It’s time to kick this blog-thing up a notch. I could use this opportunity to blog about some historical leader who epitomized all of the components of Costa and McCrae’s Five Factor Model of Personality (1992), but why not just go all in and talk about the proverbial Republican elephant in the room? How well does The Donald align with these desirable dimensions that we look for in our leaders? Seems to be a fair and quasi-objective task. This by no means should be interpreted as endorsing or not endorsing a particular candidate or party. Take from this what you will but here we go.
Donald Trump. Rarely in the recent past have two words been more divisive. Some people feel he is the answer to all of the country’s political problems and some feel he is Satan personified. Upon closer inspection, the opinions that people form of Donald Trump are not as much related to his stance on issues or interpretation of policy (although those do contribute to their opinions on some level) but rather it is in the manner that he delivers messages about his stance or intentions should he become President. A majority of the discussion in the media focuses on how Trump reacts to challenges or carries himself or expresses his beliefs compared to ways that we are accustom to seeing in more seasoned politicians. Where many people can agree is in the idea that a President should be presidential. Like everything else, people must learn how to be presidential just like they must learn how to adapt their personality to better assimilate to their environment. The five factors that contribute to the model of personality are Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness, and Extraversion. So let’s see where Presidential candidate Donald Trump falls within each of these factors to see if his personality aligns with the general template that we usually subscribe to when describing effective leaders. The approach of this blog will not be to answer whether Donald Trump possesses these qualities, but rather to generate thought-provoking questions about what we should be seeing if he does possess them.
Conscientiousness is defined as the tendency for a person to be thoughtful, organized, and dependable (Northouse, 2015). People who are conscientious tend to be prepared and possess the foresight to consider the potential positive and negative consequences of their words and action. They demonstrate the wherewithal to either internally or externally vet their ideas before making them public. A President is supplied a cabinet for this very reason; a panel of trusted advisors who typically represent the experts in their respective fields who can ensure the leader is making as informed a decision as possible. Most candidates running for office may not have this luxury and must rely on their own prudence of thought while on the campaign trail.
Many candidates are scripted when they give a speech, so much so that they can be criticized that they are either lacking passion or their messages are redundant. But nonetheless, when speeches are scripted then you can better predict the response. Donald Trump rarely, if ever, goes by a script. He thrives in the unorthodox; taking questions from people when traditionally candidates don’t do so, engaging the press in interviews on a daily basis and fielding questions about his recent actions or messages, and his messages tend to meander from one topic to the next when talking in front of crowds or responding to a question during an interview. Mr. Trump is reportedly a highly successful businessman who has impressive net worth. This post will not explore the details of the net worth, but what does relate is the apparent presence of organization and planning skills that he must have. One cannot reach the level of success and wealth he is at without having a higher level of organizational skills. However, do we see this same level of organization when he is speaking during a debate? Are his words measured and messages pointed? Are his messages designed to promote ethical outcomes or are they cast out like a wide net to see what kind of response they generate? Does he vet his responses to ensure his messages align with what his beliefs are or does he speak “off the cuff”? How does Trump’s approach to answering questions align with how previous Presidents have handled similar situations?
Agreeableness is the tendency for someone to be accepting of others, conforming to social norms, and trusting of others (Northouse, 2015). This includes having a tolerance of different opinions and perspectives whether you fully agree with them or not. It seems to be the inherent nature of politicians to disagree, whether for ethical reasons or just because the other person is from a different political party. Although there are exceptions when things get out of control, rarely do you see politicians turn a disagreement into personal affronts. How does Donald Trump react when somebody does not agree with him or challenge him on the validity of his statements? Is he open to their thoughts or does he shut them down and have them removed and threatened with an arrest or lawsuit? Does he believe there are multiple ways for getting something done or does he feel that his way is always going to be the best way?
Neuroticism is the tendency for a person to be anxious, insecure, and potentially hostile (Northouse, 2015). These need to be parsed out because each can lead to different conclusions. Donald Trump does not appear to be anxious. He exudes a self-confidence that seems to ground him and he is not concerned with how he is perceived. It is fair to say that he is also the stark opposite of somebody who is insecure. Trump is the President of many companies and organizations, and this includes his own fan club. If you were to ask him, nobody is a better businessman and forward-thinker than he is. It takes tremendous security to stand in front of people and speak about your own grandiosity. Trump does this on a daily basis. The hostility piece does open room for debate. Although Trump himself does not become physically hostile to others, the question becomes whether his words or messages incite a hostile environment for some people? Does Trump remain balanced and flat-lined when responding to a situation or does he let his emotions impact his response? Does he promote a safe environment for peaceful discourse between ideas or does he favor one extreme in order to marginalize those who disagree with him? Does he actively admonish behaviors that that run counter to a civil gathering or does he passively ignore the issue and disavow any knowledge or responsibility for disruptions that become physical?
Openness is the tendency for a person to be creative, curious, and informed about other ways of life (Northouse, 2015). This partially relates to agreeableness and being amendable to differences and respectfully embracing or learning about different perspectives. How open is Donald Trump to outside perspectives, cultures, religions, solutions, and lifestyle choices? Does he convey a message that America is a way or the way? Does he identify an issue and aim to surgically remove the root cause of the problem or does he take a machete to the issue and target the bad cells while being content with taking out healthy cells as collateral damage? Does he fully take the time to understand the wants, needs, and rights of women, Muslims, and immigrants, or does he take his information at face value and deem it as the dogma that must be followed?
Extraversion is the tendency to be social and assertive in nature, and to bring a positive energy to a group (Northouse, 2015). Further defining group, this should mean the entire population of a group and not just select subsets. Does Trump bring a positive energy to the entire group when he speaks at rallies or in front of crowds? Is his mission to unite the people or cause a divide? Does he use positive tactics to deliver his messages or does he turn to negative and insulting methods to address the crowd? There is little question that Donald Trump is assertive in nature, but can that assertiveness be controlled to produce a desired positive effect rather than appear too confrontational and intimidating? The President of the United States should command respect and know when to throw weight and power around, but would Trump treat that position as a novelty and abuse such power for the wrong reasons?
The degrees of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion will vary depending on the individual and realistically it would be difficult to identify an individual who receives maximum marks in every area of the Five-Factor model. However, if this model is used to describe the ideal personality for a leader, then the leader of all leaders (i.e., The President of the United States) should resemble the ideal model as much as possible. Again, nobody is ever going to be perfect and the rating of these factors is subjective to the individual doing the rating. But regardless of the candidate you are supporting, consider the personality of the individual you want to place in the top seat of the country and ponder where they might fall using this model. It may not bring much more clarity to this crazy election year, but it is definitely insightful to use this criterion to compare the candidates. In any case, the most unattractive aspect of personality is apathy, so remember to vote!
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.
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership ethics. In Leadership: Theory and practice. Washington, DC: SAGE.