Is President Obama an Introvert?

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In yesterday’s New York Times op-ed on political leadership styles, David Brooks describes President Obama as a non-hierarchical but passive, thoughtful yet aloof leader:

“I would never have predicted he would be this sort of leader. I thought he would get into trouble via excessive self-confidence. Obama’s actual governing style emphasizes delegation and occasional passivity. Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.

But this is who Obama is, and he’s not going to change, no matter how many liberals plead for him to start acting like Howard Dean.

…If he can overcome his aloofness and work intimately with Republicans, he may be able to avert a catastrophe and establish a model for a more realistic, collegial presidency.”

This portrait of a cerebral, slightly removed person is echoed in Obama’s own book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Early in his marriage to Michelle, Obama writes, he was working on his first book and “would often spend the evening holed up in my office in the back of our railroad apartment; what I considered normal often left Michelle feeling lonely.”

Obama attributes this behavior to the demands of book-writing and to having been raised mostly as an only child, but I wonder if it’s better explained by who he is – an introvert in politics.

What do you think? Is Obama an introvert, an extrovert, or a little of both? And how does his personality work for and against him?

 


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  1. Danielle on 29.06.2011 at 17:27 (Reply)

    Definitely an introvert and he’s fine as he is. The Republicans should learn to pipe down and listen more and some of the latter should do a little research before speaking in front of the cameras.

  2. Derek Walter on 29.06.2011 at 18:46 (Reply)

    I have always wondered that this was the case. I also read about how he did not like campaigning and found it to be a miserable experience - both marks of an introvert. Contrast this to someone like Bill Clinton or George W. Bush who were both gregarious and feasted on the crowds. While I am generally on the opposite side of the political aisle as the President, I do appreciate his approach and more cerebral tendencies.

  3. Anne Elliott on 29.06.2011 at 19:44 (Reply)

    I have wondered this myself, though my immediate next thought was that it was inconceivable that an introvert would want to be President of the United States (seems like way too much time in the spotlight to me). It would explain a lot of the negative media commentary about his personal “style,” which has always sounded fine to me. Not everybody’s a big rabble-rouser!

  4. Denton on 30.06.2011 at 07:11 (Reply)

    Obama is a brilliant top down big picture abstract thinker. He is easily the most intellectual president since Woodrow Wilson. I have never thought of him as being an introvert, but he does seem to have those characteristics. Abstract thinking is inherently an introverted process. Is there such a thing as an extroverted abstract thinker and what would that look like?

    On a political note, Obama has done nothing but reach out to republicans. He has worked harder to accommodate the people who hate him than he has representing the people who put him into office. Each time he reaches out, he receives a swift kick in the face for his efforts. For Brooks to suggest that Obama’s “aloofness” is the barrier to bipartisanship is just ridiculous.

  5. Niel Malan on 30.06.2011 at 09:45 (Reply)

    I think the deliberateness with which Obama mastered his oratory seems to speak of a great degree of introspection.

  6. Renée on 30.06.2011 at 10:13 (Reply)

    I would venture to guess Obama’s an INTJ. Same type as Richard Nixon, BTW. There have been some introverted presidents. Jimmy Carter for example, who many people think is INFJ.

  7. Jim on 30.06.2011 at 16:03 (Reply)

    I doubt he’s a real introvert. As someone else wrote, no introvert, no matter how talented, could conceivably stomach the stuff you’d have to do to get elected. But he seems to have a much greater ability to do solitary thinking and creative work than most politicians. His speechwriting is one example.

  8. Renée on 02.07.2011 at 02:47 (Reply)

    I think Obama is a driven person with a definite political goal and that toward that end he would stomach whatever he had to in order to achieve it. Many introverts develop a stomach for those kinds of things if it suits them. I have known many introverts that go into helping professions like teaching and have to learn to be around large groups all day long, but they do so willingly even though it goes outside their comfort zone. The point is that we all introvert and extrovert all day long and can adapt to being outside our preference to suit our goals and ambitions.

