Should an INFJ Accept a Management Position?

You’re principled, organized and driven – so why, as an INFJ, are you not encouraged to pursue leadership roles?

The INFJ’s steady reputation often earns us positions of responsibility such as life coach, counselor, or employee relations officer; but positions of actual authority tend to evade us (or we avoid them). It’s an odd one, and it may have as much to do with the way our culture understands hierarchical structures as it does with our abilities.

It’s not as though there haven’t been high-profile INFJ leaders in the past. But the fact that Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – both of whom are notable for their uncompromising quests for freedom and equality rather than for working to reinforce the status quo – are the most prominent among them might tip you off as to why INFJs are encouraged to deploy their skills in a counseling rather than a management capacity!

As an INFJ, you’re less likely than most to stay put in a position that’s unfulfilling if you think you can do more important work in another role. So if your boss does happen to offer you a step up the ranks to a position of authority where you can get things done, or you see a managerial job in the classifieds that speaks directly to your personal mission statement, it’ll make you curious. Is a step into management the right thing to do, or are you better off working to your strengths without taking on extra duties that seem – superficially – anathema to your personality type?

The quiet power of the INFJ

INFJs are defined by our understanding and sensitivity towards others. But usually, this is achieved on a horizontal level – showing empathy towards clients or within a team. Indeed, a key reason that an INFJ is rarely spotted climbing the corporate ladder is that we recognize that the greater our business responsibilities, the more pressure there will be to compromise the human element – which is, of course, out of the question.

Yet this compassion is part of the very skill set that suggests an INFJ could fly in a management position. The INFJ is ahead of the pack: you see how people are going to behave in advance, and are equipped to cope. ‘People,' in this case, might mean colleagues, clients, or a broader and as-yet untapped customer base.

This compassion wins trust. It connects. And combined with your idealism, it inspires.

INFJs have the idealism and integrity to question what success even means for a company. Ask any leader whether money is their business's main priority, and they'll say "no" – it's about the customers or the service. And they believe this, but their actions tell a different story. An INFJ, on the other hand, will identify and defend their mission statement and do their best to make it happen regardless of shareholder pressure or a senseless drive to expand. An INFJ without a vision would rather just go home.

We’re of a generation where consumers and society as a whole are less willing to tolerate the hiding of corporate greed behind toothy smiles and casual T-shirts. We want heartfelt idealism, not empty promises.

Look at Gandhi, Mandela: they changed society, and we still look to them for inspiration today. INFJs might not want to lead the world, but maybe the world needs them!

The ups and downs of leadership as an INFJ

If you’ve ever led a workshop or seminar, you’ll be familiar with the rollercoaster of emotions the INFJ goes through in a position of responsibility. Being center of attention and expected to respond quickly to questions and challenges can quickly become tiring.

If you’ve led a longer-term project, you’ll know that this can be more rewarding because you get more time to get to know people and develop meaningful solutions to the problems that arise than you would over a one-off workshop.

A full-time management role is like the project example, but dotted with those workshop scenarios, and with no concrete completion date. Challenging, huh?

When it’s going well, management is the best thing in the world. You’re bringing people together to learn new stuff and build something that you believe in and can inspire them to believe in, too. As a team, you’ll create things that no other combination of professionals would, and harnessing that chemistry to the best of your ability is incredibly rewarding.

But when it goes badly, you just want to curl up and die. An INFJ is an Introvert, right? And that NF sensitivity is like a delicately-tuned antenna. It picks up the faintest of signals, but when it gets overloaded, the screech of the feedback can be excruciating. In a managerial role, having all eyes expectantly fixed on you when you're out of energy or inspiration feels like getting trapped in the headlights of an oncoming car.

And sure, you stay calm under pressure. But when time runs short, and you have to start reigning in your team's creative freedom and begin giving direct instructions instead, it hurts.

It's easier for an INFJ to be angry at their boss for forcing compromises than it is to forgive yourself for forcing those compromises on a team.

Guess what: for the INFJ, the answer is deeply personal

So we’ve established that the right INFJ can be more than equipped for a leadership role. And they might well find it very rewarding and meaningful. Is that enough to make that leap?

Some people who might otherwise be hesitant at this point might find the wage hike is the deciding factor. That's not such an important consideration to an INFJ. You may be more likely to consider the impact of your decision on the business and the team than on your bank balance.

Ultimately, then, it comes down to whether you’re willing to jeopardize a life of quiet influence for a position where the rewards may be fleeting and the challenges often far from enjoyable. That will depend a lot on the specifics of the role and the company, and where you are in life right now.

For example, if you’re coming off the back of an exhausting project or you have a lot going on in your family life, subjecting yourself to further stress and responsibility might not be ideal – since you won’t be prepared to compromise on any front.

But if you’re missing those close bonds in your private life, stepping outside your comfort zone to lead a team forward can be a great way to get to know people and be a part of their lives, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable for you. Likewise, if you’re relatively early-career and looking for experience, a year or two in a position like this can give you valuable new perspectives to work with throughout your life – even if you later choose to move away from management.

