Trump and “The Dark Side”

Whether your a republican, democrat, or anything in between, there’s little chance that you don’t have an opinion on the leadership style of Donald Trump. His brazen approach to gaining a following and asserting himself as a leader is a spectacle that has the world watching with curiosity. But, like him or not, one has to ask what has gained him such a strong position in the public eye and if he actually holds the qualities that experts say are essential for a good leader.  Conversely, does his personality and leadership cross over into what some experts call “The Dark Side” traits and qualities?

The Psychology of Leadership at Work program at Penn State University starts every student out in their journey to leadership with PSY 532- Foundations of Leadership. In the first unit these masters students dig into, they are presented with the Trait approach to analyzing leadership.  The trait approach assumes that people have inherent personality traits that make them either a good leader, or a bad one.  This theory has been picked apart and reformatted many times over the years and has landed in a five factor model of personality better known as “The Big 5”. (Goldberg, 1990)  Researchers and theorists have found that the being Conscientious, Agreeable, Emotionally Stable, Open to experience, and Extraverted are positively correlated to good leadership. Those qualities may be up for debate depending on whether your personal fond of the over the top would be president or not.  Trump is certainly extraverted (a potential positive) and  not afraid to express his opinion with boldness.  His agreeableness (which includes empathy, friendliness and optimism) may be questioned and emotional stability is a debate in and of itself.

However, there is another set of traits that these masters students are taught to be aware of.  They are referred to as “The Dark Side” traits. Professor Dobbs says “Dark-side personality traits are irritating or counterproductive behavioral tendencies that interfere with a leader’s ability to form cohesive teams” (Dobbs, 2016) and cites Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2002) in their declaration that certain traits spell trouble for leaders.  The list includes being argumentative (this includes being overly sensitive to criticism), lacking interpersonal sensitivity, being narcissistic, and impulsive (enjoy testing the limits and disregard feelings of others) (Dobbs, 2016) With the headlines blasting recaps of Trumps latest defensive name calling of his critics and his shocking commentaries that test the limits of what a world leader should and should not say, he certainly has potential, at least by these psychology of leadership standards, to have a some “dark side” in him.

So how did he find himself in a place of leadership with a set of qualities such as this? That’s a debate that could fill a book.  However, one thing is for sure.  He has managed to develop various sources of power that he relies on heavily. He holds resources, he’s able to use coercive power, he’s held formal corporate positions and is consistency portraying himself as either on expert or as a person who has access to expertise. He has power. The question is, do the traits he possess make him a leader who’s a force for good or a defender of the dark side?

Northouse , P. (2016) Leadership Theory and Practice: Seventh Edition.  Western Michigan University. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dobbs, James. (2016) Penn State University PSY 532 Section 002.  Unit 1:L02 Trait Approach. Retrieved October 1, 2016 from

Cherry, Kendra (2016) The Big Five Personality Traits: 5 Major Factors of Personality. Retrieved October 1, 2016 from

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