Personality and Ethics

PSY533: L09 Other Personality


What role does personality play in ethical leadership decisions? Perhaps a better question to ask is; are we more likely to judge a leaders actions as ethical if we like that leaders personality? Clearly there are plenty of examples within politics of leaders actions being deemed ethical, or at a minimum acceptable, because of their personality. Bill Clinton comes to mind because it was mentioned in the lecture that he was not impeached for his relations with a white house intern. I was amused to read this because he was in fact impeached, even if he was not removed from office. While this probably illustrates more a lack of understanding of the impeachment process, it is also likely that it is because President Clinton seems to have a likable personality. Nevertheless, politics can provide many examples of ethical misjudgments. Rather than exploring a political example, I would like to stick to my previous pattern of examining ethics in high school sports.


If you were to search the internet for the most successful wrestling coaches in North Carolina over the last 30 years, three names will rise to the top, Coach W, Coach S, and Coach A. All three coaches have won multiple state titles over this time period and all three elicit very strong opinions when the wrestling community is asked questions about their ethics. While two of the three (Coach W and Coach S) have had to forfeit matches for breaking the rules, only Coach A is viewed as unethical.  Surprisingly, the one who has never had to forfeit matches, is the one who is view most unethical. I suggest this is because this Coach A has the most abrasive personality.


Personality is defined as an individual’s traits or predispositions to behave in a particular way across situations (Levy, 2013). The most common model of personality is Costa and McCrae’s Five-Factor Model of Personality (Penn State University, 2016). I will analyze these three wrestling coaches using this model, and then attempt to offer an explanation as to why Coach A is viewed as unethical.


The first of the five factors is conscientiousness, or the tendency for a person to be thoughtful, organized and dependable (Northouse, 2015). All three coaches are high in this factor in my opinion. After all, all three spend their time coaching a sport they love for very little money. In fact, there is a high likelihood all three spend more money coaching wrestling than they make from coaching. Additionally, all three coaches run very large wrestling programs and host multiple events a season which would suggest they are organized and dependable. Teams would not attend their events if the events were not well run and parents would not let their kids wrestle for these coaches if the coaches were not dependable.


The next of the five factors is agreeableness. This is the tendency for someone to be accepting of others, conforming to social norms, and trusting others (Northouse, 2015). I feel that all three coaches would be rated as moderately high in this factor as well. All three coaches have to rely on assistant coaches to help run their programs at a high level. Furthermore, each coach has to embrace team members from a wide range of backgrounds on the team.


Openness to experience is the third factor to examine. Defined as the tendency for a person to be creative, curious, and informed about other ways of life, these three coaches would be low on this factor (Northouse, 2015). Most successful high school wrestling coaches would be low on this factor, so this is no surprise that these three are. All three are very formulaic in their approach to wrestling, and all three teams wrestle in a very predictable style year after year. In order to be successful at the high school level, many coaches will teach a limited number of techniques and allow their wrestlers to master those techniques. They seldom branch out and look for new ways to teach or new techniques to use with their teams. As a side note, this is often times why wrestlers on the best teams do not become successful on the college level. These wrestlers have limited exposure to new techniques and once they reach college, they run into wrestlers who can counter those techniques they mastered in high school.


The forth factor is extraversion, or the tendency to be social and assertive in nature, and to bring positive energy to a group (Northouse, 2015). Again, all three coaches are high in this factor. It takes a high level of extraversion to believe you can take kids with no background in wrestling and make them the best in the state. Therefore it should not be surprising that all three are extraverts. Additionally, all three must bring some positive energy to the teams they lead because parents would not entrust them with their kids if they did not.


The final factor, and the real tangible difference between these three coaches is neuroticism. Defined as the tendency for a person to be anxious, insecure, and potentially hostile, Coaches W and S, would be rated very low on this trait (Northouse, 2015). These two coaches, while very fierce competitors, are never seen “losing their minds” during a match. When watching these two coach, they never engage the crowds, yell at referees beyond an acceptable limit (sometimes you have to loudly tell the referee they made a mistake), nor do they speak publically about other teams or coaches. Coach A on the other hand, would have high levels of neuroticism. Even those he does not break the rules, his behavior on and off the mat makes him appear insecure and hostel. Coach A seems to enjoy when the crowd cheers against his team and often makes gestures towards the crowds during matches. Additionally, Coach A is a frequent contributor to social media and public forum discussions about wrestling in North Carolina. He has never shied away from criticizing other teams and coaches in the state.


While these coaches are similar in accomplishments and personality, their actions are not viewed by the public as the same. This is because Coach A is more neurotic than the other two. Consequently, people view his behavior as more unethical than his peers, even if they are violating more rules than he is.





Levy, P. E. (2013). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace. New York: Worth.


Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership ethics. In Leadership: Theory and practice. Washington, DC: SAGE.


Penn State University. (2016). Lesson 09: Personality. Retrieved from PSY_533:

One Comment

  1. Jill K Wheeler March 27, 2016 at 12:15 PM #

    Thanks for making a Blog Post for Lesson 9.

    If you want to make a Blog Comment on this post, only those comments that are made by Monday, March 28 at 9AM and expand on the ideas in Lesson 9 will be graded.

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