Tuesday, January 19, 2010

YOU: Being More Effective in Your MBTI® Type - the book review

© 2005 by Roger R. Pearman and Lominger International: A Korn/Ferry Company
Written by Roger R. Pearman, Michael M. Lombardo, and Robert W. Eichinger

Who should buy this book:
1.        Consultants, HR professionals, and others that use Lominger's Leadership Architect® and who want additional tips because this book is an extension of the FYI series
2.        Consultants, HR professionals, and people that use the MBTI to help others understand themselves because this book is the most robust resource available as far as tips and developmental ideas go
3.        Individuals who are extremely interested in self-development because this massive tome contains tons of thought-provoking ideas and tips that will help you overcome some of your weaknesses and actively manage some of your strengths (you do know that you can overuse your strengths, don't you?)

As soon as you open the cover of this 734-page paperback book it clearly states, "YOU is a book of tips to help you be more effective in your personality type."  You are told that the book "contains the only research that relates MBTI types to effectiveness data at work".  The authors "link how and why people differ to how those differences play out in behavior at work".  They claim that "being type wise can lead to better performance at work and better relationships".  This book is clearly for "HR professionals" and "experienced MBTI users".  And the four main reasons to read this book (according to the authors) are:
1.        You will become more type wise
2.        You will better understand yourself, others, and what happens when two different types interact
3.        You will get tips on how to be more effective, given your MBTI type
4.        You will learn how to solve typical interaction problems

Given this strong introduction, I expected to find a Lominger FYI book for users of the MBTI.  That is exactly what I found.  However, unlike FYI For Your Improvement™ from Lominger, this book is sorely lacking in a couple of key areas.  You cannot quickly find all tips associated with a common term because there is no index.  It uses very passive language (e.g. instead of saying you have a weakness, limitation, or barrier, YOU calls it "not-so-strongs").  The book is almost a marketing piece for the authors and select vendors (i.e. I was reminded of product placement in movies).  It also has several opportunities for improvement that are also challenges facing the other FYI books from Lominger.  Even though I am well-read enough to recognize the sources, there is no evidence of the underlying research (no researchers are credited via bibliography or footnotes).  Instead, YOU relies on self-reports and opinions that come across as pure trivia.  For visual learners the book is very light on educational graphics (e.g. CPP's MBTI materials offer matrixes to quickly see how types mesh and clash, but this book does not).  

The strengths of this book are the same as those of the other FYI books.  Page 721 should have been the introduction to the entire book because it lays down the fundamental challenge: you have personal preferences that are difficult to overcome, but if you have the desire and the skill you can alter your behaviors in situations that warrant a different approach.  YOU is a compendium of developmental tips and ideas for anyone who wants to be more effective at work.  There are sixteen chapters that correspond to the sixteen MBTI types.  536 pages of this book directly address the 16 types, which equates to approximately 33.5 pages per type.  (Unfortunately, 2.5 pages of each chapter are wasted on nonsensical case studies that put you in the role of a consultant or HR professional, but the other 31 pages are very helpful.)  Many of the Leadership Architect competencies are highlighted, but in YOU they are associated with MBTI types under the heading "Being a More Effective…"  The associated tips are often unique (i.e. not direct quotes from FYI For Your Improvement), which makes this book a valuable resource for professionals that leverage the Leadership Architect competencies in coaching or as a personal professional development tool (although it would be much easier with an index).  Michael Lombardo's fabulous Center for Creative Leadership study on overused strengths is greatly expanded and lends itself to the MBTI types very effectively.  Half of each chapter on the types focuses on "Overusing… Tendencies".  

The first two pages of each type chapter provides a useful overview.  You get a brief synopsis of how each type plays out at the office, their typical communication style, associated learning preferences (this section does not follow the same flow, but it is interesting), motivators, blind spots (I suspect this is for MBTI 360 assessments), stress behaviors (is MBTI trying to copy The Birkman Method®?), and barriers that this type may face.  Unfortunately, the blind spots, stress behaviors, and barriers don't tie directly to the "Being a More Effective…" and "Overusing… Tendencies" sections that make up the bulk of each chapter.  People are far too complex to have a clean 1:1 cause and effect relationship, but what makes a resource like this extremely valuable is when you can say X is broken so let's try Y to fix it.  

The first nine pages of the book provide a brief introduction to the MBTI and the second section is 162 pages on the MBTI facet pairs.  Clearly, the authors assume that you have some fundamental understanding of the MBTI because the first nine pages are not nearly as robust as what you can find with a simple Google search.  However, the section that covers the facet pairs is very thorough.  It fails to follow the same format as the chapters on the sixteen types, but the second section does use the two most robust sections from the previous chapters: how to express more of this preference and how to compensate when overusing this preference.  Each of the facets (e.g. thinking vs. feeling) is broken down into five pairs based on how much the facet reflects your preferences versus your experiences. This is probably a new concept for beginner and intermediate users of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and could be worth the price of the book just to learn more about each facet pair and how to address deficiencies or excesses for each.  Also, the Leadership Architect competencies don't cleanly tie to the facet pairs so the tips will be largely unique to veteran Lominger users.

