11 Otto Lessons: An Otto Kroeger Remembrance

Emotional Intelligence Training

Otto left this life two years ago, but his influence in my life is still constant and potent. I decided to write down the five most important lesson Otto taught me. Here are the 11 gems all competing for a spot in my top five.


  1. Never drink without a “clink.”Emotional Intelligence Training

Otto loved to party, and until the last decade of his life, he liked to drink. He would never drink alone, however. He always said, “Never drink without a ‘clink’ (a toast and a tap of your friend’s glass).

The lesson here is to have fun and be with people—and for Otto, these things were synonymous.

  1. Always know who is beside you on the plane.

Otto loved to travel, and I can’t remember a single flight he ever took that he did not come back with a handful of business cards and slips of paper with people’s names, addresses (and birthdays) on them. Signed books would then be mailed, calls would be made and personal notes sent. He always made sure he met the people around him.

The lesson here is that life happens when you plug into the world–and the people–around you.

  1. Remember people’s birthdays.

Otto kept a palm-sized red address book in his front shirt pocket in which he kept the names, phone numbers and birthdays of the people in his life to whom he felt attached, and these people always got a personal call from little red bookhim on their birthdays. Two years before he died, Otto told me that there were only two days out of the year on which no one in his orbit had a birthday; his book was full. But the other 363 days of the year found him making his birthday calls. One day had gotten up to 15 people with that birthday.

The lesson here is that if people are special to you, make sure they know it—remember them.

  1. Give trust readily.

Otto founded OKA and turned it into the premier Type training company in the world, yet when it came time for him to retire, he and I drew up the buy/sell agreement on three Post-It notes. “You take care of me, and the business is yours.” That was as complex as he wanted to make it. Throughout his life, he trusted deeply and readily.

The lesson here is that trusting people by default—in the end—wins more than it costs.

  1. Have grace—you’re already saved.

Otto on the FenceOtto was a practicing Lutheran minister for twenty years, and as a Lutheran and a true-believer, he felt deeply that God’s grace was always with us and unconditional. Forgiveness, love and support were not contingent on good or correct behavior—they were assured.

The lesson here is relax; you are already invited.


  1. Do what you are good at, and be good at what you do.

As OKA grew in scope and incorporated new tools and training designs (beyond Type and the MBTI), Otto was clear that he was not personally interested in taking on these tools. While at first I saw this as limiting and limited, I came to realize that Otto was completely committed to being the best at what he did, but this commitment to excellence was only possible when the areas of focus are chosen wisely and tightly.

The lesson is to find a focus and become really good–maybe even great. 

  1. Take the work, but not yourself, seriously.Emotional Intelligence Training

Otto was a skilled and sensitive facilitator. He mediated long-entrenched conflicts, counseled people to insights and dramatic breakthroughs, wrote best-selling books and engaged in research projects and longitudinal studies that deepened the field’s understanding of the MBTI’s connection to health, resilience, and college retention. While doing so, he showed up at client sites in shorts and crazy hats. He told dirty jokes and was most often concerned with getting you to laugh.

The lesson here is to take the work seriously, but not yourself.   

  1. Be funny.

Within the last month, two separate people have remembered Otto to me, saying, “He was so funny.” People say this all the time. They don’t always remember what he said, but they do remember that he made them laugh.

The lesson here is that people will remember they laughed long after they forget what was funny. If you want to make an impact and to be remembered, be funny.

  1. Be honest—even when it hurts.

I was co-training with Otto, and in our five-day class was a participant who was taking up a significant amount of the group’s air-time. Asking many questions to which she already knew the answer, the participant seemed driven to display how much she already knew (or thought she knew) to the rest of the class. On a break, this tedious participant—seeking affirmation, support and praise—approached Otto and said, “I hope you don’t find all my questions irritating.” To which, Otto replied, “Do I find your questions irritating; do I find the fact that you are asking so many of them irritating, or do I find you irritating?” Otto was always quite direct in his feedback, asserting, “We teach self-awareness–we don’t help anyone if we don’t give honest feedback.”

