An Interview with Dr. Roger P. Pearman

One of the perks of this job is being able to interview fascinating individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Type® community. At the end of January, I had the privilege of chatting with Roger Pearman, Ed.D., lead author of You and founder of Leadership Performance Systems and, Inc. located in Winston-Salem, NC. Here are excerpts from the interview with Dr. Pearman.

John Drozdal, Ed.D.
Products Editor

JD: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Let’s start with a little about your background. Where did you grow up?

RP: I was raised in and around Greensboro, North Carolina. Part of my childhood was in living with family in different farms in North Carolina. I lived in a multi-generational home—three great-grandparents, my mother’s parents, and of course, my mother. My mother and father eloped at 15 and were divorced by age 18. Because my mother was so young when I was born (16), I got to know my great-grandparents very well before they died and have come to appreciate the lessons they taught. My Irish grandfather and Scottish grandmother spoke with the accents and twists of phrase of their home country as both came to the US when they were in their early teens. My maternal grandfather took a job at Cone Mills—once the only denim maker in the United States—so he could support his large extended family.

JD: Where did you get your education?

RP: My schooling was pretty typical until the desegregation court orders of the 1960s landed me in the once all black high school. I was one of a few hundred white students in a high school with 1300. This is quite a story unto itself that I hope to tell someday. I certainly learned the power of difference and the richness of diversity from those days. I landed a series of scholarships that took me to Wake Forest University where I completed a BA and MA. My master’s degree is in counseling psychology. Later, I completed doctoral work at UNC-Greensboro.

JD: Where you grew up and the experiences you had in high school seem very impactful for you. What contribution did college and graduate school have on shaping you?

RP: Wake Forest is a liberal arts institution, and at the time I was enrolled as an undergraduate, you had to have a year of history, philosophy, math, biology or chemistry, literary studies, social science, and master a foreign language—and then focus on a major. I mention this only because it has proven to enrich every day of my life. I hardly go through a day without reading a poem, a critical piece on some world issue, or asking endless questions—a love of which started in those undergraduate days. My doctoral studies provided an opportunity to do a deep dive into the subject I found most interesting—the psychological elements of leadership.

JD: It seems that there is less an emphasis on liberal studies today. What impact do you think that has had?

RP: I think it is unfortunate that curricula have changed. I gave a series of lectures to an MBA class and made reference to the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Seventh Book of The Republic. When the students had no idea what I was saying, I said something like ‘well certainly in your philosophy classes you read the Platonic Dialogues or excerpts from The Republic’, a young woman, said philosophy is no longer required. I think it is no accident that there is a loss of critical thinking in many sectors today.

JD: How did you first come into contact with personality type theory?

RP: Wake Forest required all entering students to complete a variety of assessments as part of college orientation. We were assigned a college-career group to interpret these assessments in my freshman year, which is when I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (Form F).

JD: How did it impress you?

RP: The emotional energy unleashed by reading Myers’ description of my type (INFP) seared a path in my mind. For the first time I read something that clearly expressed how my head works and how I approach the world and life experience. The awareness that others had similar thoughts and feelings was freeing and empowering. I immediately had to read everything Jungian. In fact, I paid so much attention to reading Jung and diving into the archetypes that I ignored other studies, nearly getting me into academic trouble.

In my first job after my graduate studies, I met Mary McCaulley at the college where I was a college counselor. She was doing a “Level 1 and Level 2 MBTI” workshop. She and I became instant friends and communicated regularly until her death. She and I always had a meal together at conferences to discuss research and at her encouragement I set on out an ambitious research agenda. I suspect your readers know that I was able to do an analysis of the database at the Center for Creative Leadership in which I was able to analyze the differences among the types using 90 independent variables. This work won the Myers’ Research Award and landed me on the MBTI Research Review Board that also led to participation in the 1994 revision of the tool. Because of the size of the analysis in my research, I was only able to tell a small part of this story. I plan to summarize all of the findings—some 300 pages of statistical data points that need additional explanation. My commitment and passion for type translated itself into being President of APTi and a qualifying trainer for the MBTI® assessment.

JD: How did Type® influence your work?

RP: I initially was passionate about psychological type as a way to affirm, facilitate working with, and embrace differences. As the MBTI® became commercialized, I saw a shift from type as a personal model for insight and personal effectiveness to a commoditized tool for social engineering and personal justifications. One simple piece of evidence for this shift is reflected in the decision to remove all of the qualifying programs provided by long time users and ask an organization focused on corporate training to train future users. It is true that CAPT continues to train; however, it is a prescribed program that the management training organization can also deliver. I wanted to write YOU: Being More Effective in Your MBTI® Type as a response to this movement away from type as a personal psychology and as a way to put my insights and research into something useful.

JD: There’s a lot of buzz about your book, YOU. It interests us because it’s all about application. How and when did you get the idea to do the book?

RP: The former Director of Research at the Center for Creative Leadership, Mike Lombardo, knew of my research with the CCL database and one day he and I discussed putting together his insights with my work. It took us a year to pull together all of the data and to write the materials. Our goal was to identify the key trends and developmental tips for each of the types. I told Mike that I was not interested in another “description” of the types; I wanted to answer the “so what” question—how do I use this information about myself in productive ways. Mike and his business partner Bob Eichinger agreed with that vision so we got to work.

