THE POWER OF PERSONALITY IN LEADERSHIP

Effective communication, decision-making, resilience to change… there’s a growing body of psychology and behavioural science research relating personality traits to many of the qualities of a high-impact leader.

It’s unsurprising that our ability to successfully lead people is influenced by our behaviour, given the decidedly interpersonal nature of leadership. Maximising the value of these individual differences starts with a greater understanding of self.

Here’s a short summary of recent research highlights, and some practical tips on how best to enhance self-awareness and a greater understanding of others.

Encouraging Introverts Into The Leadership Limelight

Introversion offers many leadership advantages. Introverted leaders listen. They think first, talk later. They focus on depth when problem-solving and relationship building. They ask powerful questions that drill down to the crux of an issue. And they project a calm, reflective and considered approach to leadership challenges and opportunities.

Yet, research has consistently found that introverts are more likely to shy away from seizing informal (or emergent) leadership opportunities. A new study to be published in Personality and Individual Differences (Spark, Stansmore & O’Connor, 2018) suggests that introverts may anticipate an unpleasant experience when faced with the chance to take charge of a group task and as such shy away from demonstrating people leadership behaviours. This is in contrast to individuals with a stronger preference for extraversion, where the expectation is more likely one of enjoyment gained through proactively leading from the front.

In order to encourage highly capable individuals, with a greater preference for introversion, to seize leadership moments and create a “level playing field with extraverts”, we first need to challenge this mind-set.  This starts with creating a heightened level of self-awareness. By building a greater understanding of what drives these feelings and emotions, we can reframe the outlook from unpleasant to opportunity. Developing a strategy for leadership that effectively utilises individual behaviours will help introverts step forward and lead in these types of situations. Achieving this shift in mind-set early into an individual’s career may help to set them up for future leadership success.

Negotiating High-Impact Leadership Outcomes

Negotiation is a key skill used by leaders on a regular basis – perhaps more regularly than realised.  Whether securing budget for resources, driving a shift in team performance or winning buy-in towards a new initiative, the ability to effectively influence is key. In order to reach win-win outcomes for both parties, it’s essential that we understand how our point of view differs to the perspective of others.

Fascinating research conducted by Psychologist Matthew Feinberg and Sociologist Rob Willer explores “crossing the empathy gap” in order to persuade people to see things our way.  Feinberg and Willer explain that we produce arguments from within our own moral frameworks, often linked to our personal values and beliefs, and this can blind us to alternative viewpoints. Their research begins to shed light on the successes and failures of political campaigns – where a more conservative position might focus on values such as loyalty and patriotism, whereas more liberal values might include equality and fairness. The leadership challenge becomes how to construct the same facts, framed from a different viewpoint – for example, framing environmental issues from a liberal position of harm and care, as well as a more conservative perspective of purity (Feinberg & Willer, 2013).

Within a workplace context, the interpersonal nature of negotiation requires that we consider how personality influences processes and outcomes. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology highlights the importance of considering the relationship between negotiators and the influencing role of personality characteristics.  The study results showed that when individuals were similarly high or similarly low on the traits of agreeableness and extraversion, agreements were reached faster, with less relationship conflict and more positive evaluations of the other negotiator (Wilson et al., 2016). These findings further support the need for increased self-awareness, and the ability to step into the shoes of others, in order to achieve high-impact leadership outcomes.

Adapting Leadership Style To The Workplace Environment

One size does not fit all. In order to be a high-impact leader, it’s essential to flex to the needs of our followers. Recent research, again published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, supports this need for a malleable approach to leadership.

Researchers Hu & Judge (2017) challenge the notion that the leadership qualities associated with extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness always contribute to team performance. Instead, they suggest that leaders are most likely to succeed when they align to the power distance values of their team – in other words, the extent to which their team values a hierarchical versus consultative approach to leadership. In the former, personality characteristics such as directness and assertiveness may serve a team well. For the latter, greater team empowerment and involvement may be required.

Leaders with high self-awareness are best positioned to recognise the need to modify their behaviours to meet the specific requirements of their team at any given time. As outlined by Hu & Judge, leaders can make better decisions and build more effective teams by adapting their behaviours to complement their teams’ preferences.

Take a moment to reflect on: 

  • How self-aware are you as a leader / the leaders in your organisation?
  • What impact does this have on workplace relationships?
  • In what ways will an increased awareness of different perspectives enhance team and organisational performance?

 

Jayne Ruff

Business Psychologist and Director

 Changing Point is a leading organisational development and change consultancy. We work closely with leaders to enhance their self-awareness and stretch comfort zones a little at a time. We focus on the practical application of learning so that powerful new behaviours are effectively embedded.  To learn more about our Personal Impact Leadership Programmes, get in touch at leaders@changing-point.com

References

Feinberg, M. & Willer. R. (2013). The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes. Psychological Science, 2456- 2462.

Hu, J. & Judge, T.A. (2017).  Leader–team Complementarity: Exploring the Interactive Effects of Leader Personality Traits and Team Power Distance Values on Team Processes and Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102 (6), 935 – 955.  

Spark, A., Stansmore, T., & O’Connor, P. (2018). The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect. Personality and Individual Differences, 121, 84 – 88.

Wilson, K.S. et al. (2016). Personality similarity in negotiations: Testing the dyadic effects of similarity in interpersonal traits and the use of emotional displays on negotiation outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101 (10), 1405 – 1421.

About the Author:

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Jayne Ruff Business Psychologist and Partner at ChangingPoint. For more information on ChangingPoint, please contact jayne@changing-point.com