Personality most certainly has an impact on a person's leadership style, effectiveness, and overall competence. And clearly the personality traits shown by leaders impact underlings and employees in numerous ways. In this paper personality -- as linked to leadership skills and styles -- will be viewed through scholarly references and research. Also, the issue of nature vs. nurture will be reviewed and critiqued as well.
What is Personality?
The New York Times-owned About.com explains that personality has certain "fundamental characteristics," including: a) consistency (there is a sense of regularity and order to human behaviors; people tend to act the same way or in "similar ways in a variety of situations"); b) psychological and physiological (personality is psychologically constructed but research reveals that it is "also influenced by biological processes and needs"); c) personality has a profound impact on a person's actions and behaviors (our personalities cause us to act in certain ways, hence, personality isn't just influential, it is a driver of our behaviors); and d) multiple expressions (many behaviors are displayed in response to how our personalities function and how we interact with others and express our thoughts) (Cherry, 2012).
Delving deeper into the idea of personality, the work of Sigmund Freud is still considered the most fundamentally thorough -- albeit in some circles controversial -- description of personality. When thinking about what makes a leader tick, following Freud's descriptions can be helpful and enlightening. Freud posited that humans have an "Id" (the innate biological instincts and urges, a "self-serving, irrational and impulsive" part of the personality that is known as the "pleasure principle" (Coon, et al., 2008, p. 398).
Freud's "Ego" is a system of thinking and planning, of problem solving, and basically it directs energy that has been provided by the Id. It's been called the "executive" part of the personality because it makes decisions. Unlike the popular usage of "ego" Freud's Ego has conscious control of the personality and can postpone action until an appropriate time (Coon, 399). Hence, a strong ego in the Freudian sense is imperative for a leader. The "Superego" is the part of the personality, according to Freud, that acts as the conscience, or the censor. When a leader makes a decision impetuously, and the decision goes is against that leader's normal better judgment, the superego will let him know and perhaps even "punish" the leader with strong feelings of guilt (Coon, 399).
Nature vs. Nurture -- Is Personality Learned?
Kevin Davies' "Nature vs. Nurture Revisited" production on NOVA (2001) -- part of Public Broadcasting Service programming -- opens up with the assertion that the "seesaw struggle between our genes (nature) and the environment (nurture) had swung sharply in favor of nurture" Davies, 2001, p. 1). Davies makes that point after thoroughly reviewing the data from the Human Genome Project. In that august research, which posited that humans have about 30,000 genes, the evidence is definitely slanted towards nurture and not nature.
While some scientists and others would like to believe that people who suffer from colon cancer, for example, are born with a defective "colon cancer" gene, research published in the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine points to the fact that cancer is "largely caused by environmental rather than inherited factors (Davies, 1).
What about personality and genes? Davies writes that notwithstanding the "media hype" to the contrary, genes apparently don't control "addiction, shyness, thrill seeking, and most controversially, sexual orientation" (2). Genes offer "tantalizing clues" to the above-mentioned traits, but as of the publishing of this production, there is no empirical evidence that a leader, for example, is born, or that a person with "perfect pitch" in singing, has a gene that makes it possible to have perfect pitch. Studies show that people with perfect pitch have relatives who also have perfect musical pitch, but while it may be an inherited trait, resulting from a single gene, that perfect pitch can't be manifested without "early musical training before the age of six" (Davies, 3). Hence, there may be certain genes in a person that can aid in becoming a worthy leader, but without training, experience, a strong superego and the environment to allow leadership to flourish, those genes cannot be assumed to be responsible.
Ethical Leadership and Leaders' Personalities
A scholarly article in the peer-reviewed journal Social Behavior and Personality examines the relationship between ethical leadership and the dimensions of leaders' personalities. The authors explain that there have been "hundreds of studies" devoted to looking into the relationships between the "Big Five personality dimensions and leadership," but there has been very little research "carried out to investigate the relationship between ethical leadership" and the Big Five personality dimensions (Xu, et al., 2011, p. 362). So Xu and colleagues acquired data from 59 community healthcare centers in northern China, using questionnaires and interviews to tap into the views of employees regarding their supervisory leaders.
The Big Five personality dimensions include: "emotional stability (also referred to in this article as neuroticism), agreeableness, openness to experience, extraversion and conscientiousness" (Xu, 362). One research group, Brown and Trevino (2006), studied neuroticism and determined it was related to ethical leadership in a negative way, while Walumbwa and Schaubroeck (2009) found in their research into neuroticism that it was simply not linked to ethical leadership at all. Hence, the authors believed it was important to research the link between the Big Five and ethical leadership.
In their research, the authors used the 10-item Ethical Leadership Scale that was developed by Brown (et al.) and tested by Walumbwa and Schaubroeck; this scale measures the perceptions that employees have of the ethical leadership embraced by their supervisors. In order to assess employees' he authors also used the 12-item subscale from Costa and McCrae's NEO-Five-Factor Inventory. Xu and colleagues hypothesized that extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness would be positively linked to ethical leadership -- which seems logical at the outset.
Using simple linear regression analysis the authors determined that while neuroticism (a trait that has the individual fluctuating in moods and sometimes anxious) was indeed seen as a negative aspect of ethical leadership, agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion were seen as positive attributes vis-a-vis ethical leadership (Xu, 366-67).
Meanwhile in an article published by the Journal of Business Ethics (Kalshoven, et al., 2010) the authors -- as authors generally do in peer-reviewed pieces -- suggest that there are certain aspects of a problem or issue that haven't yet been carefully scrutinized. To wit, Kalshoven and colleges suggest that many studies have covered and verified the fact that "commitment, satisfaction with the leader, trust, perceived leader effectiveness, and organizational citizenship behavior" are linked in a positive way to ethical leadership. "Far less," Kalshoven writes, is known about "the antecedents of ethical leadership" (349).
And since leaders in the new millennium are expected to not just meet financial goals, but to meet environmental and societal responsibilities as well, the role of a leader in terms of creating an "ethical climate at work" has taken on enormous importance (Kalshoven, 349). The antecedents used in this research paper -- fairness, role clarification and power sharing -- were studied in the context of -- and juxtaposed with -- the Big Five traits, and the result showed that: a) as expected and as hypothesized, conscientiousness and agreeableness were "most relevant for ethical leadership"; b) conscientiousness was deemed most critical for "role clarification"; c) agreeableness appeared "most important for fairness and power sharing"; and d) emotional stability was clearly most relevant for "ethical leadership and role clarification" (Kalshoven, 360).
The conclusion that Kalshoven and colleagues offer is simply that because the selection and development of leaders that are "likely to behave somewhat more fairly, share power and clarify roles" is vitally important to an organization in terms of fostering ethical leadership, executives should…