“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Personality traits can be modified and adapted by people who strive to be effective leaders. The Five Factor Model of Personality developed by researchers in the early 20th century still outline the traits that are common to humans. The Five Factor Model is found to be globally consistent and it is these traits that are the basic factors of human personality. This is what every person has to work with. Researcher between 1967 and 1998 found a strong correlation between the Five Factor Model and leadership (Northouse, 2016).
The five factors include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism. Neuroticism sticks out as the sore thumb of personality (Northouse, 2016). Imagine the geeky nerd versus the out-going, managerial-type. The other traits seem to be positive while emotional instabilities such as nervousness, anxiety, insecurity and vulnerability would be difficult to admit, however, who can deny displaying any of these at least occasionally. I am familiar with many people who experience extreme social anxiety, introverted personalities, and generally weird behaviors, and yet a large amount of intelligence, dependability, and desire to do their best at everything. Further investigation highlights that a little neuroticism in a leader might be a good thing.
A study by Corinne Berndersky and Neha Parikh Shah at the UCLA Anderson School of Management reported that the determined extraverted leader elected by a group often disappointed over time while the quiet neurotic rose to the occasion exceeding expectations (Adams, 2013). They found that an extraverted leader was not as highly valuable to the group as first expected. The extraverted leader is expected to perform at a high level but often falls short of the group’s preconceived notions. The neurotic leader, however, is not expected to perform well. Consequently, the expectations of the group are low. The group is then surprised when the quiet extrovert is attentive to the groups needs and finds creative solutions. The neurotic leader often is cautious and does precise work fueled by the fear of disappointing the group. They are more willing to go to greater lengths to succeed as a leader. Berndersky explains “neurotics are motivated by their anxiety and feelings of inadequacy to work hard on behalf of the group” (Adams, 2013).
Those who experience neurotic behavior but also have high levels of conscientiousness are able to channel their anxious behaviors to be more successful at work. Stress is everywhere in the workplace, and those who experience stress on a daily basis often conquer it and use it as motivation to do good work (Chan, 2014). The neurotic behaviors and extroversion of an individual might not be their most dominant traits. They may also have high degrees of agreeableness and conscientiousness allowing them to get along well with others and realize the importance of working as a group. Neurotic behavior often involves intense focus on certain details and they ruminate until problems are solved (Chan, 2014). Neurotics are often creative innovators. Innovators are often introverts who find stimulation in thoughts and ideas but not always people. They often miss social cues and come off as “nerdy” but are adept at logic and reason (Northouse2016,p321).
There are many examples of neurotic leaders. Those who have not succumbed to the dark side of leadership have been successful despite their shortcomings and mental angst. Winston Churchill referred to his bouts of depression as the “black dog” who followed him (Pappas,2015). Howard Hughes, an extremely successful leader in a wide range of industries from aerospace to oil exploration, suffered from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder (Pappas,2015). Richard Nixon won the presidency by a landslide and had many diplomatic and domestic policy achievements, but, in the end, it was his paranoia that brought an end to his leadership (). It has been widely written that Steve Jobs was a “control freak” who would accept nothing but perfection and his success as the leader of Apple needs no explanation (Tobak, 2014). If the movie, The Social Network, portrays Mark Zuckerberg accurately, then he may fit in the neurotic leader category as well.
In conclusion, if the neurotic can channel his neurosis into passion and abstain from embracing the dark side of leadership, they may be an effective, if not a popular, leader. We all suffer from some neurotic behavior and, sometimes, our neurosis can work in our favor. As current trends move toward the emergence of group and task leadership, then perhaps there is hope for the neurotic to rise.
“Why Being a Neurotic May Be a Good Thing”, Amanda L. Chan, Healthy Living, April 9,2014 Retrieved August 30, 2017 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/09/healthy-neuroticism_n_5035297.html
“Leadership Tip: Hire The Quiet Neurotic Not The Impressive Extrovert” Susan Adams, Forbes Magazine, April 11,2013 Retrieved August 30, 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/04/11/leadership-tip-hire-the-quiet-neurotic-not-the-impressive-extrovert/ – 64a3cd25788b
“Neurotic It’s A Good Thing”, Steve Tobak, Entrepreneur, August 12, 2014 Retrieved September 11, 2017 https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/236380
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publication.
“Why Creative Geniuses Are Often Neurotic” Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, September 1, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2017 https://www.livescience.com/52051-why-creative-geniuses-are-neurotic.html