Spring 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB1

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Personality Types and Rural Leadership


Leverne A. Barrett
Associate Professor of Agricultural Education
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James T. Horner
Professor of Adult Education, Extension Specialist and Agricultural Education
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Many Extension staff are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from staff development opportunities. We administered the Myers-Briggs by mail to 570 rural leaders to determine their psychological profile. Here's the sample:

  • 16% established rural leaders (agricultural organizations and community groups).
  • 26% Nebraska Ag Leadership (LEAD) Fellows, ages 25-40.
  • 16% Young Farmer/Rancher Education Association and 4-H/FFA teen leaders and state officers.
  • 17% Extension agents.
  • 25% current and former vocational agricultural teachers.

The results can be described in terms of the four classic Kiersian Temperament types:

  1. Sensing-Judging (SJ): The SJ leader may be called traditionalist, stabilizer, or consolidator. They value caution, carefulness, and accuracy.
  2. Intuitive-Thinking (NT): The NT leader can be characterized as a visionary, an architect of systems, and a builder. They value competence, intelligence, and complexity.
  3. Sensing-Perceiving (SP): The SP leader can be the trouble shooter, negotiator, or firefighter. They value flexibility, action, and taking risks.
  4. Intuitive-Feeling (NF): Strengths of the NF leader are being a spokesperson and energizer. They value harmony and self-determination.

Statistically, when comparing this sample to a data bank sample of 39,036 males from the Center for Application of Psychological Type,1 there were more SJ (61% for our sample vs 38% for the center sample) and fewer NT (18% vs 27%). SP was 13% vs 17% and NF was 8% vs 18%.

We analyzed the various ag leadership groups to examine differences. The Extension agent/vo-ag teacher sample was quite similar to the total group. LEAD fellows and young farmer officers were almost identical to the professional and established leaders. Although not statistically greater, they did have a higher percentage of the intuitive thinking (NT) temperament than the other groups (22%).

The most significant differences were found in the 4-H/FFA leadership group. The intuitive feeling (NF) temperament had a significantly greater number than was present in the total ag leadership group (29% 4-H/FFA; 8% total sample). The SJ temperament was significantly less: 44% vs 61%.

The distribution of Extension agents and vo-ag teachers shouldn't be surprising since the sensing- judging (SJ) temperament is heavily represented in the general population, and especially in rural areas.2 They like to be of service to others and thus would find the calling of agricultural educator to their liking. They're good at putting ideas of others into practice, but paradoxically, they may resist change. This could be a serious problem, especially for Extension agents whose main mission is to be the link between the university and the community for change.

The LEAD and young farmer leaders have several differences in personality type. They have less concern for organization and "duty" than the other groups and they're more future-oriented. The intuitive thinkers in this group may be the leaders of tomorrow who can visualize a new agriculture and create changes soon enough to make a difference. Because of their ability to be more future-oriented, they, as leaders, are less apt to get "blind-sided" by unforseen events.

The 4-H/FFA youth leader group provides some insights into what may be a serious problem. This group, with a high percentage of the intuitive feeling (NF) temperament, has the most native skill in working with people and tends to be change agents. This may be one reason why they're either selected or elected to an office.

A problem, these data indicate, is that few of these NF leaders become agricultural leaders later in life. The youth that were identified as having much leadership potential may leave agriculture. This study raises an interesting question: Why don't the NF types stay in ag leadership? One possibility is that they don't see the diversity of agricultural opportunities, or they perceive that agriculture won't use their people skills.

Understanding the psychological type profile of rural leaders can help Extension at all levels to understand and be able to select future planning and educational strategies that will be most effective for all types of people.


1. Mary McCaulley and I. Myers, Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychological Press, 1985).

2. Leverne Barrett, R. Sorensen, and T. Hartung, "A Four-Year Study of the Personality Types of Agricultural College Students by Major-Implications for Teaching, Retention, Recruitment," NACTA Journal, XXXI (December 1987); James Crumly, A Financial Analysis of Farm Records by Personality Type (Master's thesis, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1987); and James Horner and L. Barrett, "Personality Types of 500 Farm Couples-Implications for Agriculture Educators During Critical Economic Conditions" (Paper presented at the 13th Annual National Agricultural Education Research Meeting, Dallas, Texas, 1986).