Emily Marsh August 1 2018

Can we identify future leaders from their personality traits?

Does an individual’s personality traits dictate their effectiveness as a leader? And if so, can we easily identify the future leaders in our organisations?

An individual’s personality comes with them wherever they go. It influences how they think, act and feel in any situation.

But does an individual’s personality dictate their effectiveness as a leader?

And if so, can we easily identify the future leaders in our organisations?

The “Big Five” personality traits and leadership

Facet5 is based on the "Big Five" personality traits, widely believed to be the building blocks of an individual's personality;

  • Will (agreeableness) - the driving force behind the promotion and defence of your own ideas
  • Control (conscientiousness) - the amount of self-discipline and responsibility you have
  • Energy (extraversion) - the extent to which you need to interact with other people
  • Affection (openness to experience) - the degree to which you are 'self' or 'others' focused
  • Emotionality (neuroticism) - the level of tension and apprehension you experience in your everyday life.

Research has found that Energy is the strongest predictor of leadership. Individuals who score high on Energy are energetic, enthusiastic and sociable. They can command a room and motivate and inspire. But, does this make them better leaders than those who lean more towards introversion, those who are quieter, more reserved?

A growing body of research indicates that introverts and extraverts are equally effective leaders. In fact, in certain situations, introverts are found to be better bosses. Both introverts and extraverts have the potential to be great - there is no ‘right’ way to lead. What it really comes down to is emotional intelligence; the ability to read the room and realise the best approaches to motivate your team members.

Some studies have found a correlation between Affection and leadership effectiveness. This makes sense given that people with high Affection have a great deal of interest in other people and their feelings, and will be more attuned to how to motivate and inspire them.

There may also be a link between Control and leadership emergence. This too makes sense given high Control individuals are hard-working, determined and decisive, and therefore may be more driven to pursue a leadership role. However, the ability of those with low Control to be flexible, adaptable and accommodating may make them more effective leaders.

Self-awareness: the heart of great leadership

There’s no secret formula for what makes an exceptional leader. However, exceptional leaders do all have one thing in common: self-awareness.

A high energy sociable individual may command a room. But their leadership style may also come across as too much, as disruptive, or even interfering.

Someone with high levels of control may have the wherewithal to set goals and take responsibility, but they also risk coming across as too rigid and unapproachable - what would be seen as negative traits in a leader.

But if an individual is aware of the things that could trip them up as a leader, they can take action to flex and adapt their behaviour.

Self-aware leaders know their strengths, enabling them to lead with more confidence. They also know their potential weaknesses and can learn how to manage them so they can get the most out of the people around them.

This is what really makes an exceptional leader; someone who knows themselves well enough to flex and adapt where they need to in order to be more effective.

Identifying the future great leaders of your company simply isn’t just be a case of picking out individuals with high Energy and Control. Rather, an individual’s personality attributes can give you a good indication of their strengths - and pitfalls - as a leader.

But the good news is that anyone can be an exceptional leader. And the most successful companies recognise this. Learning and development professionals have a responsibility to help employees gain self-awareness of their natural preferences, strengths and weaknesses, and to develop coaching and development programmes that help guide high-potential individuals to success at the top.

Beyond the Personality Test

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