JD: How did you do the research?

RP: My research with the CCL database was based on a random sampling of 150 of each of the sixteen types and did a variety of analyses with other psychological tools (like the CPI 443) and multi-rate instruments. That analysis was so comprehensive that it has served as a touchstone on all of my work since; I was able to bring more of it to YOU. Mike and Bob have 7600 learning tips from their research on development and performance that were able to correlated with the types.

JD: YOU is very comprehensive. What’s the best way to use it?

RP: I have prepared a guide on how to use YOU in coaching, teams, and leadership development:

Using YOU: Being More Effective in Your MBTI® Type
in Coaching, Teams, and Leadership Development

JD: How have you used personality type through the years in your business and in the other areas of your life?

RP: There isn’t enough ink to answer this question. Type has been a friend for 40 years. By this I mean that working with my own type, I have learned about my own deep self; I have learned about working with others; I have used type in raising my kids—embracing their difference without judgment; I have used type to enrich relationships and to understand my boundaries. Whether an assessment is part of the engagement or not, I use type thinking as a way to organize my thoughts and reactions. For example, I ponder if I have given enough data (S), generated useful possibilities (N), laid out a logical order (T), and tapped into the highest values and principles in a given setting (F). When I attend team meetings, I listen for the voice that is not present and ask questions to expose the absence of useful information. For example, if a team is made up of STs, I challenge them with SF, NF, and NT kinds of questions. When coaching individuals, even if the individual doesn’t want to take type or personality assessment, type patterns emerge in such a way that I am able to use the framework without explicit reliance on a tool or set of scores. For me, type fits into the schema of dispositional influences on behavior. There are situational, historical, and developmental influences at work as well and I try to keep those in my mind while working with an individual or a group.

JD: Do you have any observations about the community of people who are passionate about type? How can we get better?

RP: When I joined APT in 1981, became a regional president in 1985, and president in 1989, I watched type grow from a small group of passionate users to a highly commercialized group of devotees. To be sure there are some academics, many practitioners, and a smattering of serious researchers. In the early days, meetings at APTi were filled with type talk, type hypothesizing, and questions. Hardly anyone worried that someone else would use their idea—in fact, it was encouraged in the spirit of spreading wisdom. Today, just about every document at meetings indicates, and most presenters make a point of noting that their copyrighted material can be purchased from a particular source. This is not an atypical development with other products and is certainly parallel to what we see in general in a post-modernist, highly commercial Western culture.

JD: So you have observed a shift?

RP: In a sense, the early days were about “perceiving” the value of type and now it is about “judging” how to use it. I feel that Isabel Myers gave us a lens we have lost—she researched extensively before she told. If you look at the language of her 1962 Introduction to Type and compared it to the recent edition, you would hardly recognize the tone, messaging, and spirit of one with the other. Her language was one of possibility and inquiry. The current material is largely declarative and final. The term I use for it is concretized language. I believe that this is the reason that Gordon Lawrence reverted to the 1962 descriptions of the types in the appendix of his revised People, Types and Tiger Stripes. We can get better in my view by working to become more inquiring, more open to exploration, and a willingness to “follow” discovery than the apparent assumption that many have that the evidence is in and argument over. If we could get rid of the money issues (ridiculously idealistic, I know), type might get through its middle age and into a robust generativity of a mature perspective.

JD: As you look at the world of personality type theory today, what do you think is the next frontier?

RP: From the beginning of my professional use, I felt that type needed to be understood in the context of the whole person, which may be a bias from my counseling psychology training. I feel that type theory is still poorly understood and in need of repositioning for greater clarity. I suspect it can’t be helped that the vast majority of users talk about type as though the preferences were both the story and somehow independent of each other. So many popular books list a type as follows: E,S,T,J or in the description, the writers describe E then S, T, and J qualities. There is a great deal of work to be done to move the conversation from preferences to the richness of dynamics and to link to a fuller psychological perspective. While the discussion about the “eight functions” (or is it four functions in two attitudes?) is popular and helpful in many ways, it seems to have taken a detour. I would propose that Thinking that is Extraverted varies greatly by psychological type. For example, when an ESTJ uses this, it looks different than when an INFP uses it. If you read the published materials, Thinking that is Extraverted seems to be all the same. Any deconstruction of the model robs it of its synergy and power. If we could somehow create an awareness of the theory as interdependent with a broader understanding of psychological principles (e.g. attention, perception, attributions, etc) it would be a great contribution.

JD: What’s next for Dr. Pearman?

RP: My forthcoming work, and probably my most lasting contribution, will be to look at type as a developmental schema and what to do about a continuum of development from poorly integrated to highly integrated type.

JD: Thank you Roger for your great insights.

RP: You are most welcome. I appreciate what the World Type Alliance is trying to do.

Additional Resources

Margaret McIntyre’s review of YOU: Being More Effective in Your MBTI® Type

View Roger Pearman’s Application Tips Guidebook:

Using YOU: Being More Effective in Your MBTI® Type
in Coaching, Teams, and Leadership Development