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.”

Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

Your Personal Leadership Identity

You have a personal leadership identity that has the potential to influence and motivate others. Achieving results and driving others to a common vision are within your reach when you focus on that uniqueness.

What you need is to think about your differentiators.

One of the reasons I study leaders and various leadership styles is because each of us can learn something from the greats while moving toward our own uniqueness.

And that’s why Danielle Harlan’s book, The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership, appealed to me. She packed this book with advice on how to become the best version of yourself and to use your influence for good.

Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.

I recently asked her about her new research, focusing specifically on her concepts of a personal leadership identity.

 

“Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a meaningful impact in the world.” –Danielle Harlan

 

Your Unique Identity

What is a Personal Leadership Identity?

danielle harlanPersonal Leadership Identity (PLI) is the unique combination of qualities and talents that make you unique and distinctive as an individual and that you can easily and naturally draw upon in order to enhance your leadership effectiveness.

The example that I share in The New Alpha is about a new manager who struggled as a “stern and commanding” leader (which matched the “image” that he had in his mind of how good leaders should act) but had a breakthrough when he identified his PLI, which was actually the total opposite of this. As soon as he found his “real” self, his leadership effectiveness increased dramatically.

The big idea here is that many of us have this “cookie cutter” image of the “type” of person who makes a good leader, but the reality is that each of us is at our most powerful, and our most impactful, when we allow the best aspects of who we are naturally to guide our leadership “style.”

Knowing your PLI is also really helpful in terms of creating a vision and plan for our lives—based on who we actually are, rather than who we think we should be.

 

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” -Warren Bennis

 

Make Work the Pursuit of the Meaningful

How can you use it to determine whether you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision?

At its best, your career should be a professional manifestation of your Personal Leadership Identity…if there’s general alignment between your PLI and what you’re doing or where you’re headed, then you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision. If not, then it might be time to think about how to change or adapt your role to better suit your PLI, or to make a career pivot.

 

“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” –Victor Hugo

 

This is, of course, much easier said than done, and many of us put off the hard work of aligning our life and career to our Personal Leadership Identity because it’s a big task and we’re busy. However, not addressing this disconnect only results in deep misalignment and unhappiness in the long run. In these cases, instead of work being an opportunity to pursue what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, it becomes a chore that we must do in order to survive, pay our rent or mortgage, etc.

 

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

 

How to Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

What’s the best way to define your Personal Leadership Identity?

Chapter 6 in The New Alpha book spells out a step-by-step processing for doing this, but the gist is that our Personal Leadership Identity doesn’t usually come to us out of thin air; rather we uncover it by reflecting on our life and experiences and by identifying the values, strengths, skills, passions, and ideal conditions that have facilitated our best and most enjoyable successes.The New Alpha

For example, if you ask me what qualities I bring to the table as a leader, I might say that I’m intelligent, empathetic, and gritty. However, if you ask me to reflect on my best successes as a human being—those where I achieved something AND enjoyed doing it, and then asked me to analyze these accomplishments in terms of what they tell me about the aspects of my personality that I could draw upon in order to be a good leader, I might find intelligence, empathy, and grit in there—but I might find other more unexpected qualities too—like love, curiosity, and a sense of humor.

This retrospective and holistic approach often yields more interesting aspects of our PLI than we might come up with by simply “naming” our best qualities or relying on other people to tell us what we’re good at.

 

“By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”-Danielle Harlan

 

Do you have an example or story of someone who understood this concept and how it changed their future or perspective?

Redefining Work-Life Balance

The Changing Nature of Work

How we work is changing. Technology is ushering in new possibilities. New generations enter the workforce with different expectations. With all the changes in play, there are some things that stay the same: the desire for fulfillment and purpose, the need to balance the professional with the personal.

Mason Donovan tackles these challenges in his new book, The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce. Mason is managing partner at The Dagoba Group, a New England-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. I had the opportunity to ask him about the changing nature of work, including generational changes, balance, mindfulness, and inclusion efforts.

