By Dr. A.J. Drenth
“ESTJ” is one of sixteen personality types. While some estimates suggest ESTJs comprise upwards of 8% of the general population, my research and experience suggests them as less common than both ESTPs and ISTJs.
ESTJs are dutiful, hardworking, and task-oriented. Often possessing “Type-A” tendencies, they can become impatient and frustrated when things fail to unfold according to their expected plan or time frame. In the presence of ESTJs, one can sometimes feel like he is being hurried or rushed, that the ESTJ wants him to “cut to the chase.”
ESTJs are also firm, direct, and opinionated. Their verbiage tends to be succinct and to the point. At times, others may view them as harsh, blunt, or insensitive. Despite appearing outwardly confident and assertive, they are, on the whole, no more inwardly secure nor sure of themselves than other types. In fact, because their inner Judging function (Fi) is inferior, they may feel they have relatively little inner control. Finding inner control elusive, they naturally turn their focus outwardly, hoping that achieving outer control will bring them inner calm and security. Of course, controlling the outside world is no small or easy task, contributing to ESTJs’ propensity for restlessness and hypervigilance.
Among the most “left-brained” of all the types, ESTJs typically present as relatively serious folks. Unlike the ENTJ, whose auxiliary Ni can go a long way in providing fun and entertainment for all, ESTJs’ Si may offer little in terms of lightness or humor. Those with a more salient sense of humor generally turn to their tertiary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne), for witty or clever remarks.
Like their ISTJ counterparts, ESTJs tend to keep one eye on the past (Si). They aim to protect and preserve past methods, traditions, and conventions. This is why David Keirsey classifies them as “guardians.” They grow attached to the familiar and expected, often developing a reliable set of habits and routines. As such, ESTJs like to know what to expect, to “know the plan.” Unlike EPs, who are stimulated by novelty and uncertainty, ESTJs can find uncertainty or ambiguity unsettling.
Like ENTJs, ESTJs often rise to positions of leadership. The primary difference, in this respect, is that ENTJs tend to be visionary leaders, which often carries them to the very top of the leadership ladder. ENTJs also prefer to make and modify their own rules. ESTJs by contrast, are not only willing to give orders, but are generally okay with working under pre-established rules, guidelines, and procedures. Consequently, they often serve as middle-level managers and supervisors.
While ESTJs differ from ESTPs by only one “preference” (i.e., J-P), they actually share zero functions in common. This makes these two types far more different than is commonly recognized. ESTJs, whose Extraverted Judging function is dominant Thinking (Te), tend to be more blunt and less apologetic in their assertions than the ESTP, whose Extraverted Judging function is tertiary Feeling (Fe). ESTPs display a certain social ease and smoothness that is distinguishable from the blunt approach of ESTJs.
All in all, ESTJs are among the most loyal, dutiful, and responsible of all types. Like the ESFJ, they are admired for their work ethic, perseverance, devotion, and steadfastness. They strive to practice what they preach, holding fast to their commitments and convictions. They make loyal friends and companions, especially for those who embrace a similar worldview and lifestyle.
ESTJ Personality Development & “Functional Stack”
Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise a type’s “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior. ESTJs’ first preference is Te, followed by Si, Ne and Fi respectively. This is depicted in the arrangement of their functional stack:
ESTJs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived as consisting of three phases:
Phase I (Youth-20s)
This phase is characterized by the development and employment of ESTJs’ dominant function, Extraverted Thinking (Te). In developing and strengthening their Te, Phase I ESTJs can seem particularly inflexible and opinionated, quick to make judgments and draw conclusions about the world. Since Te is a Judging function, they also tend to take themselves and their lives rather seriously. While often perceived as outspoken or opinionated, Phase I ESTJs are developing the Te skills necessary to function as leaders and managers.
Phase II (20s-30s)
While the inferior function is not entirely dormant or inert in Phase I, the epic tug-of-war between the dominant and inferior does not come to the fore until Phase II. Once ESTJs’ dominant Te reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, their inferior function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), begins to assert itself and play a more prominent role. This can be somewhat confusing since Fi is not next in line in ESTJs’ functional stack, but can be understood as deriving from its bipolar relationship with their dominant Te.
Phase II ESTJs also show increasing use and development of their auxiliary function, Introverted Sensing (Si), and may even begin to tap into their tertiary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne). These Perceiving functions allow ESTJs to open and modify their Te judgments. They help them loosen their grip on life, tempering their Te drive for outer order and control.
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, ESTJs become increasingly aware of the insidious ways of their inferior Fi. As they become more aware of their inferior and learn to function more healthily as ESTJs, they experience greater balance between their Te and Fi, as well as an increasing sense of peace and wholeness.
ESTJs’ Dominant Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
There are two varieties of Thinking: Introverted Thinking (Ti) and Extraverted Thinking (Te). The latter serves as ESTJs’ dominant and most preferred function.
Te strives to bring order, control, and rationality to the systems and operations of the outside world. It is oriented toward quantification, insisting on objective standards and measurable goals. It carefully spells out how to get from here to there, using as many maps, directions, and labels as appropriate.
Te undergirds ESTJs’ tendency to quickly express their judgments and opinion, to literally think (i.e., make judgments, conclusions, and decisions) aloud. ESTJs Judge before they Perceive, speak before they listen. This can be both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, it can make them strong and courageous leaders. On the other, it can cause them to seem abrasive, dogmatic, or controlling.
Having a dominant Te can also make ESTJs prone to overstating things. They may say things that, in retrospect, they wish they could rescind, or at least soften. This is especially true for ESTJs with a hypersensitive inferior function (Fi), which can lead them to respond defensively or reactively.
