The “great man” theory developed primarily by Thomas Carlyle was the first to use the idea that leaders have personality traits which contribute to their success as a leader; supporting the notion that leaders are born with natural attributes and leaders are not created. The Big Five approach is an extension of this theory defining five categories of personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion. A great deal of study has been conducted around this approach and it was discovered that when analyzing “the relationship between the Big Five personality traits and leader effectiveness and emergence found that, with the exception of agreeableness, each of the Big Five traits were robustly associated with leadership outcomes” (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002).
The Big Five characteristics are the positive traits which focus on the ability of a leader to utilize their emotional intelligence to their advantage, but there are also dark traits. The dark characteristics present in a leader can drive leadership derailment, by negatively impacting the leader’s effectiveness to support and grow their team in the long term. These traits are often referred to as the “Dark Triad” and include narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. What I find interesting is that there is an overlap between the positive and negative traits.
I will use narcissism as my first example to show the overlap. Narcissism can be defined as a leader’s tendency to believe they know everything and that their opinion is the only one that matters. But narcissism is related to extraversion, being self-confident and ambitious can be used to describe both a narcissistic individual and an extravert. If being overly self-confident and overly ambitious can lead to the labeling of a narcissism trait over an extraversion trait, who defines when that line is crossed?
Another example of this overlap is psychopathy, I understand most won’t easily associate psychopathy with any of the positive traits, Let me define this behavior and then point out the connections. Psychopathy trait can be defined as a leader who exhibits egocentric, impulsive, and grandiose behaviors. This trait is also linked to charisma and the ability to read people, “these psychopathic qualities – in particular charm, charisma, grandiosity (which can be mistaken for vision or confidence) and the ability to “perform” convincingly in one-on-one settings – are also qualities that can help one get ahead in the business world” (Lipman, 2013). The psychopathy trait can be described by agreeableness (charm), conscientiousness (grandiosity can be perceived as drive), and neuroticism (ability to control or mask emotions).
Machiavellianism behavior itself is seen as both bad and good, bad if used to deceive and good if used to benefit the people by carrying out tough decisions. Leadership traits require a balance to stay in the positive spectrum. I don’t promote the dark traits, but after reading the lesson two material, I understand how they are similar and that the lines can be blurred. I believe it is as important for us to understand that some behaviors of leadership are neither bad nor good but somewhere in between.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (Seventh ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485, Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1975088/modules/items/25786919.
Judge, T., Bono, J., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. (2002). Personality and leadership: A qualitative and quantitative review. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 87,765–780.
Lipman, V. (2013, April 25). The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy And Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/04/25/the-disturbing-link-between-psychopathy-and-leadership/#12183494104a