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Decoding the link between Personality and Leadership using the big five model!

Keywords: leadership, personality, OCEAN, team management, effectiveness, executive, big five model


Leadership researchers’ first challenge historically was to answer the question of why some become leaders and others not. Do leaders emerge due to their personality? What traits make other people perceive one person to be the leader? Several reviews of the extensive research on leadership and personality have been presented. Leadership and personality are often cited together, both as a defining aspect in the formation of the former and as a necessary factor in being able to exercise leadership effectively.

Personality predicted leadership emergence across a variety of people and settings. Lord (1986) states, “In short, personality traits are associated with leadership emergence to a higher degree and more consistently than popular literature indicates” (Andre J Marsiglia 2009). In addition, Barrick and Mount (1993) have found a significant association between personality and job performance. The combination of leadership style and personality type appears to meld into a psychological combination that produces the ethos of a leader. “Leaders are not just identified by their leadership styles, but also by their personalities, their awareness of themselves and others, and their appreciation of diversity, flexibility, and paradox” (Handbury, 2001, p. 11).

One question concerns the relationship between traits and leadership by addressing two issues: (1) Can personality explain leadership emergence? Objective methods are mainly used to answer this question.

(2) Which traits make other people perceive someone as a leader? Socio-metric methods are used in leadership perception studies. (J.A. Andersen / The Journal of Socio-Economics 35 2006).

The 5 fundamentals of leadership personality - OCEAN

Although this model cannot account for all aspects of human personality, it is relevant to gaining a macro understanding of a person’s personality (McCrae & John, 1992). Even though the Big Five is not a complete theory of personality, it serves as a practical framework to bring cohesion to the myriad of personality theories (Digman, 1997). “Personality traits, such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, openness, neuroticism, and self-monitoring influence implicit leadership theories. Specifically, individuals characterize a leader similar to self as ideal” (Keller, 1999).

Conscientiousness - Conscientiousness is defined as the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be goal-directed, to plan, and to be able to delay gratification (American psychological society). Among other five-factor model personality constructs, conscientiousness has been one of the most commonly studied traits in work psychology (Bono & Judge, 2004). Taggar et al. (1999) found that leadership emergence was associated most strongly with cognitive ability, followed by conscientiousness. Other traits of conscientiousness are competence, order, dutifulness, achievement, self-discipline and deliberation.

Leaders with high conscientiousness are associated with high achievement. Conscientious individuals experience a high degree of moral obligation; they value truth and honesty, typically are well organized, responsible and dependable. These tendencies suggest a link between conscientiousness and the behaviour pattern that is required to be perceived as an ethical leader.

Agreeableness - It describes individual differences in being likeable, pleasant, and harmonious in relations with others (American psychological society). Kalshoven et al., (2010) found that conscientiousness and agreeableness were most consistently related to ethical leadership. Leaders high in agreeableness are sensitive to the needs of subordinates and concerned about the welfare of employees. Mayer et al. (2007) found agreeableness is an important leader trait for creating a justice climate. Caring, altruism, and being concerned about the proper and humane treatment of people are remarkable characteristics of an ethical leader (Treviño et al., 2003; Brown et al., 2005) all of which overlap with the agreeableness dimension of the five-factor personality model.

Openness to experience- The fundamental ingredients of openness include intellectual curiosity, inventiveness, sensitivity to art and beauty, imagination and independent judgment. A leader, for example, who consistently emphasizes exploration, creativity, and challenging the status quo could engender collective routines consistent with the dimension of Openness to Experience (Stewart, 2003). Leaders high in openness to experience are often perceived as approachable and as good listeners and thus create a psychologically safe team environment. A positive relationship is expected between openness to experience and ethical leadership since an ethical leader would support a climate in which individuals feel comfortable about sharing bad news with the ethical leader and discuss ethical issues, successes and failures without fear.

Extraversion- Extraversion refers to benevolence, friendliness, talkativeness and assertiveness (Antes et al., 2007; 16). Since extraverts are positive, ambitious, and influential, they are likely to generate confidence and enthusiasm among followers (Bono and Judge, 2004, 902). Their optimistic views of the future allow them to be perceived as “leader-like” (Hogan et al., 1994), and therefore it is not surprising that Judge and his colleagues (2002) found extraversion as the most strong trait related to leader emergence. But, Extroversion diminishes with age, probably because people prefer to maintain relationships and tend to lessen their assertive dominance in social situations.

Neuroticism- Neuroticism, as a fundamental trait of general personality, refers to an enduring tendency or disposition to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average person to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depression. Brown and Trevino (2006, 603) suggested that a more neurotic individual is less likely to be perceived as an ethical leader because he/she will tend to be “thin-skinned and hostile toward others”. In addition, Judge et al. (2002) found that high scores on neuroticism traits negatively affect leadership and make it difficult for a leader to be an effective role model.

Association of personality traits with leadership styles.

This study categorises Leadership styles into five sections based on similar characteristics and understands the personality aspects of each of these leadership styles using 6 factors as seen in Table 2.

Source: Universal Journal of Management 4(4): 161-179, 2016, DOI: 10.13189/ujm.2016.040402

McGregor (1960) states, “It is quite unlikely that there is a single basic pattern of abilities and personality trait characteristics of all leaders. The personality characteristics of the leader are not unimportant, but those which are essential differ considerably depending on the circumstances”. Many other factors contribute to success in an organization: the quality of your decisions, your vision, the timeliness of your execution, the productivity of your staff. Your personality is the lens that will reflect these attributes for all to see.

What type of a leader would you like to be or work with?

About the author

Hi! I am C G Abilasha, I am doing my triple major in Psychology, English literature and journalism from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. I love all things related to the mind and how it works and how we can use and change it. But, Do I know any psychology jokes, you ask? I am A-Freud not. I’m interested in pursuing I/O psychology in the future. In my free time, you will find me playing with my dog and reading books.

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