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.”

The Genius of Opposites: Extroverts and Introverts

How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together

 

  • “I don’t understand extroverts. She is so out there.”
  • “I don’t know what he is thinking. What is bothering him?”
  • “How do I break through to her?”
  • “Was that a conclusion or is he thinking out loud?”

 

As an extrovert married to an introvert, I have long been interested in what makes an effective partnership between very different people.  I’ve learned that I’m far from alone and that many successful duos are two people with different styles and approaches. Whether a married couple or a business partnership, it is possible to adapt and develop a winning partnership. Learning to leverage each other’s strengths and capitalize on your differences can improve your results.

Author and speaker Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD is known as the “champion for introverts.” I recently talked with her about her research and her new book, The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together.  She has developed a system designed to help opposites stop emphasizing the differences and instead drive toward results.

 

“Relationships are most successful when opposites stop focusing on differences.” -Dr Kahnweiler

 

Famous Opposites

Would you share a few examples of famous opposites?

Sure, there are many. The Wright Brothers, Venus and Serena Williams, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Penn and Teller, Siskel and Ebert, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

 

Sticking Points

What most bothers introverts about extroverts and vice versa?

There are a lot of disconnects on both sides. Introverts think extroverts are changing their minds and don’t have clear thinking when they toss out ideas. But they are just releasing their energy, and they get charged up that way. They are just downloading ideas.

Introverts also wonder why extroverts need so much going on. They think extroverts don’t have enough self-discipline to just be there and get work done. Introverts judge that a lot. But extroverts like more stimulation, and the juggling makes them energized and engaged. They get their work done, just in spurts.Jennifer Kahnweiler headshot

Other misfirings in their wiring? Being private (introverts) vs. being an open book (extroverts) causes challenges. Introverts want to get to know you slowly and warm up to you. Extroverts feel excluded when introverts don’t share and get tired of pulling answers out of introverts who don’t offer much info during conversations.

Introverts crave quiet time for recharging, creativity and decompression and are frustrated when extroverts don’t let them have it. Like a teenage boy, my introverted husband Bill keeps a sign on the door that says, “Do Not Disturb.” He means it, too!

 

A Model for Bringing Us Together

Opposites can form a strong partnership if they follow your ABCDE model. How did you develop this approach? Is one part more difficult for an extrovert or introvert?

I interviewed over 40 sets of opposite partners and key themes emerged. I asked them to explore the successes and struggles they had in working with their opposite partner. Because they spoke with me or wrote me separately, some unique perspectives emerged. I also read about figures from sports, entertainment and science. I learned that the success factors crossed over fields and roles.

I think the challenges we face in opposite pairings are equally difficult for introverts and extroverts. And if we are honest about it, we each drive each other crazy from time to time!

Extraordinary Results

“Genius opposites do not just ‘happen’.” -Jennifer Kahnweiler

 

How Opposites React to Stress

How do opposites react to major stress?