 

Success Tip: Balance improves your relationships, satisfaction and productivity.

 

Achieve Greater Satisfaction with Balance

Is work-life balance possible? Why is it so important?

Work-life balance is possible.  There are a lot of gurus out there that say it is not in order to capture your attention in this crowded field.  Emphasis is on the word balance.  If you ever walked on a high beam or anything else in which you needed to physically balance yourself, you most likely fell off a few times.  Your balance will fall off to one side or the other.  It is important that you anticipate for these moments of imbalance, so you have a plan to get up.

Achieving balance will make you more productive in and out of the workplace.  It will enrich your relationships and allow you to achieve greater satisfaction in life.

 

“Alignment of purpose allows for the elimination of distractions.” -Mason Donovan

 

How is finding your purpose related to achieving balance?

In the book, I tell the story of executives on an interpersonal retreat climbing a mountain.  Their primary purpose was to reach the summit without talking about business.  The objective was for them to get to know each other better personally and share an accomplishment.  Without spoiling the story, their original goal is interrupted because they lost their purpose.

In order to know where you are going in life, it is important to understand why you are going there.  Work-life balance is no exception.  Only a handful of people actually stop and reflect on why they get up every day to spend the majority of their waking life in an organization.  When that somewhat simple-but-necessary reflection does not take place, you will default to acquiring things and making money, which almost inevitably leads to the golden handcuffs phenomenon.  You work more because you have to make more money.  You make more money so you can acquire things that require you to work more.

There has been a societal shift in why individuals engage in work.  Part of that shift is due to generational changes, while for others it was their awakening due to the Great Recession.  Aligning your personal purpose in life with your work and organizational purpose will help you eliminate all of the noise that does not fit that purpose.  Balance comes from awareness.  In The Golden Apple, I provide simple exercises to not only develop, but also align your purpose at each level.

 

“Work is not a four-letter word.” -Mason Donovan

 

Understand Generational Change

What are you finding in terms of generational changes? What are the new generations demanding at work? What’s the best way for current leaders to respond?

It is important to note that we are all unique individuals but are influenced by our shared group memberships such as our generation.  Clumping everyone together and solely defining them by generational attitudes can overgeneralize any particular person.  It is helpful to understand the influence of generational membership, which will give you a starting point when discovering their individuality.The Golden Apple

Each generational cohort has a defining moment in the shaping of their shared psyche.  When it comes to employment, for Generation X it was the broken promise of the organizational loyalty which fostered the cradle to grave jobs their parents subscribed to.  Millennials were highly influenced by the Great Recession which ushered in massive layoffs, foreclosures and lowered career expectations.  These defining moments create a collective influence on how cohorts view the work-life equation.

PwC’s NextGen study uncovered a generational shift when it came to work and personal engagement for their Millennial population.  Uncovering this shift was important to them since by the year 2020, they expect that fully 80% of their employees will be Millennials.  In short they found this group was far less likely to give up their personal life today for the prospect of a partnership down the road.  The value structure was shifting more towards experiences than acquiring things.

Interesting to note is how this new value structure is also being reflected in Baby Boomers.  The Great Recession robbed them of the ability to retire early as they saw their investments fail.  It required them to reassess what they valued in life: time or things.  Most have decided to choose to have life experiences in the time they have remaining.  Downsizing acquisitions and upsizing experiences has become the trend for this generation.

Leaders need to better understand the value they offer to their current and future employees.  By integrating work-life balance into their overall package, they will increase engagement and retention.  They should look at this challenge through a holistic lens so they do not perceive it simply as a specific generational or gender issue.  Policies and practices should be geared towards an inclusive solution that impacts the overall workforce.

 

Study: long working hours made 58% more irritable and over 25% depressed.

 

Mindful Practices

How Much Time Do You Spend Doing Shadow Work?

Time, Money and Productivity

 

How do you feel about bagging your own groceries?

You do put the grocery cart back in the parking lot, right?

