Personality and Leadership: Bright and Dark Side of Personality

2021-05-06 15:23:10
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Leadership has been defined in myriad ways depending on the purpose or field of the individual giving the definition. A broad, general definition of leadership refers to it as an art, act, science, process and function, which is necessary in addressing what needs to be done through leading. As such, a leader or the person leading are expected to possess critical traits and behaviors to be effective (Yukl, 2002). Yet there are other leadership issues that present unique challenges to scholars and practitioners.

Are leaders born or are they made? This seemingly plain and innocent question, however, is just one that has long confounded management scholars and practitioners. Leadership scholars focused on traits and behavior approach would argue that indeed leaders are born with a set of personality traits that help them become successful. Meanwhile, opposed to this notion, is the premise that for those that are said to be inherently fortunate in having these positive leadership traits, is a subset of individuals that fail in the landscape of leadership. These latter individuals possess a unique set of attributes dubbed as the dark-side personality traits (Harms, Spain & Hannah, 2011). And always, there is one or two on every leadership team, in every organization.

The recent high number of high-profile cases of corrupt practices and misconducts involving top business leaders, government officials, and influential figures with leadership status make it highly necessary to identify what are the various negative traits that can derail leaders. Worst, the profound toll such can cast on the overall health and performance of the organisation, employee morale, public money, reputation, and employee and citizen trusts when leaders behave negatively or misconducted can come off extremely high. Thus, this paper seeks to identify what causes the dark sides of leaders to surface. To do this, this research will attempt to analyse critically various traits approach models of bad leadership, prior to discussing how organisations can help leaders develop the capacity to lord over their dark sides.

Personality and Leadership: Bright and Dark Side of Personality

Prior to our investigation about the ways personality traits is associated with leadership, it is then best to first define what is bright and dark side of personality. In their 2010 research, Kaiser and Hogan have described the attributes when a person or leader is on the bright side of personality. They said when person is on the bright side of personality mode, there is self-awareness that is why they are capable of monitoring and regulating their actions and decisions, which in the process let the best behaviours emerge. The benefits are manifold, such as when a leaders is under normal conditions, he can lead more effectively and competently. However, the likelihood that a leader can remain composed and self-aware can not be had all the time as when there are pressure at work or when unusual conditions are present. In view of the latter, when the dysfunctional personality emerge, which was brought about by great stress or pressure, leadership will be derailed (Kaiser & Hogan, 2010).

While much have been written about the many dysfunctional personality traits and its association with dysfunctional outcomes and leadership derailments, others have widened the list of these traits. Some like Paulhaus and Williams (2002), have introduced the so-called dark triad of socially undesirable personality traits Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy and their respective links to negative leadership and organizational outcomes. Some of the traits leadership approach literature explored in recent years will be reviewed in this paper, such as moving beyond the emphasis of most research on the need to grasp the motives and values of leaders and traits of leaders. Other popular research to capture the dark side of personality is Hogans Hogan Development Survey (HDS) (1997), which provide a list of 11 subclinical traits that further suggest their existence and influence to an individuals leadership abilities. Hogans paper underscored that the origins of these dark personality and behaviours can be traced in the early childhood years of an individual (Hogan & Hogan 2007).

However, the apparent excessive focus on the good side of leader personality can have their negative consequences. In fact, glorifying leaders as if they are the sole heroes of the organisation and ignoring the harm they may have inflicted does a disservice to both their follower-employees and the organisation as a whole. Thus another way to increase good leadership is through inspiring people and organisations to explore the positive outcomes of dysfunctional leadership and leaders. Hence, Judge, Piccolo and Kosalka (2009) have argued that their selected approach which is to review relevant literature and explore traits approach bodes well to inform their discussion of the benefits and potential negative impact of personality traits is highly necessary. Apart from the advantage of being able to express more comprehensively and flexibility their models, rigid specificity has been avoided.