  9. jerry on 27.01.2012 at 20:35 (Reply)

    judging from the comments most of you people seem to think there is something wrong with being introvert lol These people

    Obama, John F Kennedy (declared himself intovert), JFK jr was introvert too, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, George Bush both father & son, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Jefferson, Jaquiline Kennedy, Julia roberts, Steven Spilberg & the list goes on. there is no phychological deficiency in being introvert. most people pretend to be extrovert coz they think most people around them are extroverts, its partly high school stereotype were introverts where painted as loners & extrovert totally dominant heros lol then theres movies where 95% of them display extrovert life you see in movies

    http://briankim.net/blog/2007/10/top-5-things-every-extrovert-should-know-about-introverts/

  10. Infj on 06.02.2012 at 05:51 (Reply)

    Most definitely an introvert, albeit one who has a lot of grit and had to learn to roll with the punches in an extraverted world (probably some of that resilience comes with the territory of being mixed race/non-white too). How many of us introverts haven’t had to cultivate well developed coping mechanisms just to get to where we are now, in the face of everything that school, workplace and society has told us about needing to act like something that we’re not? Introversion is a preference, which typically shows up when we’re more relaxed - just watch Obama when he’s in downtime mode. It’s high time that we reframed the language of introversion/extraversion: Obama’s not “aloof” and “arrogant”, he’s thoughtful and intelligent. Bush, on the other hand, who better fits the extravert ideal litmus test for president being “the kinda guy you wanna have a beer with” was reckless and (while I know a lot of intelligent extraverts), well -let’s just call a spade a spade - stupid.

  11. Keith Streckenbach on 04.09.2012 at 14:33 (Reply)

    PYCO (pycoscores.com) has profiled 181 million adult Americans, including Barak Obama, with its proprietary algorithm.

    We believe the following best describes Barak Obama.

    Dominant Type: ESTJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, Judging)
    - 67% Extrovert
    - Thinker
    - Firm to Plan
    Hidden Type: INFP (Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving)

    Given his psychological profile, we expect to see Barak Obama as one who is practical, organized, structured, decisive, one who sets high standards (based on personal set of beliefs) and will fulfill his duties. Faithful and values tradition, security, stability, and social order.

    Given his psychological profile, we would see Barak Obama’s leadership style as one who:
    - Is a natural leader and comfortable taking charge
    - Respects hierarchy
    - Is quick in decision making and straight-forward
    - Is driven to fulfill duties
    - Is creative and inspirational

    Let’s look at the competitor: Mitt Romney.

    Our algorithm finds Mitt Romney, quite similar to Barak Obama, though two significant differences: Mitt is dominant Feeling and borderline Extrovert, compared to Barak is dominant Thinking and high Extrovert.

    Dominant Type: ESFJ (Extrovert, Sensing, FEELING, Judging)
    - Borderline at 50% Extrovert
    - STRONG FEELING
    - Flexible to Plan
    Hidden Type preference: INFP (Introvert, Intuitive, FEELING, Perceiving)

    Given his psychological profile, we expect to see Mitt Romney as one who is dependable, conscientious, decisive, practical, organized, and committed in fulfilling his obligations. Faithful and strong emphasis on loyalty, authority, family, and tradition.

    Given his psychological profile, we would see Mitt Romney’s leadership style as one who:

    - Is a service-oriented leader
    - Obtains cooperation via relationship building
    - Is future/growth-oriented
    - Follows things through to completion
    - Is creative and inspirational

    What do you think? And we’ve profiled you Susan. As one would expect you scored very high on Introversion and Feeling.

    1. vivian on 11.09.2012 at 07:49 (Reply)

      My money is on Obama being an INFJ (introvert), the rarest personality type in the myers-briggs spectrum and therefore not generally well understood at all. Hallmarks of the INFJ type include an instinct to ‘cut through’ and get to the heart of the matter, and to gently challenge common assumptions and taboos in ways that bring a new lens to matters most people take for granted or seldom question. This is part and parcel of their primary or strongest function being Ni or “introverted intuition.” A classic example of this is Obama’s “race” speech, where he deftly re-frames the conversation about black and white, not by side-stepping the hard questions, but by addressing them head on. (How many political leaders would have the courage let alone moral fibre to talk about “racial anger” in a constructive and compelling way?) Or see any number of passages from Dreams of my Father.