In the end, I asked myself, "Does this book accomplish what the authors set out to do?"  Going back to the four reasons they gave me for reading the book:
1.        Am I more type wise?  Even though I am an MBTI-contrarian for many reasons (which have all been previously documented), I am open to learning and the section on facet pairs was very interesting.  I know more about the MBTI facet pairs so I am more type wise.
2.        Do I understand myself, others, and what happens when I interact with different types better than before I read this book?  Well, my MBTI type has varied slightly throughout my career so it is hard to say whether I learned anything new about myself by reading the chapters on the types I have been.  INFP rang truest to where I see myself right now.  Readers of this review can definitely appreciate this sentence from the book: "Extraverted Thinking acts as an evaluator, making INFPs appear critical and unnecessarily skeptical at times."  Perhaps because I already knew so much about the types I did not really gain any additional insights into myself or others.  Also, any MBTI resource faces the same problem: I don't always know what someone else's MBTI type is.  Finally, there is nothing in this book that clearly helps me understand what happens when different types interact.  The organization formerly known as California Psychological Press has several books that do that very well.  (On a side note, CPP publishes four of Pearman's books, but they were not mentioned in this book until page 555 – even though they are the primary source of the MBTI tests that trainers and consultants use in organizations.  No contact information is given for CPP so I assume they did not pay a royalty or the authors consider them a direct competitor.)
3.        Did I get any tips on how to be more effective, given my type?  Absolutely!  This is clearly the best reason to buy this book.  However, I am more likely to use this book as a supplemental tool for coaching others who have gone through Lominger's Leadership Architect card sort or Voices 360 assessment rather than for people who have taken an MBTI quiz.  It will be challenging given the lack of an index, but I am pretty handy with colored highlighters and my copy is already well marked-up.
4.        Did I learn how to solve typical interaction problems?  I think this is redundant with question number two for the most part.  If I were a proponent of the MBTI and I was not very familiar with my type (perhaps I only got a brief summary description of my type from a workshop where I took the quiz), I would have learned a lot about my type.  Can I solve interaction problems based solely on self-awareness?  I may be able to proactively prevent a few problems, but it takes two to tango.  If I could determine someone's type within the first few minutes of a conversation, and if I had memorized this book, I would be somewhat more effective in solving typical interaction problems.  Unfortunately, neither is true of me or anyone I have ever met.  This was too much of a stretch goal…

If I was on the editorial staff I would make the following changes prior to the third printing so that this book could be significantly more effective:

With criticisms of the Myers Briggs including factors such as the scoring mechanisms fail to use validity scales to remove socially desirable or exaggerated responses and the absence of valid double-blind tests (positive research findings are almost exclusively found by MBTI advocates – not independent researchers), this book had the opportunity to provide references directly to the research that underlies each recommendation.  Because the real value of the MBTI is in understanding the interactions between yourself and others, such validity would have made this a valuable tool for all MBTI proponents.  Instead, YOU includes "facts" such as "a general lack of follow-through in a timely manner is considered an issue by observers of this type".  More glaring is the research used in the Introduction, the first section that readers often peruse, and the section that the authors use to assert the validity of the MBTI:
·        "Millions of people around the world have taken the MBTI, and many have taken the instrument multiple times.  Many people, in casual conversation at work and in social life, will know their "type" and most share that information casually."
·        "We have seen license plates with the owner's MBTI type displayed!"
·        "To pretest this book, we sent it to many people familiar with their type.  The feedback we received was that people found about a 75-80% hit between their preferred type and typical developmental needs we described.  Some said the fit was 100%."

As stated before:
·        The authors should identify all key developmental competencies and include an index so that readers can quickly find tips, regardless of what type or facet pair the tip is associated with.
·        Graphics for visual learners would help casual readers and consultants alike.  The absence of a matrix that highlights challenges that different types face when they work with each other is glaring.
·        Either eliminate the "Application" sections or complete them.  A great case study tells the entire story and has lessons to be learned all the way through to how the final solution was received and implemented.  Lominger has an army of users that could contribute stories that are applicable so why not use them?  This would also provide an opportunity to help the reader understand how to apply the lessons in the book.  Some of the tips, especially in the facet pairs section, are so brief that even a consultant may be left wondering what the next steps should be.
·        Use a consistent layout.  Learning preferences should read like the rest of the sections at the beginning of each type.  Ensure parallel sentence structure for each of the 3 to 4 facet pair descriptors.  (That was just plain distracting.)  Provide contact information for all companies that are mentioned or none of the companies that are mentioned.  Create parallel language between the first two pages on each type and the developmental tips so that they are clearly connected or just delete the first two pages.
·        Eliminate redundancy and the use of the copy-paste function.  Page 555 was first written on page ix.  Large chunks of section three were copied directly from the Introduction and Appendix C in FYI For Your Improvement.