Essay Writing

Personality Traits and Leadership

    The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a

genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true.

Leaders are made rather than born. —Warren Bennis[1].

For the past sixty years, researches in the contemporary field of leadership studies have establish that traits in personality play a role in decision-making and that traits such as consciousness, extroversion and emotional stability (neuroticism) determine our choice of leaders but not the success of the leader. The determining factors for success are the social situations. Under one set of circumstances an individual will be a good leader and under other circumstances the same individual will be a poor leader[2].

There are different schools of thought on personality traits. Trait theorists argue that traits are hereditary; while behavioral theorists propose that personality traits can be learnt and unlearned. ‘Traits refer to stable or consistent patterns of behavior that are relatively immune to situational contingencies—individuals with certain traits denoting particular behavioral predispositions react in similar ways across a variety of situations having functionally diverse behavioral requirements’[3]. The dichotomy of thoughts reflecting both schools of thought leads to questioning of the independence of the human mind to freely make choices. Are our acts fated by personality; if not, and the brain is capable of learning and unlearning traits in personality, then leadership is conditioning.

Freud and Erickson’s studies present personality as a manifestation of our ability to overcome the problems posed by each developmental stage. With this perspective, the manifested personality is the result of behavioral growth. Viewed in the Freudian sense, a leader is always in the state of becoming and manifestation of leadership is as a result of personal growth. Nonetheless, as stated by Funder (2010), “there are no perfect indicators of personality; there are only clues, and clues are always ambiguous”[4].

In earlier times, leaders were defined as great men of birth suitable for roles of authority such as a chief, emperor, king, prince or prophet. Leaders were considered heroic, inspirational and endowed with special powers[5]. 21st century views offered the five big personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Three of the five personality traits: emotional stability (neuroticism), agreeableness and conscientiousness are common traits in the leaders we choose.

Within the structure of organizations, other attributes affect leadership attainment; such as, the need for power, the need for achievement, and a positive orientation toward authority[6]. Employees who display motivation and administrative skills (conscientiousness), interpersonal skills (extroversion), intellectual ability (openness), attained to managerial level after 20 years[7]. Employees who display agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness became managers[8]. Agreeableness and openness were associated with greater preferences for participative management styles[9]. But of the Big Five factors, only extroversion was related to perceptions of charismatic leadership.[10] Charisma is a major factor in choice of leaders in the Caribbean political arena. National leaders: Maurice Bishop (Grenada), Linden Forbes Burnham (Guayna), Cheddi Jagan (Guayna), Eric Williams (Trinidad and Tobago), Michael Manley (Jamaica) and Fidel Castro (Cuba) were all charismatic leaders.[11]

Traits in personality affect choice in leadership but not to the effectiveness of the leader. For example, the emotional stability of a person and the degree of impulse control (neuroticism: the tendency towards emotions of anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability, as well as thoughtfulness) affect how people cope with pressure. Persons with neurotic tendencies are affected by mood swings, while those with good impulse control manage stresses more effectively. But neuroticism coupled with consciousness makes for a goal-oriented thinker. The situation and circumstance determines what traits are effective.

Agreeableness is another personality trait of importance to leadership. Agreeableness is the tendency to be trusting, compliant, caring, and gentle[12]. Its opposite is suspiciousness and antagonism towards others. Agreeableness impacts on the social harmony within the organization. In many instances it allows for colleagues to be part of the decision making because “the primary motivational orientation of agreeable individuals is altruism”[13]. Agreeable supervisors are more approachable in the eyes of their subordinates[14]. But too much agreeableness leads to ineffectiveness, especially for complex decision-making.

Conscientiousness is also a trait sought after in 21st century leaders. Conscientiousness reflects the extent to which we structure and organize our lives. Conscious leaders are characterized as reliable, punctual, organized, determined and competent –qualities thought significant to the overall job performance and effectiveness. Highly conscientious workers tend to be successful because they are motivated, goal oriented, thorough, responsible, efficient, organized, reliable, persevering and disciplined. One of the main obstacles to a conscientious mind is perfectionism, which can manifest as a compulsion and cause the leader to lose sight of the bigger goal.

All five major traits in personality impact on behaviors and attitude, as well as the attainment of leadership but it is necessary to agree with Freud and Erickson that a good leader is one whose traits in personality overcome the problems posed by each developmental stage. In organizations, such a leader makes effective decisions for the growth of the organization and are hampered or aided by their traits in personalities, which are, qualities that positively set the leader apart and these qualities that we look for in the 21st century are agreeableness, conscientiousness and extroversion.


References

  • Bass, B. M., Stogdill, R. M (1990). Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications (3rd). New York: Free Press.
  • DeNeve, K. M., Cooper H. (1998). The Happy Personality: A Meta-analysis of 137 Personality Traits and Subjective Well-being. Psychological Buttetin,124,197-229
  • Funder, D. ( 2010). The Personality Puzzle ( 5th). New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Hogan, R. T., Shelton, D. (1998). A Socioanalytic Perspective on Job Performance. Human Performance, 11, 129-144.
  • Shinagel, Michael. The Paradox of Leadership. http://www.dce.harvard.edu/professional/blog/paradox-leadership
  • Smitson, W.S. (1974). The Meaning of Emotional Maturity. MH, Winter 58, 9-11.
  • Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes. http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf
  • Wiggins, J. S. (Ed). (1996). The Five-Factor Model of Personality: Theoretical Perspectives. New York: Guilford Press.

[1] http://www.dce.harvard.edu/professional/blog/paradox-leadership

[2] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[3] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[4] Funder, D. ( 2010). The Personality Puzzle ( 5th ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.

[5] Bass, B. M., Stogdill, R. M (1990). Bass and Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.

[6] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[7] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[8] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[9] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[10] Stephen J. Zaccaro, Cary Kemp & Paige Bader. Leader Traits and Attributes. http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/5014_Antonakis_Chapter_5.pdf

[11] Charles, Christopher A.D. Studying the Personality of Political Leaders in the Caribbean from a Distance. http://www.academia.edu/2044336/Studying_the_Personality_of_Political_Leaders_in_the_Caribbean_from_a_Distance

[12] DeNeve, K. M., Cooper H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Buttetin,124,197-229

[13] Wiggins, J. S. (Ed). (1996). The five-factor model of personality: Theoretical perspectives. New York: Guilford Press.

[14] Hogan, R. T., Shelton, D. (1998). A Socioanalytic Perspective On Job Performance. Human Performance, 11, 129-144.

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