U04: The trials and tribulations of one gifted leader

Shawn was a charismatic leader who used his outgoing personality and strong self-confidence to influence those who worked with and for him. Shawn clearly demonstrated a high g-factor (or IQ) which was further supported by his performance as the top graduate from an Ivy league Engineering school, his ability to quickly learn new technologies and innovative processes, and his drive to be the best in his field by showing a strong work ethic and juggling multiple high profile projects for the organization. Shawn was not only smart but also possessed other traits that were indicative of a leader such as being tall, white, male, slender but muscular, and had large blue eyes that could put even the most anxious employees at ease. Shawn would get attention whenever he walked into a room – he was confident in his abilities and enjoyed meeting new customers and sharing his insights with anyone and everyone that would listen.

Shawn served in a variety of roles over his 14 years with the company and felt his upbringing and choice of university had led to his achieving this executive level role which was responsible for leading new Technology. This was where Shawn felt the most challenged and where he believed he could help others understand the complex technologies and product design that would lead the company into the future. Unfortunately, it was a high pressure role which often caused Shawn to succumb to his vice of alcohol and on several occasions, he acted inappropriately in group settings. On one such occasion, Shawn’s behavior was so disruptive and unprofessional that his boss, the president of the company, sent Shawn home in a taxi and later required him to take a leave of absence and complete a sobriety program or risk losing his job. Shawn entered and successfully completed the program and returned to work 90 days later. No one knew exactly why Shawn was gone but many assumed it was a forced sabbatical related to his unacceptable behavior.

After returning to work Shawn was overcome by feelings of inadequacy and was convinced that everyone was treating him differently. He found himself pre-occupied by how others responded to his input in meetings and felt alienated most of the time which caused him to withdraw further from his direct reports and peer group who all started to take notice. Based on Costa and McCrae’s (1992) five-factor model (FFM) of personality, one could say that Shawn was exhibiting a high level of neuroticism because he had become impulsive, insecure and unstable (Northouse, 2019).

Given these dramatic behavior changes, his boss recommended Shawn work with a professional career coach to which he agreed. After several months, Shawn’s coach concluded that nothing had really changed except for Shawn’s motivations – he was still driven to succeed but since achieving sobriety, he had become more aware of and consumed by his contributions and his place on the team. It was clear that Shawn’s personal experience with sobriety had changed how he felt about himself and his work – he felt different even though he had the same genetics, intelligence, and biodata that he always had. He worked through some of his issues but never felt like a valued member of the executive team again so by the end of the year Shawn discussed leaving the company with his boss who didn’t want to lose someone with Shawn’s talents and recognized the progress Shawn had made. His boss recommended and granted Shawn a transfer to a slightly different role in another region where Shawn was less known. After the move, Shawn was able to find his motivation for his work again and built a new team that didn’t know anything about his past. He and his team began developing solutions and contributing to the organization in a big way! Shawn was thriving once again and was proud of all that he had managed to overcome. He realized that since high school, he had been numbing his feelings with alcohol and was on a dangerous path. Luckily, he no longer needed to do that because he had figured out to capitalize on the positive aspects of his personality which made him the fun, relatable executive that so many high performers wanted to work for and that many customers enjoyed working with.


Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

PSU. (2019). Unit 04 Individual Differences and Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/u04-overview?module_item_id=25808466.

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