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.