The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most widely used personality assessment questionnaires in the world.  The MBTI is based on a theory of personality types devised in the 1920s by the eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who was seeking to formulate a model for explaining normal differences between healthy people.  Jung’s theory is one of the few that describes personality differences positively in the sense that there are no better or worse types:  all types have potential and each type has its distinctive strengths and possible pitfalls.  The MBTI was later developed by two non-psychologists, Briggs and Myers, who wanted to give as many people as possible access to these powerful ideas. Over 20 years of research went into the original form of the MBTI questionnaire prior to its publication in the United States in 1942.  Since then it has continually been refined and updated and is currently available in 25 languages and 45 countries.

The MBTI was officially introduced to Japan in September 2000.  Even now the utilization of the MBTI in the Japanese business world is more prevalent among foreign-owned firms with relatively limited uptake by Japanese firms. According to Yuki Sonoda, a Japanese clinical psychologist who is a leading champion of the MBTI in her country, one must take into account the Japanese cultural context in order to understand why the adoption of the MBTI is less widespread than in Western countries. In Japan, focussing on the individual can destabilize group harmony.  As a result, personality differences tend to be either ignored or belittled and the emphasis is put on the individual’s ability to adapt to the group.  Since understanding differences between people is the raison d’être of the MBTI, one can appreciate how for many years it has had limited appeal to a Japanese audience.

Another possible reason why the MBTI has had a slow start in Japan is due to a different attitude towards self-awareness.  Daniel Goleman, author of numerous best-selling books on emotional intelligence, lists self-awareness first among the five basic dimensions of emotional intelligence, which in Western countries is becoming increasingly accepted as an essential component of effective leadership.  Early life for most Japanese, both in the family and in school, involves constant adjustment and adaptation to the requirements of membership in groups rather than an emphasis on developing one’s individual identity. Increasing one’s self-awareness, and hence one’s sense of one’s own individual identity, conflicts with the desire to maintain harmony.   According to Ms. Sonoda, being less self-aware can paradoxically be advantageous in Japanese society since this makes it easier to avoid conflict and to fulfil group expectations more readily.

For Japanese expatriates working in Western countries, however, a lack of self-awareness can limit one’s potential as a manager.  Beyond contributing to increased self-awareness, another benefit of using the MBTI in business organizations is that it highlights differences in approaches to problem-solving and decision-making, as well as to other characteristics such as openness to change.  In addition, developing a better sense of the differences in the personalities of one’s co-workers through the MBTI can help a manager to understand how various personality types can complement each other, particularly in teams. For these reasons the MBTI features as a standard element of JIC’s executive coaching and team building programmes and we expect an increasing number of Japanese expatriates will come to see it as a powerful tool for developing their leadership style.

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