Do you have the personality of a CIO?

Myers-Briggs publisher, CPP, discusses why it doesn’t endorse ambiversion and how the typical CIO’s personality differs from the rest of the IT department

Over the last few years we’ve done quite a bit of research [PDF] into the personality types of IT professionals. Inevitably, a lot of this was grounded in the Myers-Briggs personality test (MBTI), as this is such a staple of HR training schedules. Yet one thing always causes confusion – introverts and extroverts may be polarised opposites – but what about ambiverts? In the short Q&A below Rich Thompson, divisional director of research at CPP Inc. (which publishes the MBTI), explains why it doesn’t explicitly endorse ambiversion, and what personality traits it has identified amongst CIOs and other members of the IT department.


Why does CPP not explicitly endorse ambiversion?

Ambiversion doesn’t fit the theoretical model that the MBTI is based on, which says that we prefer one side of the dichotomy or the other. However, the theory also holds that while people may have a preference – such as for extroversion or introversion – we can and often do learn how to operate with both preferences. Additionally, it should be pointed out that no one is an “introvert or extrovert” – we all simply have a natural affinity for one or the other. Those preferences may influence us, but they don’t control our behaviour.


Is it totally binary? How would CPP characterise people that do not fall heavily on the side of either introversion or extroversion?

The MBTI measurements are binary, but much of the variation that we see depends on how well people have learned to operate outside of their natural preferences. It is extremely uncommon in life for people to have the luxury of solely operating within their natural preferences, and part of a happy, successful life involves developing the ability to “flex” our preferences. When we think of introversion/extroversion, we should think of these terms as verbs, rather than nouns. That’s why we always refer to people as “preferring introversion or extroversion” rather than being “an introvert” or “an extrovert”. Someone preferring introversion may learn to function quite well in social settings and can easily network with the best of them, and may in fact get a lot of satisfaction out of it, it just may not be their “shoes off” preferred mode.

Based on CPP data what have you noticed about the personality types of successful CIOs?

  • The major difference between the typical CIO and the most common personality type of a CEO or CMO tends to be in how they perceive the world
  • Most CIOs perceive the world through information gained through the five senses, which means they prefer to focus on concrete facts, numbers and data that happen in the present (source)
  • With regards to MBTI Type, the fundamental difference between CIOs and other execs is in their preference for senses—represented by the S in the four letter combination–over intuition—the N
  • It’s a stereotype to say that most CIOs are introverts
  • Many CIOs fall into Myers-Briggs defines as personality type ESTJ            
    • ESTJ - Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organise projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.


Does this differ from the personality type of other people in the IT department?

According to the 11 IT occupations listed in the MBTI Type Tables for Occupations book, the main difference between CIOs and other IT job titles is that for CIOs, the top two most common personality types are ESTJ and ENTJ and for all other IT occupations measured by the MBTI Type Tables for Occupations, the top two personality types are ISTJ and ESTJ.

The 11 IT occupations are:

  • Computer Network Architects or Support Specialists
  • Computer Network or Systems Administrators
  • Computer or Information Research Scientists
  • Computer or IS Managers
  • Computer Programmers
  • Computer Software Developers - Applications
  • Computer Software Developers - Systems
  • Computer Systems Analysts
  • Computer User Support Specialists
  • Database Administrators
  • Information Security Analysts


Has any of this changed over the last five years?

The data CPP Inc. has collected over the past five years does not indicate whether or not there have been any observed changes in the differences between personality types of CIOs vs. personality types in other IT roles over the past five years.


Does CPP see clear correlations between levels of introversion and extroversion and choice of career?

With regards to extroversion and introversion, we do see differences in how people self-select into careers as well as workplace differences and satisfaction at work. For example, as you might expect, much of the time extroverts like working with people and in environments that are stimulating, while introverts find it distracting to have a lot of people and stimulation around. However, both will require the opposite in certain contexts. I’ve attached a quick guide which has more examples of this.

Is there anything else CPP would like to share on the subject?

The most important aspect of learning about personality type is developing self-awareness. People shouldn’t look to MBTI type to define who they are, but rather to learn about their natural tendencies so that they can function better in settings with people who may be of different personality types. This is critical to career, social life and family life. For example, people tend to react differently to stress, depending on their personality type. Knowing this empowers them to gain greater control over themselves in these situations, and cope better. Stress is of course just one example.

IDG Connect researched the topic in a bit more detail to produce a full independent report: Introverts vs. Extroverts: Is There an IT Personality?