The lesson here is that self-awareness can’t really happen without honest feedback. If I’m committed to your growth, I must tell you the truth—even when it is hard.

  1. Emotional Intelligence TrainingTrust the process.

Otto loved the open agenda—pulling people together and collectively building an agenda on the spot–in the moment. He loved the experiential Type exercise, in which he would put people of similar preferences together and give them an assignment. Most of the time, Type being so powerful, the exercises unfolded as planned, but many times I saw bizarre data emerge, and Otto was always in the moment, trusting the process and the wisdom of both him and the group to learn from whatever came about.

The lesson here is to listen as much as you speak, to perceive as much as you judge–to plug in, listen, and trust the process.   

  1. Never stop wondering and growing.

Even though he knew and wrote more about Type and the Myers-Briggs than anyone I ever knew, Otto did not know his Type. He validated ENFJ, but in reality, he did not know if his true preference was J or P. His behavior vacillated between the two, and from his first taking of the MBTI in 1968 to the final discussion I had with him in 2013, Otto continued to discuss, consider and re-consider his own hard-wired Type.

The lesson here is to stay curious, interested and open. Self-awareness is not a destination—it is a never-ending journey.

Otto, you’re not around, but you never leave me. Some of your wisdom I have integrated, and some I still just aspire to, but your life and insights continue to impact me and the many thousands you touched.



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6 Responses

  1. Rita Murray says:

    Hile, The timing of your article and these 11 lessons is miraculous and validating as I’m the ProSem speaker this afternoon for the I/O Psychology Department at the University of Oklahoma. I’d already decided that my presentation would center around my development and love of consulting/coaching/training which took shape upon meeting Otto and up to the current day in my partnership with you — a partnership of self-awareness, EQ and type across the generations and dedicated to applying psychology to people in the workplace. Our shared passion for seeking to understand people and to measure human behavior to improve employees’ satisfaction in their work and life, and to generally make the workplace better for all those who work there, is what I want to impart against a backdrop of the impact made by Otto and you! You’ve given me rich, fun remembrances — additional ways to encourage this aspiring group of PhD candidates. THANK YOU! God bless you, Rita

  2. Alan Klein says:

    I was looking for the “life-long learner and explorer” item…glad you included it!

    While I knew Otto from his first entry into NTL when I was a teenager, I, too, remember a conversation with Otto, very late in his career when he an I co-facilitated an MBTI Qualifying Workshop ostensibly so that he could learn the new, four-day design. Over dinner he said, “I don’t think I ever asked you…do you see me as a J or a P?”

  3. Anne Kelly says:

    Hile, I took MBTI(R) training at OKA around 2003. You were our primary instructor but Otto taught a half day session as well. Both of you were excellent and I am so glad I had the opportunity to share his enthusiasm and love of this work. Then we used an OKA video, Type and Temperament, in our training for a year and a half and every other week we’d see Otto, and you, again. We felt like we knew him even better. Love the 11 Otto Lessons and thank you for sharing!

  4. I am saddened to just learn of Otto’s passing. I was his lrtter carrier for a number of years before my retirement from the USPS. He was such a wonderful person who always made you feel like a friend. I will always cherish the conversations we had. He was so down to earth you would never know he was a person of such great accomplishments. Thank you for sharing your memories of his wonderful perspectives on life.

  5. Sky Young-Wick says:

    Thank you, Hile, for sharing these insights from Otto. The Type Talk books and the Temperament videos are also a great blessing. Leaders tell stories, and through these stories of you and Otto, you are keeping him alive for all of us. And for that we are so grateful.

  6. Linda Beggs says:

    What a wonderful remembrance of a giant of a man. I can connect with every single one of these life lessons even though I only encountered Otto twice–once for my 1994 qualifying workshop and the other when he visited my home for a Step II debrief.

    I recently stumbled across a video on YouTube of “The Hamburger.” What a master he was! So funny and insightful–all delivered with a twinkle in his eye!

    His impact in the world lives on.

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