In the research of the traits approach to leadership, the five-factor personality model (FFM) of Costa and McCrae (1992) has become popular as a result of the consensus among researchers on the basic factors that make up personality (Northouse, 2013). These personality traits or factors are neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness (Northouse, 2013). In an attempt to analyze the links between the Big Five (as they are called) and leadership, further studies on leadership and personality (Judge, Bono, Ilies & Gerhardt, 2002) were carried out and they discovered that there is a strong relationship between these personality traits and leadership. Judge et al. (2002) concluded that while extraversion was the strongly related to leadership more than others, agreeableness seemed to have the weakest link to leadership.
Agreeableness is defined as the tendency for a person to be accepting, conforming, trusting and nurturing (Northouse, 2013). These are all positive qualities that enables a leader to be compassionate, sensitive, helpful, etc. in his relationships with his followers (Costa & McCrae, 1992). So, why is it the weakest link? Let’s analyze some statements from research and studies on personality traits to determine how the facets of agreeableness can be counterproductive.
- Agreeable individuals are caring and emphatic to others, and this suggests that leaders high on agreeableness are likely to treat employees in a fair and respectful manner and to attempt to not offend them. (Kalshoven, Den Hartog & De Hoogh, 2010).
– Leaders with agreeable traits might be more likely to shy away from conflicts in their attempt to not offend their followers. This would be counterproductive because the leadership process is bound to have conflicts that would require the leader to be tough and objective especially when making ethical decisions. In shying away from conflict, a leader might go against fairness which is one of the facets of this trait.
- Agreeable individuals are more likely to focus on relational aspects (Costa, McCrae & Dye, 1991).
– While it is essential to focus on relational or interpersonal relationship for team building, it is equally important that a leader does not lose focus of the organizational goals. An agreeable person must always keep in mind his responsibility of carrying everyone along in the pursuit of the common goals of the organization he or she leads.
- Agreeable individuals tend to be overly compliant and thus may adjust their behavior in trying to accommodate others (Graziano & Eisenberg, 1977).
-The other side of being agreeable is that it could result in being a push-over or compromising one’s values due to a natural desire to please others. In trying to accommodate others, agreeable leaders may thus come across as inconsistent and may be less likely to be perceived as role models (Kalshoven, Den Hartog & De Hoogh, 2010).
A leader who is helpful, empathic, caring and trusting is sure to be well liked among his followers. However, to effectively maintain the leadership-follower relationship in an organization, there should be balance and perhaps boundaries to the extent of agreeableness. When situations warrant it, a leader must be able to remain objective regardless of who is involved.
Costa, P. T., McCrae, R.R., & Dye, D.A., (1991). Facet Scales for Agreeableness and Conscientiousness: A Revision of the NEO Personality Inventory in Kalshoven, K., Den Hartog, D.N., & De Hoogh, A.H.B. (2010). Ethical Leader Behavior and Big Five Factors of Personality. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deanne_Den_Hartog/publication/226247874_Ethical_Leader_Behavior_and_Big_Five_Factors_of_Personality/links/02e7e528b806734f8d000000.pdf
Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO personality inventory: NEO PI and NEO five-factor inventory (NEO FFI professional manual). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Graziano, W. G. & Eisenberg, N. (1997). Agreeableness: A Dimension of Personality in Kalshoven, K., Den Hartog, D.N., & De Hoogh, A.H.B. (2010). Ethical Leader Behavior and Big Five Factors of Personality. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deanne_Den_Hartog/publication/226247874_Ethical_Leader_Behavior_and_Big_Five_Factors_of_Personality/links/02e7e528b806734f8d000000.pdf
Judge, T. A., Bono, J.E., Ilies, R. & Gerhardt, M.W. (2002). Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review. Journal of Applied Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.nmbu.no/download/file/fid/15115
Kalshoven, K., Den Hartog, D.N., & De Hoogh, A.H.B. (2010). Ethical Leader Behavior and Big Five Factors of Personality. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deanne_Den_Hartog/publication/226247874_Ethical_Leader_Behavior_and_Big_Five_Factors_of_Personality/links/02e7e528b806734f8d000000.pdf
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership ethics. In Leadership: Theory and practice. Washington, DC: SAGE.