The Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) is widely used to give insight into how people structure their reality and make sense of the world. Some coaches also use it to determine the style of coaching most likely to be effective with particular individuals (see, for example, I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You: Real Meaning of the 16 Personality Types for more on MBTI).
But the MBTI also seems to tell us something about the type of people drawn to be coaches. Recently I have asked around 40 coaches what their MBTI preferences are. Strikingly, almost every single one has had an N preference on the S-N (Sensing-Intuition scale) - that is they have a preference for seeing the big picture and focusing on possibilities over seeing what is actually happening and focussing on practical realities. This doesn't of course mean that people with an S preference can't coach but does seem that such coaches are rare.
The results are summarised in the table. (The smaller percentage figures in the bottom right hand corner of each box are for comparison purposes - they show the Type distribution of the 105 executives I have worked with whose Myers Briggs Type I know.) All but two of the responses indicated an N preference (94%). 60% are NFs; 33% are NTs (As a separate piece of data, of the 44 associate coaches who work with the Center for Creative Leadership in Brussels, 80% are NFs and 20% are NTs.)I had wondered if this striking pattern is because people with an N preference tend to focus on future possibilities and so are more likely to be able to help others create new futures for themselves. However, Richard Boyatzis in his paper "Core Competencies in Coaching Others to Overcome Dysfunctional Behavior" suggests that it may be the big picture, pattern recognition aspect of the N preference which is key. This research shows that effective coaches are able to notice a wide range of things about the coachee and their situation, and then to make sense of this initially unconnected information by recognising the patterns and themes. In addition, the research showed that there are two competencies which have a more substantial and significant impact on coaches' effectiveness. These are Emotional Self-Awareness and Empathy. Emotional self-awareness is important because it helps us keep appropriate boundaries in the coaching relationship; empathy because it helps us understand the other person deeply.
In the Autumn of 2005, research ("MBTI types and executive coaching" by Passmore et al in The Coaching Psychologist, Vol 2, No 3, December 2006) showed a broadly similar pattern with a group of 228 executive coaches - see table on left. 85% had an "N" preference, 47% an NF preference, and 38% an NT preference.