How understanding your children’s personality type is the key to helping them develop self-esteem.

Being a parent is by far the toughest, most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

I believe most people lucky enough to have kids would agree. I remember when my first child was born having a genuine epiphany. Up until that moment, my strongest primal instinct was my own survival. That changed in an instant when I realized I would give up my life, without a second thought, to save my child. I think all parents feel the same way.

Before I share what I believe will be helpful advice, let me state that I am not a parenting expert (of course my kids turned out great – but that probably had more to do with their mother, and a whole lot of luck).  But I am a keen observer of human nature and have been looking through the lens of personality type for 40 years trying to understand why we humans do what we do.

I believe one of the most fundamental desires of human beings is to be understood and loved for who we are. This isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s a “need to have” in order to develop self-esteem. In a perfect world, all parents would not only understand their children, but celebrate their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies, especially the really annoying ones (which are most often the result of differences between their personality types and their children’s). But for so many reasons, this is an unrealistic expectation. Still, if you embrace this philosophy, then how can you glean this valuable information about your child? Personality Type can help.

Let me back up, just a bit. I believe that our personality is the combination of our nature and nurture. Nature is what we’re born with - our inborn personality type. Nurture is all the other experiences or circumstances that influence our lives (parents, gender, culture, education, race, economic status, religious upbringing, the place and times we live in, and more).

One of the things that makes the Jung/Myers model so rich is that it doesn’t just identify 16 different types. It describes the type “preferences” that occur most and least naturally in every type. Type folks refer to this as the “hierarchy of functions,” labeling them “dominant,” “auxiliary,” “tertiary,'' and “inferior.” In Nurture by Nature my co-author Barbara Barron and I have simplified the lingo, and refer to them as the  “lead,” “second,” “third” and “least.”

Due to space limitations, this piece will just focus on the LEAD: identifying your child’s lead preference and offering suggestions for how you can use that information to help him or her foster the greatest self-esteem. 

“Feed the Lead”

Why is it so crucial for parents to be able to understand their children’s LEAD function? Because it reflects their natural strengths and often their greatest gifts and talents. For this reason, when we are engaging our LEAD function, it energizes us and makes us feel alive. A LEAD Feeler loves to help others – it nourishes him, while a LEAD Thinker who excels at solving complex math problems feels alive when she’s given the opportunity to do that.

Using our LEAD creates a positive feedback loop. It draws us to a particular task.  Because we enjoy doing it, we do it well. As a result, we get recognized or rewarded for our success, which makes us want to do more similar tasks, and so on.

The opposite is also true: when people are prevented from using their LEAD, their energy is drained, they’re not as successful and may go to great lengths to avoid these types of activities.

What follows is a brief description of each of the16 types’ LEAD functions, organized by the four Temperament groups: Traditionalists (SJs), Experiencers (SPs), Conceptualizers (NTs) and Idealists (NFs). Let’s jump in.



ESTJs (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judgers) tend to be responsible, practical, dependable, fair-minded, detail-oriented, goal-driven, hardworking, objective and extremely logical.

To feed the lead with ESTJ children:

Give them increased age-appropriate responsibilities, provide clear directions and expectations, treat them fairly, encourage them to respectfully “push back” and accept that they are probably not going to be very warm and fuzzy.    


ISTJs (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judgers) tend to be serious, dependable, realistic, practical, logical, organized, methodical and extremely precise.

To feed the lead with ISTJ children:

Recognize they like and need routines and structure. Make expectations crystal clear. Do what you say you will do. Don’t expect them to be very flexible and try not to change plans once they’ve been made.


ESFJs (Extraverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judgers) tend to be friendly, helpful, realistic, sympathetic, practical, conscientious, organized, responsible, traditional, and very sensitive.

To feed the lead with ESFJ children:

Because they have a strong need to feel loved and be appreciated, avoid being critical as they can take even a well-meaning critique personally. They are natural helpers, so provide opportunities for them to help and care for others.


ISFJs (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judgers) tend to be gentle, loyal, humble, considerate, responsible, devoted, conscientious, cautious, and very literal.

To feed the lead with ISFJ children:

Because they are so conscientious, eager to please and to do a good job, they need very explicit instructions, resources and clear expectations. Give them lots of control, and help them get their own needs met as well as satisfying others'.



ESTPs (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceivers) tend to be active, easy-going, fun-loving, outgoing, curious, and very adventurous.

To feed the lead with ESTP children:

Driven by their tremendous energy and desire to always enjoy themselves, they need to be free to be spontaneous and to explore, but carefully since they are impulsive, like to take risks and seldom consider negative future consequences. 


