Leadership and Personality

When developing an organization’s future leaders, it’s important not only to recognize that people have different dispositions, but also acknowledge the fact that the enterprise usually benefits if individuals are true to their own traits as they practice the art of leadership.

It’s also worth mentioning that there isn’t necessarily any “right” personality when it comes to leadership. For instance, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his adult life in deep depression, which probably isn’t a quality most people look for in their leaders. At the other end of the spectrum is George Washington, who was a heavy drinker with a hot temper. Yet, in spite of their flaws, both men usually are on any short list of great presidents in U.S. history.

In 1958, psychologist William Schultz launched the FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) assessment that was designed to measure three dimensions of human interaction: inclusion, control and affection. Of these, control relates most directly to leadership and responsibility. (However, that doesn’t mean the others have no connection to it.)

The control types Schultz identified were:

1. The Rebel: A highly independent individual who may not want to direct other people, but also doesn’t want to be told what to do. Rebels actually have good leadership potential, provided they aren’t rushed into authority roles.

2. The Mission Impossible: An extremely motivated person who will attempt to rally others behind a clear and lofty objective. However, Mission Impossibles sometimes can be dictatorial in their leadership style and might view their direct reports with disdain.

3. Openly Dependent Person/Super Tolerant Female: An individual who seems willing to cede a significant amount of control to others, due to a risk-averse personality or self-perception of being deservedly low in the organizational hierarchy.

4. Self-Confident: A person who is comfortable with taking the initiative, but doesn’t usually welcome outside influence. On the other hand, Self Confidents are adept at identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.

5. The Loyal Lieutenant/The Company Man: A very loyal person who typically follows instructions precisely. These people may be somewhat hamstrung by an inability or unwillingness to think independently and creatively.

6. Status Seeker: This individual is very similar to the Mission Impossible archetype, with the added element of narcissism. Status Seekers often will work very hard and accept counsel from others, but only if they grasp how it will serve their self-promotion.

7. The Checker: An individual who does not shy away from leadership roles, but often lacks confidence about making decisions. Checkers often will get as many opinions as possible, second-guess themselves and rework ideas before taking action.

8. Insatiable Individual: A person who has a strong desire for a sense of accomplishment and reward, whether in a leadership or dependent role. Insatiable individuals frequently work hard for a period of time, then lapse into a self-indulgent mode.

9. The Matcher: An individual who, like The Checker, will consult with others often for guidance but is less paralyzed by making decisions. Matchers also are good at leading without being overbearing, but may be too casual in some situations.

10. Pleasure Seeker: A person who can make decisions and actually enjoys doing so much of the time. However, Pleasure Seekers will only lead effectively as long as doing so adds to their own enjoyment. Once an initiative becomes boring for them, they’ll lose interest.

As Schultz suggested, people might not remain in the same categories all their lives, nor will they be conveniently fit into just one type (although you probably won’t find someone who’s both a Loyal Lieutenant and a Rebel). And this list is hardly definitive. But it’s not a bad jumping-off point for learning executives who want to think about how personality can impact leadership styles and development.