing it. The people who’ve identified the symptom talk and write about it without understanding the cause and how to address that in an effective way.

Let me say up front that this is not a post about politics. Politics is a game of lies and spin and I have no time or use for all that, nor will I waste my time talking about it. This post, instead, is about how temperament can affect quintessential leadership negatively and this post also drills down to how an introverted leader needs to modify his or her behavior to ensure that teamwork is in play and goals are successfully achieved.

Joe Scarborough, of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” seems to consistently and accurately define the obstacle (i.e., the symptom of the problem) that stands between President Barack Obama and the United States Congress. Ironically, when Scarborough points to the symptom of the solution, without realizing it, he is talking about two extremes in temperament: strong introversion and strong extroversion.

The solution, realistically, lies somewhere in the middle, but the solution can be found in the comparison and contrast between the strongly-introverted person that President Obama is and the strongly-extroverted person that Scarborough points to again and again as the model for teamwork and getting things done.

Joe Scarborough describes the obstacle to getting things done legislatively as an unwillingness by President Obama to reach out to anybody in Congress, including members of his own Democrat party, and an unwillingness to sit down and talk face-to-face, either one-on-one or in a group, to either members of his own party or members of the Republican party. And every time Scarborough describes this obstacle, he brings up former President Bill Clinton to show the contrast of how someone, probably more successfully than any other American president, countered and removed all gridlock by doing just the opposite of what President Obama is doing.

And what Scarborough is pointing to when he contrasts these two men is temperament and how President Clinton used his strong extroversion to ensure that the country’s goals were achieved and how President Obama’s strong introversion is inhibiting his ability to do the same. An analysis of how temperament can get in the way of quintessential leadership, then, and what can be done to moderate and counter that is, therefore, the sole topic of discussion in this post.

Before addressing the temperaments of these two men and the things that separate them temperamentally in their leadership styles, a short discussion of temperaments and how they play into how each of us sees and relates to the world around us is critical. An invaluable – I personally think this book ought to be a “must read” for everyone who is a leadership position – resource for quintessential leaders to understand both extroversion and introversion and leadership is Susan Cain‘s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

Commonly-accepted proportions, based on extensive research, of extroverts to introverts in the human population show a 75%-extrovert to 25%-introvert ratio (one in every four people is an introvert).  Cain’s book, while showing that general temperament dominance can also be a function of culture, shows that all of us are genetically and neurologically predisposed to either extroversion or introversion. She also shows how extroversion as “normal” and preferred and introversion as “abnormal” and undesirable – as well as needing to be “fixed” or “changed” – developed into the mindset and culture of the Western world.

Another important part of this conversation is that, because of temperament, it is very difficult – and impossible for people with strong and extreme tendencies in this temperament – for extroverts to ever really understand introverts, while introverts – even though it makes no sense to them – have a quite good understanding of extroverts. Extroverts can’t understand any temperament that is not like theirs, so much of the “abnormal” kinds of labeling – loner, weird, unsociable, etc. – that is typically applied to introverts – who, by the way, are none of these – we see in general cultural views expressed by extroverts.

Please take some time to read Jonathan Rauch’s article, “Caring for Your Introvert,” published in The Atlantic in March 2003 because it does a good job of dispelling some of these incorrect ideas and shows why the labels don’t match up with the reality.

Introversion and extroversion can be measured by scientific instruments such as the Myers-Briggs test, which is often a prerequisite to acceptance into post-graduate programs at many U. S. universities and colleges, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which identifies 16 temperament types.

And even though all people can be typed within these 16 temperament types, where each person falls on the spectrum of the various components that make up the temperament is what makes no two same-temperament people exactly alike. In other words, each of us is unique. An additional note, which Susan Cain makes sure to point out, is that even though a person is characterized by a temperament type, even strongly, not all the attributes of that type may actually apply or be present. Again, each of us is unique. And that’s the most important thing to remember when discussing generalities, which the topic of temperament types is.

Since I’m taking this topic on – and to show the truth embedded in the cautions in my last paragraph – I will share my temperament type (which, no matter how many times I’ve been tested and how much experience and time is accrued between the tests, the type and proportions remain the same) with you and tell you a little bit about why I am  in a position to bring temperament as the source of the obstacle that Joe Scarborough has identified. If you click on the graph below, you’ll see it in its original size, which will make it easier to read.

quintessentialldr Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator Graph

As you can see, I’m an INTJ, so I’ve got an introvert temperament. You’ll also noticed that I fall into the strong/extreme range of introversion. This is important, because this is a temperament characteristic that President Obama and I share. While I don’t know the exact temperament type of President Obama, I suspect that he is also an INTJ, and his unique temperament type lies in where he falls along each of the measurement scales.