You can clear the picture somewhat by asking yourself three incisive questions:

  • Will the business benefit from a manager with your unconventional approach?
  • Will you have the freedom to do things your own way?
  • Will you enjoy your new daily responsibilities?

If you can answer “yes” to all three, that’s pretty encouraging. If not, you might want to look for an alternative way to feed your urge to lead. Many non-managerial roles involve elements of leadership, in the same way that many managerial roles can be improved with skills that we don't traditionally associate with leadership. As an INFJ you’re best equipped to step back, listen to yourself, and judge whether accepting that managerial job is right for who you are and where you are right now.

G. John Cole

John is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. An INFJ and native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans. Find him at @gjohncole.


Carolyn Burke (not verified) says...

Great article. This comes at a good time for me INFJ as I consider applying for a couple of internal management positions where I work. There have been several recent managerial level jobs that have not been given to the internal candidate who appeared to be the most closely aligned with the "new" job. Somehow, a manager position needs to seem like it would be "the right fit for me" in order for me to be motivated to try for the position. If the process of selecting a new manager seems be mostly related to the degree  of  internal political connections you have made, and requires competition for the job between current colleagues, the job seem appropriate for me. I agree with you, I would rather seek another type of  new job where I can be a type of consultant with leadership attributes, rather than enter an arena that requires to "play a game," or try to be more appealing than my colleague(s). Making a difference in my field and being a leader can be realized in many ways. 

Carolyn Burke (not verified) says...

"So we’ve established that the right INFJ can be more than equipped for a leadership role. And they might well find it very rewarding and meaningful. Is that enough to make that leap?" Thanks for the article. Yes, if we can be true to ourselves at the same time. When jobs seem to be a political competition that requires applying and competing with colleagues, the appeal drops way down. 

JohnJ says...

Good blog,thank u for sharing startup business ideas

JBW (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for this. I recently turned down a team-leader role and have been feeling slightly down and annoyed with myself, because the money was great and because I am aware that I have shied away from management roles. However, I know that there would have been no time to get to know the team - the role would entail daily ‘fire-fighting’ of issues, rather than any long-term planning or project work and I cannot accept that would be a good use of my talents. I know in my heart I’ve made the right decision, but this article helped sort out my head as well!

Sanya (not verified) says...

I am a military officer and an INFJ...I can identify with every emotion and thought you described. It is a bit unnerving to have all eyes on me 24/7. I feel like I have to be switched on all the time, just in case someone sees me outside of work. When I retire in 5 years, I want to be able to say I added value to the military and to the people I worked with. Then I want to teach business classes at a community college...nice and low key. :) Thank you for the article.

Robert231 (not verified) says...

Are you female?  No male INFJ would last very long in the military far less retire from it.  Either mistyped INTJ or if female that does make a difference. 

Sara321 (not verified) says...

Hi Robert. I’m a female INFJ and prior military.  But more importantly, I am really curious to your insight about the differences between a male and female INFJ. Can you provide some more information please? 

Anna (not verified) says...

Thank you so mutch for this article. Wished, I had found this earlier. Last year I got offered a management role - really offered, people asked me to do this, my husband told me to to it, everyone thinking I would be perfect for this. 

Well, I took it. 

Leading a 150 Person Unit of the Red Cross, so yes, I could fly with the purpose, and yes, there was this big big gap for me to lead exactly the way I wanted, because the real Boss was never there, either ill or elsewhere. I had all the freedom in the world, people just were so happy I was there, telling me, I'm doing a great job, even when I had no idea myself, what I was actually doing. No knowledge about the company, no experience, no leding before, just me and listening, trying to understand, trying to comprehend every single day, learning from zero to hundred, trying to get the big picture.

It was really really hard. Never suffered so much befor in my life. And while I loved my people, tried to be there for them, to bring the best out of everyone, to change everything for the better, I lost myself. I would work long ours every day, from mornig til evening keeping focus on everything and everyone around me, and coming home, I would break down. I HATED being in this role. I HATED myself. I stopped writing (which is the most important thing in the world to me), I just felt so trepped between all these expectations and I felt like I had to scream every time people told me, what a fucking goof job I did!! 

How could this be good, if it ate me alife? What benefit lies there if I make everyone happy but myself?

So I steped back and it was the best decision ever. I don't want to miss this time as I learned so much about myself, but I never ever want to have it again.

For me writing is the thing, I would gladly give my life to, leading - well I CAN and always DO when there is no one else, but I actually don't WANT to.

So I hope you all get to know yourself good enough to find the right path for you.


Skyeisblue (not verified) says...

I stepped into management as homelife was limited at the time.  Have been managing for 10 yrs for 2 different not for profits.  (5 yrs each). 

My current team are now annoyed as I make it seem so effortless and in their words, "I get what I want' and I'm not vulnerable enough."

What they don't realize is that I frequently don't have things come together as I had hoped. I have  learnt to accept it quickly and have often seen that likely outcome in advance. 

I actively role model addressing my life's difficulties and practice a lot of gratitude and that's now perceived as, I have nothing of significance that I am dealing with.  

The mis-characterisation is a tough and makes it a lonely space here. 

محمد حیدری (not verified) says...

Hi. This is one of the deepest and best article on the internet. Thanks.

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