Pump your own gas?

Do you book your own travel?

 

I do all of this. And I never gave it a moment’s thought. That is until I read Craig Lambert’s new book Shadow WorkThe Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day. Businesses have somehow shifted the model, moving work from them to us without us even knowing. How this happened and its implications are fascinating.

I spoke with Craig about his observations about the fascinating world of what he calls “shadow work.” Craig served as a staff writer and editor at Harvard Magazine for more than two decades.

Are You Unknowingly Working for Someone Else?

 

Define this new term for us: shadow work.

Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission

Shadow work includes all the unpaid jobs we do on behalf of businesses and organizations.
Once you define it and explain, it seems so obvious. It makes a light bulb come on. What made you aware of this concept and decide to write about it?

One night while waiting in line to check out at the supermarket, I noticed an attorney I knew slightly, about twenty feet away. She was a senior partner in a downtown firm, definitely earning a big paycheck—well into the six figures. Yet there she was, scanning and bagging groceries. She was doing this at a self-serve checkout, for her own groceries, of course. Yet she was still doing an entry-level job, one that pays around the minimum wage. And she wasn’t even getting the minimum wage; she was getting nothing at all, working for free. This was the first instance I’d noticed of what I’ve come to call “middle-class serfdom.”

I started thinking about other places where the consumer is working for free, often doing jobs that used to be done by a paid employee. I realized that there are many examples of this, most of which have appeared in recent decades. And that the phenomenon is growing. I started to see that there was a broad social trend afoot, and that “shadow work” was an apt name for it.

 

Shadow work is the unpaid work we do for businesses.

How the Next 48 Days Can Transform Your Life

No More Mondays

Several years ago, I met Dan Miller, the author of 48 Days To The Work You LoveNo More Mondays and When Wisdom Meets Passion. Dan specializes in helping people find meaningful work, creative thinking, and achieving success. You may have seen him on The Early Show on CBS, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Fox Business News, or the Dave Ramsey Show. Or maybe you didn’t catch any of those traditional media appearances, but know Dan from his books, his weekly newsletter or his widely popular podcast.

If you meet Dan, you will notice an unassuming, humble man who seems just as comfortable standing alone as engaging in a conversation with a group. He radiates a knowing, a wisdom that is easily perceived if you are looking for it.

Not too long ago, I sat down with Dan to seek some of that wisdom to share it with you.

Don’t Settle for Comfortable

Did you know that on Monday mornings there is a 33% greater chance of having a heart attack? Researchers speculate it is due to the stress of returning to work. Dan and I talk about his book No More Mondays.

Why do most people settle for jobs that make them miserable? Dan shares why we often stay in what he calls “comfortable misery.”

How do you develop and pursue your passion? Dan explains that many people use a lost job as a wake-up call and opportunity.

Finally, since Dan has built one of the most successful platforms in the industry, I ask Dan how others can build a personal brand.

Here are just a few of my favorite Dan Miller quotes:

 

“Passion is more developed than discovered.” –Dan Miller

 

“Continual learning is the key to continual living.” –Dan Miller

 

“If we have no identity apart from our jobs, we are truly vulnerable.” –Dan Miller

 

“In today’s work arena, creativity may be more of an asset than competence.” –Dan Miller

 

“The loss of a job may be the wake up-call needed to redeem the fire of your genius.” –Dan Miller

 

“Choosing to associate with positive, optimistic people will accelerate our positive growth.” –Dan Miller

 

“Don’t wait on perfect conditions for success to happen; just go ahead and do something.” –Dan Miller

 

“Have you ever noticed that even if God allows you to have a dream, you’re expected to work to make it happen?” –Dan Miller

 

“Unfounded fears about your competence and abilities can cripple your unique talents and gifts, which are waiting to be released.” –Dan Miller

 

“The key to success is to be true to who you really are.” –Dan Miller

 

“No individual can achieve worthy goals without accepting accountability for his or her own actions.” –Dan Miller