The Supervisor, the Champion, and the Promoter
What psychological personality tests reveal about Clinton, Obama, and McCain.
Emily Yoffe was online on Feb. 21 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
The ESTJ can, to her detriment, says Keirsey, see the world as inhabited by good people and bad people. Think of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" or how Hillary touts her "battle scars." In TheNew Yorker, a former friend said of her, "Hillary needs enemies."
Kroeger writes that ESTJs "do not cope well when things don't go as planned." They have a "short fuse when anything suggests they are losing control. The ESTJ can become loud, rigid, domineering, and can induce a great deal of stress within anyone nearby." If Truman was "Give 'Em Hell Harry," then the current ESTJ seeking the highest office could end up nicknamed "Go to Hell Hillary."
Barack Obama—no one will be surprised to learn—is an Idealist. His specific type is an ENFP, what Keirsey calls "the Champion." ENFPs, says Keirsey, are "filled with conviction that they can easily motivate those around them." Champions work to "kindle, to rouse, to encourage, even to inspire those close to them with their enthusiasm." Idealists "usually have a tongue of silver" and are "gifted in seeing the possibilities" of institutions and people. Here's Obama on leadership: "[W]e need leaders to inspire us. Some are thinking about our constraints, and others are thinking about limitless possibility."
This ability to move people through imagery and rhetoric carries a danger for the ENFP, says Keirsey—a belief in "word magic." "Word magic refers to the ancient idea that words have the ability to make things happen—saying makes it so." This is the basis of the critique of Obama by his less-soaring opponents. Hillary complains that people ask her to "give us one of those great rhetorical flourishes and then, you know, get everybody all whooped up." (As if she could.) Says John McCain, "To encourage a country with only rhetoric is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude."
Keirsey says Idealist leaders should be called catalysts because "[t]he individual who encounters such a leader is likely to be motivated, animated, even inspired to do his or her very best work." The New Yorker's Packer writes, "Obama offers himself as a catalyst by which disenchanted Americans can overcome two decades of vicious partisanship. …"
Idealists are deeply introspective. According to Keirsey, their "self-confidence rests on their authenticity," which makes them "highly aware of themselves as objects of moral scrutiny." Idealists, such as Thomas Paine, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., tend to be leaders of movements, not office-holders. If Obama is elected, not only would he be the first black president, but according to Keirsey, he'd be the first Idealist president. (Kroeger speculates that Lincoln may have been an Idealist.) Idealists are rare in any executive position. In a survey Kroeger did of the personality types who make it to top management, less than 1 percent were ENFPs—while almost 30 percent were Hillary's type, the ESTJ. But the 16 types are not evenly distributed in the population and ENFPs themselves are rare—Keirsey estimates only about 2 percent of people are ENFPs. Kroeger says the ENFP can be an effective boss. "At their best they bring a refreshing alternative style to top management and decision making."
Keirsey says that the Idealist is the unusual leader who is "comfortable working in a climate where everyone has a vote." In a Vanity Fair profile, Todd Purdum quotes a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's describing his collaborative style as editor of the Law Review. Obama was "someone who wanted the group decisions to reflect the group's intent, not Barack's intent." (This classmate added, "I actually would have been happier for him to say sometimes, 'This is how we're doing this, and shut up!' ") Wanting inclusiveness has been a hallmark of Obama's career and his campaign. Purdum noted that in the Illinois Legislature, "Obama made friendships across the aisle" and used his people skills to get some difficult legislation passed. In a speech, Obama described this ability: "If you start off with an agreeable manner, you might be able to … recruit some independents into the fold, recruit even some Republicans into the fold."
As leaders, Keirsey says, the Idealists possess a "diplomatic intelligence." They "seek common ground," want to "forge unity," arrive at "universal truths," and are "trusting." Given these qualities, it should be no surprise that Obama says that as president, he would quickly sit down with our enemies. He told Paris Match, "I want to have direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria because I don't believe we can stabilize the region unless not just our friends but also our enemies are involved in these discussions."
Plans such as this have resulted in Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and others accusing the possible next commander in chief of naiveté. Keirsey says the Idealist has to be careful not to make errors in judgment by projecting "their own attributes onto others." Because they tend to have a positive outlook, they can be "surprised when people or events do not turn out as anticipated."
The ENFP can have a problem with "restlessness," says Kroeger. "As a task or responsibility drags on and its mantle becomes increasingly routine, the ENFP can become more pensive, moody, and even rigid." Obama himself referred in a debate to his disorganization and dislike of paperwork—and his self-knowledge that "I need to have good people in place who can make sure that systems run." But as Purdum writes, it is Obama's "restlessness" that prompted him "to take a chance, to aim higher—when others told him to wait his turn."
John McCain is an Artisan, and his specific type is an ESTP, what Keirsey calls the Promoter. The ESTP is, according to Keirsey, "practical, optimistic, cynical, and focused on the here and now." If the ESTP portrait gives you a feeling of déjà vu, it's because George W. Bush is an ESTP, too. They are a common presidential type: Both Roosevelts, JFK, and LBJ were ESTPs. "Artisans need to be potent, to be felt as a strong presence and they want to affect the course of events," writes Keirsey. They hunger to "have a piece of the action," "to make something happen" whether "on the battlefield" or "in the political arena." So many politicians are Artisans because "politics allows not only for maneuvering, excitement, and risk—but for powerful social impact."