How A Leader’s Personality Impacts the Ability to Win

built for growth

Built for Growth

Many business books are written on how to innovate, achieve faster growth, or beat the competition. I’ve not read many that focus on the personality of the leader. But the founder’s personality has a dramatic impact on all aspects of the company culture and its potential.

That’s the core focus of Chris Kuenne and John Danner’s new book, BUILT FOR GROWTH: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Business, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win.

If entrepreneurs understand their personalities, it will help them choose the right team to enhance their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

I recently spoke with the authors about their fascinating research into personality in this context. John Danner is a senior fellow at the University of California Berkley’s Institute for Business Innovation. A faculty member, a business adviser, and an entrepreneur, he speaks widely on topics from innovation to strategy. Chris Kuenne is a member of Princeton University’s entrepreneurship faculty, a growth capital investor, an entrepreneur, and a speaker.

 

“To win in the twenty-first century, you must empower others.” -Jack Ma

 

3 Reasons Personality is Misunderstood

Personality is one of the least understood elements of entrepreneurial and business success. Why is that still the case after decades of study and research?

We think there might be three converging reasons. First, the business world often tends to overlook introspection and reflection in its bias for action and results, so the issue of who you are can get lost in the impatient focus on what you’ve done. The “do” trumps the “who.” But as any manager or leader knows, personality does matter . . . a lot; so that action-bias has left a void in our understanding.

Second, we love icons. Movies and the media naturally latch onto a compelling storyline, a fascinating individual, and retell that one person’s experience, character and personality. But icons can quickly become stereotypes, and those stereotypes reinforce the notion that you have to be an extraordinarily exceptional person to find success as an entrepreneur. That shorthand can substitute for a deeper understanding of what’s really at play here. In other words, every entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to be successful; our research discovered there are four distinct personalities of successful entrepreneurs. And there are likely millions of individuals the world over who share those same personality patterns.

Third, although most people are intensely curious about who they are and how they’re wired, most personality assessments are ill-suited to the task of cracking the code of successful business building. Many address very broad issues, e.g., am I an extrovert or introvert, a Type A or Type B, etc. Or they’re designed to answer other questions in personal domains, like who might be a good match for me, what music might I like, etc.

Some broad-gauge tools can help people decide whether they might be cut out for entrepreneurship generally, e.g., are they comfortable with taking risks or working for themselves? But those resources don’t address the fundamental question: what are the key personality characteristics of the women and men who actually succeed in building lasting businesses of impressive scale? What makes those individuals tick, and am I like any of them?

And context is key here; people want to know about personalities in action in particular settings. That’s why we concentrated on examining personalities in the context of successful business ventures and used a patented Personality-ClusteringTM methodology that has proven its effectiveness in decoding specific customer behavior in hundreds of markets around the world.

But our research is just a first step in understanding the central mystery of the who of successful entrepreneurship. We invite others to build upon our findings as we refine our own work. After all, entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth and opportunity globally. We welcome others’ insights into this complicated and essential domain of human endeavor.

 

“Teams need captains, and vice versa-if you want to get things done.” -Mark Coopersmith

 

4 Types of Builder Personalities

Briefly walk through the four types of Builder personalities.

The Driver: Relentless, Commercially Focused, and Highly Confident – Drivers can’t help themselves. They have to become builders of business or social ventures of their own as a means of self-validation. Entrepreneurship is almost hardwired into their very identity. They are supremely confident individuals, fixated on their products, relentless in pursuing commercial success based on their uncanny anticipation of what markets and customers are looking for. Drivers – like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – often don’t last long as employees in other people’s organizations. They eschew rules and bureaucracy, seeing them as tools to focus the average person, yet often confine the truly gifted, independent-thinking actor. These builders are willing to do whatever it takes to realize the commercial success inherent in what they believe is their unbounded potential, in fact their destiny.

Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership

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.

 

“Personality is to a man what perfume is to a flower.” –Charles M. Schwab

 

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.

 

“Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

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.”