The Link Between Leadership and Personality
Organizations are shaped not only by products and marketing but also by the characteristics and traits of their leaders.
Organizational psychologist Ron Warren in his new book, Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership, discusses the impact of a leader’s personality on an organization. He created the LMAP 360 to help leaders have a perspective of their impact.
I recently spoke with him about his research.
You’ve been researching personality and leadership for decades. What are some of the more surprising conclusions you’ve reached?
Surprisingly, that the same traits that drive individual and team performance and those that derail effectiveness haven’t changed in the last 50 years. While almost everything associated with the world of work now evolves very quickly as technology transforms every 18 months per Moore’s Law, humans are quite similar to Stone Age humans.
There are four key domains of personality in play: Grit: the Task Mastery Traits, EQ: the Teamwork Traits, Dominance, and Deference. Broad research identifies behaviors associated with Grit and EQ as key drivers for leadership, teamwork and communications. Fortune Magazine editor Geoff Colvin calls them “high-value skills.” Broad research also identifies behaviors associated with Dominance and Deference traits that derail leadership, teamwork, and communications. Others refer to these derailers by different names like over-aggression, difficulty managing emotions, failure to build teams, excessive caution, but they are rooted in basic dominance and deference behaviors.
Interestingly, Grit and EQ appeared latest in human evolution – called phylogeny – and also appear latest in individual development – called ontogeny. And a basic law of human development is ontogeny follows phylogeny. Neuroscience shows that for many people, the full maturation of the frontal cortex goes on into the mid-twenties … and for many people, this might be required for their full maturation and thus ability to access Grit and EQ. In contrast, Dominance and Deference behaviors are almost inborn and evident in toddlers – and in other animals. Some people develop Grit and EQ, but many do not.
One lesson for emerging professionals is to be aware of a need to think before they act to summon and leverage Grit and/or EQ – which may not be abundant naturally. One way is to suppress Dominance and/or Deference habits and behaviors if they are prominent, as they actively interfere with Grit and EQ. Grit requires planning and thinking about projects and work; EQ requires attending to and considering people and relationships.
How Personality Impacts Leadership
Share an example of a personality trait and how it impacts leadership.
Sure. Consider someone very high on Need to Control, a Dominance trait. They are domineering and bossy, opinionated and like to advocate ideas rather than listen or seek collective intelligence; they get impatient and are vulnerable to the confirmation bias; they may act before thinking it out. Not too surprisingly, Need to Control is negatively associated with leadership, teamwork and communications … Now, Skip, of course personality traits do not operate in isolation, so what also matters are the other traits in a Profile with Need to Control!
The LMAP assessment is a Circumplex model where traits are organized on a circular chart that represents how they interact with and are influenced by the presence or absence of other traits. I’ve been building systems like this since 1984 – how weird is that! Anyway, in my book and in our assessments, the focus is on overall Personality Profile – combinations of 13 personality traits – rather than one trait.
So consider High Control and:
- Add high Rigidity, Hostility, Competitiveness (Dominance traits) and I can guarantee there will be problems and it will be unpleasant.
- Or add in Achievement Drive and/or Conscientiousness and/or Innovation – better yet, all three Grit traits – and you get a high performer, great at cranking results but not to lead and positively motivate a team – without at least average EQ.
- Finally, take away Hostility and add in even-average Helpfulness or Sociability and it looks like the Profile of a super effective Managing Editor of a major newspaper I assessed, an introvert with high Control, Conscientiousness, Achievement Drive, Innovation and about-average Helpfulness: a great editor and leader in a tough business and a journalist coach and mentor for his direct reports.
For this fellow, the prominent Dominance wasn’t a derailer because he had just enough EQ traits to temper it… And managing editors of major newspapers must have strong opinions. But take away his average EQ and mentoring style and then his dominance would go unchallenged and impair his leadership effectiveness. I like how Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania Professor and Macarthur Genius Grant winner, says in her book Grit: “As a psychologist, I can confirm that grit is far from the only—or even the most important—aspect of a person’s character . . . There are many other things a person needs to grow and flourish. Character is plural.”