Unit 4: Does Our Personality Dictate Our Leadership?

Leadership is a theory that we can practice, but no two people exhibit it the same way. While researchers, theorists, and influencers from across a variety of fields have identified the term in different and unique ways, we continue to live as leaders based on our own experiences and preconceived notions of what or how a leader should do, feel, act, or say. As a field of study, “Leadership is composed of leaders, followers, and situations” (Northouse, 2016, p. 30). As we have learned in this class and others, different forms of leadership have different focuses. Regardless of the theory—situational, trait approach, leader-member exchange theory—we have learned that ethics in leadership is essential to positive relationships in business and the reaching of goals. Ethics “is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or a society finds desirable or appropriate…ethics is concerned with the virtuousness of individuals and their motives” (Northouse, 2016, p. 330). Ethics is “central to leadership because of the nature of the process of influence, the need to engage followers in accomplishing mutual goals, and the impact leaders have on the organization’s values” (Northouse, 2016, p. 337)


Lessons 8 and 9 focus on the personality traits that are essential to ethical leadership. We learned about the ways in which motivation, intelligence, biodata, the Big Five, and charisma influence leadership capabilities (PSY 533, 2017, L08 and L09). However, with personality playing such a huge role on our own unique brands of leadership, one must wonder: can someone truly be taught to be a leader, or is one simply born a leader?


Have you ever seen the play Wicked? In the play, Glinda, the good witch, speaks a phrase that is a play on a famous one that has been adapted over time. She asks: “Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” The question can be adapted here, too. Are people born leaders? Or do we become leaders when leadership is thrust upon us in the heat of the moment? Can we learn leadership? If we are not born as leaders, can we ever truly learn to be one? The question becomes increasingly more complex when we throw into personality into the equation. While trait theory on leadership is only one way of looking at and interpreting the phenomena of leadership, it begs the questions—If personality contributes to leadership, can it contribute to the point where it hinders leadership from blossoming? And furthermore, can some people never learn to become leaders if their personalities simply do not accommodate it? Northouse (2016) believes that “Effective leaders are those who can recognize what followers need and then adapt their own style to meet those needs” (p. 94), but can all individuals do that? Because leadership is also influence by motivation, we must also think about how shifts in motivation patterns effect leadership pulls and the needs or desire to be ethical in our leadership. “While a person may have a tendency to be motivated by a particular one, on any given day the person’s individual motivations can come from a variety of sources. Some people have very stable motivations, which can lead to predictable ethical or unethical behavior patterns in certain situations. Others may have shifting motivations, which may cause their ethical behavior to veer from one tendency to another” (PSY 533, 2017, L08).


“The choices leaders make and how they respond in a given circumstance are informed and directed by their ethics” (Northouse, 2016, p. 330). If our personality is not conducive to leadership capabilities, but we are forced into positions of management or leadership, can we work within the guidelines of ethical boundaries set forth by a governing body, such as the American Psychological Association, the National Association for Social Workers, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association? What do you think?


  1. Are people able to learn to be leaders?
  2. Do our personalities have the power to not only inform our leadership but inhibit it too?
  3. If we are not born leaders, can we still learn to be leaders that act ethically?
  4. It is possible that personality might not play a role in ethical behavior?
  5. Are these questions important to ask, or should we be taking ethical leadership at face value?







Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

PSY 533. (2017). L08 Motivation. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l08-motivation?module_item_id=21902235

PSY 533. (2017). L09 Five-Factor Model of Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834796/pages/l09-five-factor-model-of-personality?module_item_id=21902247


  1. Annie Mandart March 27, 2017 at 9:00 AM #

    Hi Madeleyne,
    Thank you for your comment! I appreciate you taking the time to address my points and questions. I think the topic of leadership is fascinating because there really is no set standard of practice–and because as humans, we are all so different and therefore the ways in which we personify or exemplify leadership are so different. I think that is what makes it hard to decide right or wrong in some of the ethical/unethical case studies we read, seeing as each I/O psychologist in the given case is acting based on his or her own perception of ethical leadership.
    In your comment, you note that the choice to develop as a leader is our own. I disagree. I do not think that everyone has the capacity to be a leader; some people just are not born for it. Some people can try hard to be leaders, but they may not be designed to be so. This may sound harsh, but I do believe it to be so. I know a lot of people who shy away from leadership positions and would hate to be forced into such a role. Some of them may have the leadership potential necessary for such a role, perhaps, but others do not–and would hate to have to try to develop those skills. Thinking this way, in my opinion, follows along with some of the lessons and theories brought about in the Northouse (2016) text. There are so many theories on leadership, as you mention, and some of them are conflicting. There are theories that base leadership capability on behavior, or skills, or traits, or interpersonal relationships with others (Northouse, 2016). We can pick and choose concepts from these theories that make sense to us because they are just theories. They are great theories, in my opinion, but some of them are in fact conflicting and give us different ideas on how leaders are born and develop.

    Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  2. Madeleyne Santiago March 24, 2017 at 1:55 PM #

    Annie, you are right there are many questions that still remain unanswered no matter how much we review the different theories about leadership. Stodgill(1948) identified traits that were associated with leaders like drive, confidence, ability to influence and capacity to interact socially. Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) many years later, also identified drive, motivation, confidence, ability and integrity. Whether these are traits we are born with or learned through experiences, one thing is for sure, most leaders have them. The Skills Approach tells us that no matter what the traits are in a leader, they must posses three basic skills, technical, human and conceptual skills. (Katz,1955). Then we look at the behavioral and situational approach and these state that a leader can have the traits and skills, but can they use it appropriately in the right situation?

    Being a leader includes the natural traits we are born with and the development of skills and these traits to be successful in the situations we put ourselves in. The choice, whether we develop as leaders is still ours. Many are born with the traits but never develop them. Others aren’t born with natural traits but learn to develop skills and behaviors that make them lead successfully in certain situations.

    Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Katz, R.L (1955) Skills of an effective administrator. Harvard Business Review, 33(1),33-42
    Stodgill, R.M.(1974) Handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: Free Press

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