As a Judging function, Te also contributes to ESTJs’ work-orientation. Like other types with a dominant Judging function, they are generally more serious and focused than relaxed or receptive. Even on days when they have no obligations, they are quick to get to work on something. Even in their leisure time, they can experience a sense of urgency or hurriedness in getting things done.
ESTJs’ Auxiliary Function: Introverted Sensing (Si)
ESTJs use Introverted Sensing (Si) as their auxiliary function. Unlike Extraverted Sensing types (SPs), ESTJs are less concerned with seeking novel sensory stimulation or acquiring new material goods. Instead, their Si prefers a more routine and predictable lifestyle. When combined with Te, Si also contributes to a sense of conviction about their beliefs and lifestyle, which is why ESTJs are sometimes perceived as stubborn or closed-minded.
Like other SJ types, ESTJs function as conservators of the past. The more often they do something in a particular way, the harder it is for them to break out of that pattern. The same can be said of their beliefs and worldview. As adults, they often continue in the beliefs and worldview of their youth, including matters of politics and religion. The longer they are immersed in particular set of circumstances, the harder it is for them to be open to alternatives.
ESTJs’ Tertiary Function: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Ne is a novelty-seeking function. Ne differs from Se, however, in that it is geared toward ideas rather than the material or sensory world. Ne types are more concerned with being creative, making connections, developing new theories, or seeing new possibilities than they are with sensory or material novelty.
Since Ne is in the lower half of ESTJs’ functional stack, they often have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, it may inspire them to view themselves as witty, clever, creative, or savvy. This can be seen, for instance, in their desire to conjure clever comments or generate creative options or possibilities. They may also draw on their Ne for the sake of creative business or entrepreneurial enterprises.
What ESTJs may dislike about their Ne is its tendency to inject uncertainty into their beliefs and worldview. After all, ESTJs seek a clear and unambiguous worldview to base their lives on. And since abstract analysis is not necessarily their strong suit, ideas that contradict their Si worldview can be unsettling. In response, they may try to close off their Ne to various sources or ideas that they perceive as potential threats to their belief system.
ESTJs’ Inferior Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
As is true of other types, ESTJs can be blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. Without sufficient awareness and integration of their inferior, they will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their lifestyle, careers, and relationships. Consequently, ESTJs seeking self-knowledge and personal growth must work to understand the ways their inferior function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), manifests in their personality.
As an introverted function, Fi involves an inner focus on personal feelings and values. Of all types, IFPs are literally the most “self-focused” (in a neutral sense) with respect to their concern for independently exploring and managing their values and emotions. ESTJs, by contrast, whose Fi is inferior and largely unconscious, do not enjoy ready access to their own emotions. As for ITPs, emotions, for ESTJs, are slippery and elusive, often taking an all-or-nothing character.
For IFPs, Fi also confers a strong sense of inner control. However, because Fi is inferior in ESTJs, they do not enjoy the same luxury of inner control. To compensate, they spend much of their time vigorously working to control the outside world. They instinctively sense that the only way they can feel in control of themselves is by taking control of their surroundings. This is precisely the opposite of the IFP approach. IFPs feel relatively powerless in their ability to control the outside world (Te) and respond by focusing on the one thing they feel they can control—themselves (Fi).
With that said, it would be wrong to assume that ESTJs’ Fi is powerless or lacking in influence. While they may feel they have little conscious control of their Fi, it can still exert its influence through less conscious means. As I have written elsewhere, the inferior function can play a prominent role in informing, motivating, and orienting the dominant function, influencing its goals, interests, and values.
For ESTJs, their choice of work is often informed and motivated by the less conscious feelings and values of their Fi. This may lead them to take up work that deviates from what one might imagine for an ESTJ. They may, for instance, be driven by their Fi to take up work in ministry. While ESTJs are not innately gifted in matters of N or F (ministry might be roughly construed as an NF career), their move toward psychological wholeness does entail a reconciliation of their Fi and Ne functions. So while I am not suggesting that ESTJs are well-suited to function as ministers, we can at least understand why they might feel compelled to do so.
Fi might also inspire ESTJs to take up causes that have personally affected them. For instance, an ESTJ whose parent died of a rare disease may decide to become a physician or medical researcher.
Another example of Fi influence would be an ESTJ who opts to function as a stay-at-home parent. IFPs seem to have a particular empathy and concern for children, often finding great fulfillment in having and caring for children. Since ESTJs have Fi in their stack, they may have similar proclivities, even if far less conscious. Therefore, ESTJs may experience a sort of “high” from having or caring for children, even if doing so ultimately proves taxing or unsatisfying.
Personal Growth for ESTJs
As I have written elsewhere, we prepare the grounds for personal growth and personality type development by functioning authentically according to our personality type. This includes considering whether our circumstances (i.e., work, relationships, and lifestyle) allow for regular use of our dominant and auxiliary functions. In this case of ESTJs, this would involve regularly employing their Te and Si.
It is also important for ESTJs to consider how they are using their Te. Like other types with a dominant Judging function, ESTJs are prone to a sense of urgency when it comes to finishing tasks or making decisions. This often leads them to jump between their two Judging functions (Te & Fi) while spending too little time Perceiving (Si). Their concern for “being productive” can prevent them from absorbing or appreciating life (i.e., Perceiving); they may take their lives, as well as themselves, too seriously. While ESTJs are naturally disciplined and thorough, this can mutate into obsessiveness or compulsiveness if they aren’t careful.
In short, personal growth for ESTJs occurs primarily through consistent and balanced use of their Te and Si. By staying true to their most conscious selves, they can move ever closer to an enduring sense of peace and wholeness.
For a more extensive look at each of the ESTJ personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore our latest eBook, My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions.