Ella Baker: Unsung Hero, Activist, and Executive

We would be nothing without our teachers. Even the greatest leaders in our society had people they looked up to – the mentors who lit the flame in the men and women who would later inspire millions.

Ella Baker was one of those mentors, a person who strove to lift up her community through organization, efficient practices, and strong principles and values. Historians call her one of the most influential women of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. She was a mostly behind-the-scenes organizer, responsible for executing the logistics that came with making a movement successful.

Because she avoided the spotlight, you might not be familiar with her name, but you probably know the name of at least one of her mentees:

The Civil Rights Movement, though progressive, didn’t often heed the voice of young people. Ella Baker made it a point to find young activists and help them carve out a space where they could voice their opinions. In 1960, she arranged a multiday conference for student leaders, who came together to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group that would help organize some of the most iconic events of the movement, including the Freedom Rides of 1961.

Baker never sought to lead the SNCC, however, only to facilitate the conversation. She handled the logistics of running the committee – organizing community events, creating spaces where young activists could express themselves and make decisions, and, of course, teaching others to see the power in themselves.

Personality Analysis

When asked if she ever thought of herself as a leader, Baker said, “My ego wasn’t at stake at any point. I found a greater sense of importance by being a part of those who were growing.”

We at 16Personalities believe that Ella Baker had an Assertive Executive (ESTJ-A) personality type. Let’s take a closer look at her personality traits.

Extraverted (E)

Ella Baker was a woman who thrived on communication and community. She perceived one of her greatest strengths to be talking in a way that made others listen, while at the same time making others feel like they too could be heard.

Baker actively sought external stimuli. She volunteered to organize movements, to be the first point of contact for those looking for an answer. While, of course, Introverted personality types have the ability to do this as well, it’s important to note that Baker not only pursued these opportunities, but she also felt energized by them.

Observant (S)

Baker thought that the only way to achieve progress for civil rights was through organization. For her, organization was paramount. She believed that the resistance was already there and that all it needed was a steady hand to cultivate it. She also believed in empowering as many emerging leaders as possible to do hands-on, grassroots work, rather than placing the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the hands of one charismatic leader.

Thinking (T)

Like most Thinking personality types, Baker was incredibly straightforward and took the most logical, pragmatic route to achieve her goals. She hated bureaucracy and strove for results. When necessary, she didn’t shy away from bullying others into the rank and file.

Judging (J)

Baker did not get stuck in the details. When she had a vision in mind, she executed it. Her vision was different from what another Executive might have had – she never sought leadership roles, for example – but she made sure that the machine she helped build ran smoothly and effectively.

As much as Baker loved to get people together, she always made it a point to take a back seat. As she said, “Being a leader was not part of facilitating a conversation.” In this way, she put her duties and responsibilities ahead of her personal interests, as Judging personalities tend to do.

Assertive (A)

Baker had an impressive sense of confidence and was always known to be self-assured and somewhat imposing. From the time that Baker was a young girl, she argued fiercely against any sexist, classist, or racist remark that came her way. She had no desire to make others feel as though they should please her or that she should please them.

Putting It All Together – A Woman with an Iron Will

Considering all these characteristics, Ella Baker matches what we define as an Executive personality type:

“Executives are representatives of tradition and order, utilizing their understanding of what is right, wrong, and socially acceptable to bring families and communities together. Embracing the values of honesty, dedication, and dignity, people with the Executive personality type are valued for their clear advice and guidance, and they happily lead the way on difficult paths. Taking pride in bringing people together, Executives often take on roles as community organizers, working hard to bring everyone together in celebration of cherished local events, or in defense of the traditional values that hold families and communities together.”

Ella Baker was all of these things. When she was older, she was dubbed Fundi by the civil rights community. “Fundi” is a Swahili word for a person who passes skills from one generation to another, or a leader who leads by building up the community.

Today, we honor Ella Baker as a dynamic activist, as Fundi, as the godmother of young activists fighting for equality, and as an Executive personality type.

Here at 16Personalities, we hold accuracy in high esteem. That said, there’s only so much research we can do on a person. Without being able to interview and assess a living Baker, our label of Assertive Executive can only ever be theoretical.

So, do you have your own theories? Let us know in the comments below!

Further Reading

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr., the Advocate

Malcolm X: Growing Into a Commander

Aretha Franklin: An Icon... and a Defender

Introverted Leaders in History