Unlikely Leaders: Mediators (INFPs) at the Visionary Helm

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY

No personality type owns leadership exclusively. If anyone says specific types make better leaders than others because they line up with traditional descriptions of leaders, they are assuming that traditional leaders are the only successful leaders. We beg to differ.

Sensitive Dreamers

Mediators (INFPs), on paper, seem to have little going for them as far as being a leader is concerned. Individuals with this personality type are extremely sensitive. Mediators find it difficult to confront other people and are likely to be much harder on themselves than anyone else. They are often unassuming, to the point that they may be overlooked in a large group and can be hard to get to know. They are dreamers who may not notice when they are leaving practical matters unaddressed.

A female Mediator (INFP) personality type with a dreamy look on her face.

How is such a sensitive dreamer like this able to take the helm and steer a group of people in a productive direction?

Our research shows that Mediator personalities are likely to ask the same question of themselves. They tell us in multiple surveys (like this one) that they believe they share little in common with leadership. For example, in response to the research statement, “You are inclined to seek out leadership or management roles,” only 39% of Mediators agreed, compared to 63% of all respondents.

So, with all this in mind, what are some qualities that Mediator personality types might show, should they be thrust into a leadership position?

Democratic, Laissez-Faire, or Authoritarian?

Kurt Lewin, considered by many to be the father of social psychology, developed a now-classic model to describe leadership styles in three ways: democratic, laissez-faire, and authoritarian. An authoritarian style is a “because I said so” style. The leader is without a doubt in charge and expects their team to respond accordingly. Think military leadership. We can scratch this one off if we’re looking to categorize Mediators’ management style.

A democratic leader looks for input and consensus from the people who work for them or, in this case, with them. Mediator personalities typically hold egalitarian views. They’re likely to believe that leadership belongs to everybody on their team. Decision-making is shared. So this category might work for Mediators.

A laissez-faire leader allows total freedom. “This is the outcome I expect to see. Now, go for it. I’ll be here if you need me.” These leaders give few orders, if any, and they avoid defining expectations too concisely. This leadership style puts a lot of trust in the other members of the team and sounds like something Mediators could be at home with. It’s not hard to imagine someone with this personality type presuming the goodwill of the people they lead and thinking that leaving them to their own devices will produce results.

Most Mediators are probably comfortable adopting either the democratic or the laissez-faire leadership style. Much would depend on the mission they’re leading. Say, for example, they are leading an art collective. They might step into the role with a light emphasis on organization and a heavy emphasis on individual inspiration and creativity. However, if they are leading a charity where more concrete results are needed, their style may lean more democratic, to make sure that everyone is aware of the group’s direction and remains on the same page without a top-down approach.

Remember, most leaders are not locked 100% into any leadership style. They are fluid and will adopt the style that works best for them in various situations. Mediators are no different, although it would be rare to see these personalities show authoritarian tendencies as leaders.

Do you want to know more about your style of leadership? We invite you to take our Leadership Styles and Leadership Styles II tests to fine-tune your understanding of your personality and to explore your preferred approach to leadership.

Mediators’ Leadership Style

So, what do Mediators have going for them as leaders? Some things that help Mediators succeed as leaders also present a double-edged sword that could work against them.

What Works for Mediator Leaders

Their Motivation

What motivates Mediators? Think about it. With their less-than-enthusiastic view of leadership, these personalities likely need significant inspiration before they’ll intentionally take the plunge into the role. Their reasons may even have idealistic overtones. In other words, Mediators are likely to regard leadership as a sort of passion project or an extension of one.

The thing that motivates Mediators as leaders is more likely than not a sense of commitment to something that they embrace strongly. They tend to be motivated by passion more than “practical” reasons like a paycheck or resume-filling.

Their Motivators

A male Mediator (INFP) personality type with his arm outstretched.

What tactics do Mediators use to motivate others? While methods of motivation can be fluid and dependent upon circumstances, the method that Mediators are most comfortable with is inspiration. They want those they’re leading to come along voluntarily. Mediator leaders want the task to be as important to other people as it is to them. The deep dedication that they hope for won’t come by forceful tactics. (This is called “transformational leadership,” and it can be very powerful.)

Many leaders inspire by using their charisma, and Mediators can be very charismatic. A person’s shyness and humility can be quite charming. But Mediator personalities don’t rely on charm. Instead, they inspire with their kindness and sincerity. How can anyone say no to that combination?

Interpersonal Style

Mediators relate to people they work with by approaching them in a warm and supportive manner. It doesn’t matter where their coworkers fall on the official hierarchy. Mediators’ responses are the same.

A yearly job review may seem more like a counseling session. A Mediator leader may pay as much attention to the satisfaction of the employee as to their yearly performance. One can imagine an employee feeling like they’ve been heard by “the boss,” and such a caring tone can elicit increased loyalty and effort. However, Mediator leaders may need to guard against the manipulations of those who treat kindness as weakness.

Areas That May Need Attention

Organization

Mediator personality types aren’t necessarily disorganized in a globally negligent way. Instead, they may find themselves focused on broader things to the exclusion of some details. They are capable of organizing and planning strategically, but they may find it too easy to slip into more visionary thinking that pushes specific steps and actions off their radar.

Mediators may want to set up a system that keeps a plan, complete with action steps, in front of them at all times. It may also help if they have the luxury of an assistant or a project manager to help with organizing and ensuring that plans are executed in a timely fashion.

Attention to Outcomes over Processes

On the other hand, Mediator personality types can become so invested in things like employee morale and cooperation that they might push the bottom line or other results into a secondary position, behind all the process considerations.

Without their eye on the main goal, Mediators can get off track. One can’t hit a target if one’s attention is not firmly on the bullseye. Happy employees are great to have around, but they don’t really make sense if their happiness comes at the expense of the reason they were enlisted in the first place. Results matter.

Not Being Assertive Enough

Because of their sensitive natures, Mediator leaders may view conflicts and negative feedback as aggressive acts. Shifting their mindset from seeing these things as hostile to seeing them as an opportunity for growth can be of immense value to these leaders. Disagreements and criticism inevitably happen in most organizations, and removing the aura of hostility from these encounters can transform them from something to avoid into something that leads to a thriving group.

There may be times when Mediator leaders need to discipline or confront someone on their team. If Mediators see this act as a hostile act, they might avoid it for as long as possible. When these personalities finally brace themselves for the encounter, they may come across as too tentative or timid. If they learn to approach it assertively, the sense of hostility will likely disappear. In its place, there is more likely to be an opportunity for a free and respectful exchange.

Mediator, Go Forth and Lead

If you’re a Mediator, know that compassionate and passionate leaders are something the world needs more of. While, in truth, some people may abuse your kindness, there are likely many more who are hungry for it. Your reclusive and gentle ways do not disqualify you if you feel a call to lead. Go forth and lead.

If you’re someone who follows such a leader, consider yourself lucky.

And don’t forget to take the specialized leadership tests in our Career Tools & Assessments. This is your opportunity to go deeper.

Further Reading

If you’d like to explore more about Mediators and leadership, here are some suggestions:

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