Good leaders make their work look easy. But the reality is that most have had to work hard on themselves — by managing or compensating for potentially career-limiting traits. To grow as an executive, you need to recognize and manage your strongest tendencies.
When executives identify a leader they admire, they often underestimate how much that individual may have struggled to curb certain patterns of behavior or certain dominant facets of his or her personality. Great leaders make it look easy. But in truth, the majority of effective leaders that we have observed — even so-called naturals like Virgin Group’s Richard Branson — have worked hard on themselves.
The traits that serve an executive well in one leadership position often do not work well in another. Moving up the hierarchy into new roles or environments, executives may find they need to play up or rein in different facets of their personality. What were strengths can become weaknesses.
Fortunately, advances in personality research can provide executives with a much richer picture of their personality. Psychologists have identified countless traits that distinguish individuals from one another. Research in recent decades has converged toward five broad dimensions, each comprising a cluster of traits. These dimensions appear so robust that they have been dubbed the Big Five. Now widely accepted, the same five factors are found consistently with different research methods, as well as across time, contexts and cultures. (See "The Making of the Big Five.")
The Leading Question
How can leaders recognize and manage their psychological preferences?
- Executives need to understand their natural inclinations in order to modify them or compensate for them.
- Most successful executives have had to work hard on themselves.
- Leaders need to recognize their outlier tendencies and learn how others perceive those tendencies.
The Making of the Big Five
Psychologists have identified countless personality traits and dimensions that distinguish us from one another. But research in recent years has converged toward five broad dimensions, each comprising a cluster of traits that account for the majority of the differences among individual personalities. These dimensions have been dubbed the Big Five.
Although researchers did not set out to find five dimensions, that is what emerged from their analyses of the data.