The quest for talent for today’s organizations can be both competitive and costly. It has become advantageous for corporations to include personality trait testing in addition to the typical review of skills and past work experiences to select the best candidate. The trend for such testing has increased since 9-11 and the elevated awareness of workplace violence (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2010) has placed organizations on guard for behavioral indications that could result in a lack of performance, increased employee turnaround and in some cases lawsuits in regards to liability. Corporations understand the importance of leadership and that the leader’s personality traits as well as their performance are paramount and a reflection of the operations and functionality of their workforce which is the backbone responsible for positive outcomes related to the bottom line.
Anyone who has held a job for any extended period of time most likely has witnessed personality issues with leadership. Although there are laws that protect workers from discrimination and hostile work environments, poor leadership traits that cause duress to a lesser degree in the workplace are more difficult to remedy as individual state laws tend to address only cases that can be defined as intentional, extreme and outrageous conduct (Workplace Fairness, n.d.). Therefore, responsibility for safeguarding employees against all levels of unacceptable leadership behavior lies exclusively with the organization and most likely accounts for the increase of such testing. This is evidenced and supported by the fact that 13% of all corporations and 89 of the Fortune 100 companies administer personality assessments to prospective employees (Taube, 2015).
Since the start of the 20th century, researchers have attempted to define leadership by sets of behavioral traits and within the last 25 years the “Big Five”, also known as the Five Factor Model (FFM) has emerged as the most widely accepted collection of personality factors (Northhouse, 2016, pp. 19, 26). The major advantage of this concept is that it is global and unaffected by the change of culture and thus can consistently predict behavioral tendencies over time (PSU WC L2, 2017, p. 4). Although this is an important advantage, like all trait approaches this method is criticized as restrictive and subsequently it may not include a complete compilation of the desired traits and studies involving leadership traits result in vague results (Northhouse, 2016, pp. 30, 31).
The Five Factor Model of personality traits is made up of five behaviors; Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness and Extraversion which are often arranged as the acronym CANOE or OCEAN as shown in figure 1 below. It is important to note that high scores are desirable for each of the traits with the exception of Neuroticism as a lower score for this trait reflects a higher degree of emotional stability. One additional criticism that should be mentioned for organizations is the consensus that trait perspectives are not easily taught or developed as these are personal traits and therefore difficult to change (Northhouse, 2016, p. 32). Understanding this limitation should have grave implications toward the selection of future leaders as organizations must realize that applicants failing to meet minimum requirements should not be considered for positions of leadership. One very interesting and surprising fact to note in regards to Agreeableness is that this trait has also been defined by geographical locations in the United States with Western states displaying the highest level of this characteristic (Boundless. “The Five-Factor Model.”, 2016).
Figure 1: The Big Five Personality Traits. Adapted from Boundless.com – Trait Perspective on Personality. Retrieved from: https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/personality-16/trait-perspectives-on-personality-79/the-five-factor-model-311-12846/
Judge, Bono, Ilies and Gerhardt conducted a meta-analysis study which confirmed a strong relationship between McCrae and Costa’s Five Factor Personality Model and leadership. In this study they found extraversion most strongly related followed by conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism and lastly agreeableness. (Northhouse, 2016, p. 27). Although the strength of these relationships is supported by the analysis of the data I would caution organizations to prioritize these factors based on the situational influence dependent upon their overall needs as an organization and influenced by the audience of followers. As an example one could expect an organization related to the creation of new technology as considering openness more important than extraversion as they would value creativity over assertiveness. Furthermore, a business looking to improve productivity might value conscientiousness as the most influential factor since this trait is related to dependability and organization which would be associated to goal attainment.
The concern of business should be based on their need without bias in establishing a baseline utilized to exemplify the trait characteristics of the Five Factor Model. In addition, supplemental testing will provide a more detailed and complete assessment of candidate’s ability to perform at the expected levels with the desired traits and protect themselves from counterproductive leadership qualities known as dark-side personality traits (PSU WC L2, 2017, p. 5). Northhouse (2016) mentions the practicality of trait testing for assessing placement as well as personal awareness (Northhouse, 2016, p. 40), but fails to emphasize the importance of this type of testing for organizations and the liabilities associated to poor leadership in this realm. For these reasons more organizations should apply the Five Factor method or some other personality assessment mechanism in their recruitment processes.
Northhouse (2016) references the use of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) which measures personality traits and mental abilities along with one’s performance as related to the scenarios of comprehension and management (MSCEIT, n.d.). This test is available for any organization, but there are many others that exist as public domain and therefore assessments of this type would be available to businesses of any size and at no cost. Examples of such test include the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) and the Big Five Aspect Scales (BFAS) which are public domain and therefore available for use free of charge (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2010). One major concern for organizations that was omitted from the text related to disparate treatment as related to such testing. In 1978 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission developed Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Process (UGESP) to help organizations protect themselves and justify the personality test material is strictly job related (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2010). In other words, organizations should use caution and seek legal compliance before developing or administering any type of personality test.
Boundless. “The Five-Factor Model.”. (2016, September 20). Boundless Psychology Boundless. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/personality-16/trait-perspectives-on-personality-79/the-five-factor-model-311-12846/
MSCEIT. (n.d.). MSCEIT. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from Emotional Intelligence Worldwide: http://emotionalintelligenceworldwide.com/work/msceit/
Northhouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership : Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California, USA: SAGE.
PSU WC L2. (2017). Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1867456/modules/items/22975628
Taube, S. (2015, December 2). Why Employers Use Personality Tests. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from Modern Workforce: https://www.geteverwise.com/human-resources/why-employers-use-personality-tests/
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2010, September 23). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from Employment Tests and Selection Procedures: https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/factemployment_procedures.html
Workplace Fairness. (n.d.). Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from Workplace Fairness: https://www.workplacefairness.org/harassment-intentional-infliction