One of the paradoxes that I’ve read and seen noted about President Obama time and again is that of the seemingly two different people he is in front of big crowds versus in front of small groups or one-on-one. It really isn’t a paradox, because since I’ve noticed the same paradox in myself – and this is something I’ve had to learn how to change in the second setting – I know why he is more comfortable in front of a large, mostly anonymous crowd instead of in a small and well-known group and individual setting.

In front of a large, mostly anonymous group, President Obama is doing a presentation about something he believes, is a part of who he is, and he is an expert on. He’s written about, thought about, and is a subject-matter expert, from his perspective, about it. It’s not a conversation, which would require him to process information quickly and U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the National Defense University in Washingtonverbalize eloquently just as quickly his response – which introverts simply cannot do (look at how poorly he did in the Q & A debates in this year’s election process). Therefore, there’s no pressure on him, and is relaxed and confident, and even almost passionate.

However, in the give-and-take of ad hoc verbal conversation and negotiation in face-to-face meetings with groups and individuals President Obama knows, he is so uncomfortable that he avoids it altogether. I read about what he’s done proposal-wise with the current fiscal cliff negotiations and that he’s incredulous about why it’s not done already. I don’t know the details of the proposal – nor is that important here. However, here’s what I’ve read and seen about what President Obama has done. He’s composed – that’s in writing – a document that says what he wants and sent it to Congress to get passed.

That’s how introverts are most comfortable communicating and he’d be delighted to have Congress put their proposal in writing, send it to him – introverts understand information much more easily when they read it than when they hear it -, give him some solitude to digest it, make written changes, if needed, then send the revised proposal back in writing. He’s probably the best emailing president we’ve ever had. 🙂

And that’s the problem. If we consider the 4:1 ratio of extroverts to introverts, then applied generally, 75% of Congress are extroverts and they are the majority that want a face-to-face sit-down with President Obama to hammer out an agreement (not to mention that, except for President Jimmy Carter, who was probably as strongly introverted as President Obama, this is how Washington has traditionally gotten things done at the end of the day).

And this is why former President Bill Clinton represents the key to the solution. President Clinton is clearly an extrovert on the strong-to-extreme end of the spectrum.  I suspect this “polar opposites” temperament difference between President Obama and him has been why there are constant suggestions that the two men don’t like eachPresident-Bill-Clinton other and their relationship has seemed frosty at best.

The fact is that President Clinton doesn’t understand President Obama, temperamentally, and President Obama, while he understands President Clinton temperamentally, can’t wrap his head around embracing it or doing it.

There’s another possible component that may explain the seeming distance between the presidents. As a strong-to-extreme extrovert, President Clinton most likely (and some of his personal behavior lends credibility to this) has no concept of personal space and physical (not visible, but discernible) boundaries – both of which are important and critical to introverts.

And I guarantee you that President Clinton has unknowingly invaded President Obama’s personal space and ignored his physical boundaries way too many times, and President Obama’s response, which is an introvert response, has been to literally and figuratively back up to create a safe distance – for him – between the two men. That’s the heart of the dynamic you can see going on between these two presidents, who probably don’t really dislike each other, but are in totally different universes temperamentally.

But Joe Scarborough, who is also a strong extrovert, is right in pointing to President Clinton as someone from whom President Obama needs to draw on his playbook to get anything accomplished. This means President Obama, who has been time and again characterized as “leading from behind,” which is what INTJ’s typically do, needs to get out of his comfort zone. The reality is that President Obama doesn’t see a need to do this and doesn’t think it’s going to accomplish anything. He knows that he will be at a disadvantage in the verbalization part of the process.

But, if President Obama doesn’t do these face-to-face small group and individual meetings with members of both parties – understanding that 75% of Congress needs to talk to him and be heard (listening is one of his strengths) and also understanding that it is okay to say “I want to think about what you’ve said and let’s meet again to discuss it” to offset his fear of being put on the spot – then he’s not going to be able to garner the support he needs to meet the country’s goals and objectives legislatively.

And that’s where quintessential leadership comes in. One of the defining characteristics of a quintessential leader is being able to understand what other people need and being able to find ways to accommodate those needs in a way that is win-win for everyone. It doesn’t mean being a chameleon, nor does it mean being insincere. It also doesn’t mean compromising principles, integrity, authenticity, or ethics. But it does mean moving, taking the necessary steps first to meet others halfway, and having the confidence in your understanding, discernment, and experience to ensure that the right and best possible outcome will be achieved.

Comments
  1. […] President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, has shown the unquintessential leadership trait of his introverted temperament – he’s an INTJ –  which I also am, so I understand what’s happened and why, but […]

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