Some of the most creative minds on the planet – now and in the past – have been INFP on the Myers Briggs personality index. Artists and philosophers like Bjork, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Kurt Cobain, Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, George Orwell and even William Shakespeare are reputed to be our fellow INFPs. We are, by many reports, a rare type – around 2% of the population at large (although some stats show us at more like 4%) and are alternately described as “dreamers,” “visionaries,” “healers,” and “imaginative idealists.”
By contrast, the classic “CEO” personality type is widely considered to be ESTJ. Yep, that is pretty much the polar opposite of the INFP type.
So that begs the question…INFPs may have vision and insight and empathy…but can we lead?
As a feature film director of Guys Reading Poems, I’ve found that the answer is “yes.” However, we INFPs are by nature a different kind of leader than other types. Here are some steps I suggest for maximizing your potential as a team leader. After all, sometimes having a dream is not enough. You have to rally others to executive your vision!
1. Select the right team. This is more important for INFPs than for any other type, I would argue. We are focused internally through feeling so if someone on the team simply does not agree with our values for the project – or at least respect them – conflict is inevitable. Avoiding these sorts of power struggles is imperative because it takes more energy for INFPs than other types to deal with conflict. So making sure you hire folks who respect your vision and values is the most important way you will set yourself up for success as a team leader. (I would be remiss not to acknowledge that I had the most wonderful cast and creative team on this film that I could possibly imagine. Truly. )
2. Use your intuition to spot potential. One of the best ways to shore up an alliance is to spot someone’s hidden potential and nurture it. INFPs are good at encouraging and nurturing and, as a team leader, that asset can be used for the benefit of the project by bringing out untapped potential in your team members. The rewards for you and the project will be better work and greater loyalty down the line.
3. Lead by example as much as humanly possible. INFPs are not the type that gets a thrill out of barking orders at people. But we are perfectionists by nature so use this to your advantage. Put in the long hours and make sure that your team is impressed with your output and presentations to the group. Even without being told to work harder and longer, you may spark the competitive spirit in them and find that they work a little harder to make sure their work stands up to your own.
4. Accept that not everyone will be as passionate and perfectionistic about the project as you. INFPs are known for being internally motivated and highly perfectionistic. But you have to accept that not everyone on the team is like that. Others may need a different kind of motivation that might not occur naturally to you. Maybe it’s time to take members of your team out to dinner or a beer. Or highlight them on your social media feed so they have some bragging rights. Or make an introduction that might help their career. And of course, some people see their job as just a job and financial motivation is far and away the biggest for them. As INFP leaders, it’s highly likely that you will care more about your project than anyone else. If you start getting angry with others on the team that they don’t feel as passionately about it as you do, that will spell disaster. Instead, remember that you are working with a number of different personality types and it’s perfectly normal that they may need some additional forms of motivation!
5. Compliment with feeling. You are a natural empathizer and know when someone went the extra mile to accomplish something for the project. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge a team member with your feelings behind it. If you are moved by their effort, acknowledge that to the team with feeling! Sometimes, it seems like “feeling” has no place in business. But, after all, people feel great about themselves when their work is received warmly, especially if that warmth is genuine and deeply felt, as is often the case with us INFPs. The only downside to this is sometimes you may get carried away complimenting one person on the team and don’t do the same for another. But keep an eye on this and over time, things will even out. People love to feel valued and it makes their commitment and work on the project better!
6. Try to articulate the things about your project that are not negotiable. Because we are quiet leaders who are capable of listening well, some on the team may think everything is negotiable with an INFP leader. This would never be assumed with a more traditional CEO-type like an ESTJ and it is not true for an INFP leader either. INFPs are perceivers rather than judgers and can be very open to the stories and experiences of others. This makes it doubly confounding for your team when suddenly they find you extremely inflexible about certain aspects of the work. We know as INFPs that our intrinsic values and feelings will not be crossed without a serious fight, but other personality types may not understand why a certain value of the project is not negotiable while other aspects of the project are open for collaboration. As a leader, you have to be honest with yourself and your team about the areas where you are not flexible….or at least give them subtle clues. If necessary, you may have to remind the team of the core values of the project and stand firm on those. You may get pushback at first, but it’s important that you stand up for yourself and, more importantly, the project!
7. Communicate through email and google documents. INFPs are naturally strong at writing and can be more clear and precise with our observations through writing than in person communication. Take advantage of this by sometimes articulating your positions in email rather than in person. We are quiet leaders. The power of personality is sometimes with another person in the room. However, just because someone else may speak the best or the loudest on an issue does not mean they are correct. Articulating your thoughts through writing them down may bring out the merit in your ideas that might go missing in a meeting.
8. Empower the extroverts on your team as ambassadors. Once you feel secure that you’ve hired a team that understands and appreciates your vision of the project, empower the extroverts as ambassadors for the project. Encourage them in their own communication style (which is probably better than yours anyway!). Strategic alliances are important and to be valued. As INFPs, we often are most comfortable working alone or with a small group of people we already know. So it’s important to empower those who naturally reach out to others to make sure your project has the broad base of support and skill sets it needs.
9. Don’t be afraid of the words….’I have decided.’ As perceivers and empathizers, we find it relatively easy to understand another’s point of view or feelings on a matter, even when we completely disagree. It’s an asset that others feel understood with you. But, after all, you are the leader and know the variables of the project the best so don’t be afraid of the words, “I have decided…” after you’ve had a chance to listen to all the input and make a decision. Chances are, it will be a good one knowing how much you wrestle with any decision!
10. Reserve the most passion and empathy for the project, not any one person. As INFPs, we can easily begin to identify with the feelings and problems of others. This can be helpful as a leader if you need to step in and solve a problem that relates to interpersonal issues. However, let’s be honest, it can also be a distraction. There’s work to be done after all! This is why I advise fellow INFP leaders to put their most passion and empathy towards the project itself rather than any one individual. Think of the project as a human being with whom you empathize. Yes, the people working on the project are all important. But if getting wrapped up in the whirlwind of one person’s drama will distract you from taking care of the project, you need to check yourself.
OK, so are there any other INFP leaders out there with thoughts on effective team building, project management and such? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Hunter Lee Hughes wrote and directed the upcoming feature film ‘Guys Reading Poems.’ He founded Fatelink Productions in 2004 and its creative consulting division StoryAtlas in 2013. He is the proud father of a pug – Romeo.