ISTPs (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceivers) tend to be curious, realistic, logical, pragmatic, hands-on, often gifted-mechanically, and extremely independent.

To feed the lead with ISTP children:

ISTPs are driven to explore the world and figure out how things work. They need to be given increasing amounts of freedom, but to be kept safe in the process. And don’t take it personally if they are not very communicative or affectionate.


ESFPs (Extraverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceivers) tend to be active, friendly, realistic, cooperative, caring, fun-loving, adventurous children who love to live in the moment.

To feed the lead with ESFP children:

Try to indulge their need for spontaneity and zest for experiencing new things. Recognize that they need a lot of social stimulation, are very sensitive, and need to be told they are loved and appreciated.


ISFPs (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceivers) tend to be quiet, loving, gentle, accepting, realistic, curious, easy-going, humble, open-minded, and extremely sensitive.

To feed the lead with ISFP children:

Because they are so sensitive, they need frequent reassurance as well as physical affection. They are also very private people who need to engage with the world on their own terms and timeline.



ENTJs (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judgers) tend to be strong, outgoing, independent, logical, creative, strategic, competitive, competent, and extremely confident.

To feed the lead with ENTJ children:

ENTJs have a lifelong drive to acquire and apply knowledge and to be successful. They not only need to be challenged intellectually, but also to be recognized for their accomplishments.


INTJs (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judgers) tend to be logical, analytical, strategic, goal-oriented, innovative, original, visionary, confident, and very independent.

To feed the lead with ENTJ children:

INTJs possess the ability to understand and synthesize complex information. They need to be given a lot of private time to fully develop their innovative solutions and to plan how to execute them.


ENTPs (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceivers) tend to be outgoing, energetic, creative, charismatic, enthusiastic, articulate, spontaneous and very creative.

To feed the lead with ENTP children:

ENTPs are fascinated by the new and original and have a gift for seeing how practically everything can be improved. They need to be encouraged to experiment, color outside the lines, and be able to express unconventional or contrary ideas without being dismissed.  


INTPS (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceivers) tend to be logical, analytical, creative, complex, strategic, original, fair-minded, independent and very individualistic.

To feed the lead with INTP children:

INTPs tend to dive deep into projects, and they need to be treated with patience as they think, experiment and refine their ideas, as completing a task can take longer than others may expect it to.



ENFJs (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judgers) tend to be empathetic, perceptive, engaging, caring, collaborative, passionate, communicative and very enthusiastic.

To feed the lead with ENFJ children:

Because ENFJs are run by their deeply held values, it's very important for them to be understood and appreciated for their beliefs. Very conflict averse, they need harmonious relationships and for the people in their life to get along.


INFJs (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judgers) tend to be imaginative, creative, original, perceptive, empathetic, private, and very introspective.

To feed the lead with INFJ children:

Because INFJs make sense of the world by viewing it through the prism of their deeply held values, they need to be celebrated for the original thinkers trying to make the world a better place, that they are.


ENFPs (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceivers) tend to be energetic, outgoing, perceptive, empathetic, spontaneous, and extremely curious.

To feed the lead with ENFP children:

ENFPs see exciting possibilities everywhere and need to talk about them. They thrive when encouraged and rewarded for thinking outside the box and appreciated, even if not all of their ideas are practical or realistic.


INFPs (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceivers) tend to be sensitive, thoughtful, introspective, artistic, spiritual, perceptive, and very idealistic.

To feed the lead with INFP children:

INFPs are run by their deeply held personal values, which gives them a sense of how things “should be,” even though they often are not. INFPs’ feelings should always be validated, even if others may not see a logical basis.

This article focused on the importance of parents understanding their children’s LEAD personality type preference. But other aspects of a person’s type are also very important and can give parents valuable new insights into how to promote self-esteem in their children. For a much more comprehensive discussion of each of the 16 types, you might want to check out Nurture by Nature by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron.  

Paul Tieger
Paul D. Tieger is the Founder and CEO of SpeedReading People, LLC. He is an internationally recognized expert on – and author of five breakthrough books about – personality type including The Art of SpeedReading People and the one-million copy best-seller Do What You Are. A jury consultant for twenty-five years, Paul pioneered the use of Personality Type to help trial attorneys understand and communicate with jurors and has worked on dozens of high profile civil and criminal cases including the first physician-assisted suicide trial of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Paul holds a BS degree in Psychology and an MS in Organizational Behavior.