The Personality of Leaders

The Personality of Leaders

The enigmatic brooding of Putin. The clinical precision of Merkel. The irascible aggression of Trump. What personality works best in leaders?

Looking closer to home, has Prime Minister Turnbull’s habit of doing the exasperated headmaster thing, patronising his listeners and looking like an Eastern suburbs banker even when wearing a day-glow vest, going to lose him the next Federal election? Will Opposition Leader Shorten be electable given his carping negativity and snake oil demeanour?

Some would suggest “political personality” is an oxymoron, with many political leaders having the personality of brick. This is a bit rough, because our leaders are probably the same as us, except they have been smoothed by success.

That said, it is undeniable that certain types of personality are more strongly associated with leadership than others. Some personality characteristics, such as sociability, are attractive. Other characteristics, such as irritability, are unattractive. Therefore, the leader who wishes to remain such needs to develop a personality that is attractive.

A good-looking person can be ruined by a bad-looking personality.

Hippocrates (c.460BC – 370 BC) and his successor Galen (127 – c.200), identified four different temperaments in people. These temperaments were thought to be controlled by different liquids in the body called ‘humours’.

People who had a lot of phlegm were thought to be calm, detached and Putinisitic. Those with a lot of yellow bile were thought to be choleric and Trump-like. Too much black bile would make you melancholic and too much blood would make you at home on the passionate peninsula of Iberia.

Having noted the above, it is worth remembering that temperament is not fixed. The influence of inherited biological traits can be modified by upbringing and environment. Nature and Nurture vie with each other in being the main determinant of personality – which is generally not fixed until a person is about 30.

Intuitively, many would say that extroverts are more likely to be leaders than introverts. Extraverts get their energy from people. They are sociable. Introverts recharge by being by themselves. They tend to be more reserved. However, it would not be correct to limit leadership to the extraverts. Marie Curie, an acknowledged leader in science and medicine, was probably an introvert. Yet, she was a giant in her field.

It can be terrifying trying to be someone you are not. An introvert trying to act like an extrovert can suffer from emotional exhaustion and suffer from what researchers call “ego depletion” – which is not good news.

Type A people are generally competitive and achievement oriented. Good. But, they can also be driven and self-advancing. Bad. Type B people are generally easy-going and relaxed. Good. But, they can also be lazy and given to avoiding challenges. Bad.

If in Africa, and you hear the term “the big five”, you would be thinking of the Black rhino, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African lion and African leopard. In psychology, “the big five” are the main personality traits which are:

  • Openness to experience.
  • Conscientiousness.
  • Extroversion.
  • Neuroticism.
  • Agreeableness.
  • Most people would say that leaders are typically:

  • Open to new experiences.
  • Conscientious.
  • Extroverted.
  • Low in terms of neuroticism.
  • Agreeable.
  • However, it needs to be remembered that leadership opportunities exist for ALL personality types. An introvert on a computer can wield much more power than an extrovert with a megaphone.

    Perhaps the best injunction when analysing the worth of a person is to do what is recommended in 1 Samuel 16:7:

    Do not look upon the outward appearance,

    look upon the heart.

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