      An earlier post suggested Obama is INTJ. INTJs, whose primary function is also introverted intuition share the same instinct for challenging pre-existing assumptions, but their interest is directed more towards systems (given their secondary function being Te or extroverted thinking), whereas INFJs’ interests are directed more towards human values (extroverted feeling - that’s what the F and J denote). Obama’s fluency with values and comfort in bringing a fresh perspective on issues like race that would stump most people suggests he is an INFJ, not INTJ.

      As for Romney, he strikes me as an extreme extroverted thinker (ESTJ). An extroverted feeler would never have interpreted a question by a British journalist on the eve of the London Olympics about the host state’s preparedness as anything other than an invitation to polite chit chat. The fact Romney took it completely at face value rather than being able to read between the lines suggests a bias towards extroverted thinking (Te) which is more ‘by the book’ whereas extroverted feeling (Fe) is more attuned to broader cues.

      Anyway, just my 2 cents. I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters, simply highly interested in typology. The most illuminating introduction to myers briggs I’ve found is Lenore Thomson’s Personality Type - an owner’s manual, and she does a much better job of explaining things than I could ever hope to.

      1. Stiva on 15.02.2013 at 14:16 (Reply)

        Vivian, what is your response to this submission that he’s an ENTP? Does their points makes sense to your understanding of nuanced typology? Do you think their signification of his behavior, tendencies, styles, stimulus response is fair, rigorous, or sloppy and simplistically generalizing as some practitioners still are seen doing?

        http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2011/01/why-obama-is-entp/

  12. Austin mayer on 23.09.2012 at 09:42 (Reply)

    I met a friend of the president, after showing me thousands of pictures of them together I asked if he was an introvert because I was curious as well. She confirmed my suspicions and then went off to cite all of his introvert like characteristics. He sounds like one chill guy.

  13. vivian on 04.10.2012 at 07:25 (Reply)

    The first presidential debate was a study in contrasting temperaments. Romney the extrovert apparently at ease delivering broad cliches with all the earnestness of one who thinks no-one’s ever heard them before, versus Obama the introvert looking increasingly uncomfortable at the readiness with which his opponent was willing to pull anything out of the bag.

  14. Casey on 28.05.2013 at 10:12 (Reply)

    I think Obama may be an introvert; but, in the process of aspiring to high office and running for such offices, he-like most Americans-views extroversion as the more desirable “Kewl Kids” characteristic. Consequently, it seems like he works hard to suppress his natural introversion; and perhaps sacrifices his values to appear more in command and decisive (thus, more extroverted).

  15. What's Your Couple Style? | Couple on 04.09.2013 at 09:49

    […] make your life fun and exciting - you never know what the other person will say or do next. Author Susan Cain highlights the Obamas as a classic example, noting that Barack is widely assumed to be an introvert while his wife Michelle is an extrovert. […]

  16. vivian on 13.09.2013 at 06:34 (Reply)

    Interesting opinion piece on Obama’s style of leadership, which I think speaks volumes - in terms of both his temperament, as well as how society likes to define ‘leadership': http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/syria-tells-you-everything-you-need-to-know-about-barack-obama/279560/

    What’s illuminating is the suggestion that he’s one to understand a problem from multiple angles, reconsider options and sometimes back-track, at the risk of being seen to ‘waffle’, leading from behind, breaching protocol and generally putting noses out of joint. Obviously, he’s assessed there are bigger long-term stakes than a few broken noses. And the observation about his ‘check-the-box’ approach to cultivating relationships and maintaining image - classic introvert giveaway. Joining the dots, or actually just looking at the smoking gun, I’d say very likely infj.

  17. Ken on 09.11.2014 at 18:20 (Reply)

    Obama is the most introverted President since Richard Nixon or Calvin Coolidge; what this country needs is another “Reaganesque” President.

  18. Emily M2 on 23.03.2015 at 09:40 (Reply)

    I think he’s an introvert who has tremendously strengthened his extroverting skills. I don’t think we’ll know until he leaves office how restrained he’s been and all the good works going on behind the scenes. I love watching him smirk and give that charming smile while God knows what all is going on in his smart, very active brain…while he says nothing. He could verbally strip people to shreds with ease, in my opinion. I think he’ll go down as a great president willing to not worry about the short-term or what others say. Stay the course for the long-term plans.

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