Unit 4: Do certain personality traits create ethical leaders?

Are certain personality types more or less ethical? In attempting to better understand the traits included in the five factor model of personality, I extrapolated which traits would lead to ethical leadership behavior – purposely without doing research. The five factor model is the most widely accepted personality model and look at personality from five key personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion (Costa & McCrae, 1992).


Conscientiousness: is the tendency for a person to be thoughtful, organized, and dependable (Northouse, 2015). Conscientiousness is the most obvious personality trait to create alignment with ethics as there is an ethical component built right in.  Conscientious individuals care deeply about doing what’s right.  A consciousness leader would likely be deeply concerned about their people and ensuring that they are supported and have what they need to be successful. When faced with an ethical dilemma, they would like use an organized and thoughtful approach that leads to an ethical solution.

Agreeableness:  the tendency for someone to be accepting of others, conforming to social norms, and trusting of others (Northouse, 2015). Due to the second item in the list – conforming to social norms – I would extrapolate that agreeable leaders likely do act ethically when they are in environments that value ethics, because they want to meet social norms.  An agreeable leader in an unethical environment likely wouldn’t fight against unethical behavior and may even join in themselves.  They also may be likely to engage in unethical behavior inadvertently due to their trustful nature.  When faced with an ethical dilemma, they would likely make their decision based off of social influences or the influences of others whom they trust (and potentially shouldn’t). They also would likely be most forgiving of unethical behavior in others.

Neuroticism: is the tendency for a person to be anxious, insecure, and potentially hostile (Northouse, 2015). A leader who is high in neuroticism would likely be seen as volatile and emotional.  It’s hard to extrapolate exactly how a neurotic leader would behave in an ethical situation because they are inconsistent and difficult to predict. A neurotic leader may act ethically to avoid anxieties or they may easily give in to peer pressure due to their own insecurities. When faced with an ethical dilemma, the neurotic leader would likely react emotionally and that emotion may vary depending on the moment – so they could fall on a large spectrum of ethical to unethical responses.

Openness: is the tendency for a person to be creative, curious, and informed about other ways of life (Northouse, 2015).  Openness seems to be a trait that could easily produce both ethical and unethical leaders. Due to their tendency to be informed about others, you could extrapolate that they can consider multiple perspectives when approaching an ethical solution and therefore, make a well informed ethical decision due to this awareness. On the other hand, an open leader is very open to new ideas and may be open to pushing boundaries of ethical and unethical behavior. When faced with an ethical dilemma, I think an open leader with relevant experiences would make an ethical decision, however, when not well informed, an open leader would like move forward into unethical territory relatively easily.

Extraversion: is the tendency to be social and assertive in nature, and to bring a positive energy to a group (Northouse, 2015).  As mentioned in the lecture there is strong and obvious connection between extraversion and leadership as extraverted individuals often naturally gravitate to leadership. Extraversion to me is the quality that would have the least correlation to ethical leadership as it’s hard to extrapolate how an extraverted leader would act without pairing extraversion with another trait. Due to their social nature, it’s possible an extraverted leader would hear many opinions about an ethical dilemma and possibly be swayed, but they are also often assertive which would be difficult to sway.  An extraverted leader is potentially least likely to admit their ethical misses as not to lose face or respect within a group.

From the above analysis, I think the personality traits with the greatest connection to ethical leadership are high consciousness (more likely to be ethical) and high agreeableness (more likely to be unethical). The least predictable leader in terms of ethics would be those high in neuroticism or openness, while the personality trait with the least impact on ethical leadership would be extraversion. Now to research further!



Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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.

PSY 533. (2017). L09 Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l05-overview?module_item_id=21902172 .

One Comment

  1. Annie Mandart March 27, 2017 at 9:54 PM #

    Hi Katherine–

    Great post. I like your approach in that you handled the interpretation of the Big 5 model through a layman’s lens. You made the concepts approachable and interpreted them well. I do think that your post rests heavily on stereotypes of the five major terms, but that is also important for us to analyze because it shows how we expect someone to act when they are aligning with one of the five major terms. A way to take your post one step further would be to apply these stereotypes and themes to a sample case study. You could create a case that could be evaluated through the use of your own definitions of the Big Five, and use it to prove your definitions.

    I pulled out a few sentences from your post that I thought were most useful in interpreting meaning from the Big Five. First, I really liked the following sentence on the first trait: “Conscientious individuals care deeply about doing what’s right”. I wholly agree with this interpretation. As you note, conscientiousness is about caring about and taking note of important details, and being true/just in doing so. I agree that conscientious leaders are those who seem most ethical. As for agreeableness, you say “When faced with an ethical dilemma, [agreeable people] would likely make their decision based off of social influences or the influences of others whom they trust (and potentially shouldn’t)”. This makes a lot of sense. Your definition of being agreeable sounds like someone who follows the leader far too easily—someone who would not be a good leader and also possibly not all that ethical in their leadership. Lastly, I looked at your definition of extroversion. Your definition helped me understand a big disparity between extroversion and ethical leadership. You write: “Extraversion to me is the quality that would have the least correlation to ethical leadership as it’s hard to extrapolate how an extroverted leader would act without pairing extraversion with another trait”. Extroverted people are often categorized as being loud, rambunctious, open, and not shy. I agree that extroversion alone does not seem to necessitate or facilitate ethical leadership. In my view, an individual can be ethical and extraverted, as well as ethical and introverted. Both could work, but the extraversion scale on its own does not seem to correlate to ethical leadership abilities.


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