In their review of literature about the bright and dark sides of leadership traits, researchers Timothy Judge, Ronald Piccolo and Tomek Kosalka (2009) have underscored that many of the leader trait paradigm studies have yielded unfounded and unarticulated assumptions about human nature. Their Leader Trait Emergence Effectiveness heuristic model aims to place trait approach in the context of other disciplines, like the genetic and evolutionary sources of trait development, as well as leadership motive and emergence processes, in order to achieve a feasible approach to measure leader effectiveness. This model as a whole helped allay criticisms that the trait approach is limited, too simplistic and unhelpful in addressing the sources of trait development paradigm. By placing context into the perspectives usefulness, Judge, Piccolo and Kosalka (2009) have advanced the trait approach literature to delve more deeply into understanding how traits are subject to different factors, linked with both positive and negative outcomes.

Earlier attempts to study leader traits and personality were generally inconclusive, which inadvertently calls for more researches to shift in new directions and geographies, such as the study of negative traits in a change context. Karakitapog lu-Aygu n and Gumusluoglu (2013) are two such researchers who geared their studies of the transformational and non-transformational leader traits in a non-Western setting, particularly in a country like Turkey where social and economic change is happening. They used non-transformational leader as another term for the dark side of leadership in this regard.

As it turned out, the original dimensions of transformational leadership were expanded to accommodate four new categories that are present in non-Western countries like Turkey. Using the Turkish context, these researchers found out that culture plays a role in the formation and enactment of transformational leadership. But is this also true in non-transformational leadership? Their findings revealed that non-transformational traits come in many forms, supporting the vast number of negative leadership constructs. In fact, the research by Karakitapog lu-Aygu n & Gumusluoglu (2013) shed light on the prevalence of these domains in a country experiencing transition from traditionalism to modernism, such as Turkey. Its investigation of non-transformational leadership are also necessary in identifying what negative traits of leaders manifest during times of change or distress. Although such study had helped determine why in some cultures, non-transformational leaders can be showy in their aggression and abusive behaviour, it still have its own limitations, such as exploring the other dimensions in the leadership continuum while studying negative leadership in non-Western contexts.

Effects of Dark Side of Leadership

There is a plethora of benefits to an organisation when a leader play their roles well. As it is said, a good leader can be a force that can effect productivity and efficiency, as well as boost workforce morale and satisfaction. Not only it is well-acknowledged that leaders can have a far-reaching influence in an organisation, their decisions are awaited for and followers make sure that they are followed. Yet in equal measures, studies about the relationship between leadership and effects still dominate, particularly on the construct of constructive and destructive leadership.

Finding the correlation of leadership with followers outcomes and behaviors have been attempted to by Schyns and Schilling (2013), who analysed more than 200 studies focused on the detrimental impact of leadership. Theirs is interested in filling the gap in what current literature are lacking in finally understanding what triggers destructive leadership. Thus, they developed a model capable of integrating all the mixed range of concepts and list of the impact of destructive of leadership. Schyns and Schilling (2013) underscored that while current literature widely discussed about the consequences of destructive leadership traits, however, such will fall short if the other dimensions of what constitute destructive leadership is unexplored. They suggested that non-verbal and physical behaviour must also be considered when studying the negative outcomes of the dark side of personality of leaders.

Another dimension about the traits approach was opened by Kathie Pelletier (2010), whose study about leadership dealt with toxic behaviour and rhetoric in organisational contexts. Her study was helpful in underscoring the severity of harmfulness of toxic leaders through the lens of abusive, bullies, destructive, toxic and tyrannical leadership paradigms. Testimonies were gathered of individuals with direct experiences with toxic leaders, which Pelletier then integrate with various behaviour assessments that led to her seven (7) topology of toxic leader behaviours and rhetoric. The seven dimensions are: attack on followers self-esteem, lack of integrity, abusiveness, social exclusion, divisiveness, promoting inequality, threats to followers security, and laissez-faire (Pelletier, 2010).

The perceptions were either positive or negative towards the leader, which of course was dependent on how the leaders have affected the followers (e.g., help employees to do more or inflicted emotional abuse and shame). The contrasting perceptions and attributions through actual experiences of followers show the different psychological dimensions of the observer or the relationship aspects that characterise the leader and follower (Pelletier, 2010). This study is helpful when designing or implementing leadership intervention programmes aimed at improving behaviours and traits in existing leaders, anticipating antecedents and consequences of having toxic leaders, and more importantly in filtering toxic leaders from entering our organisations.

Leadership Intervention and Personality Traits

Nevertheless, Harms, Spain and Hannah (2011) have sought to find out in their research how the study of dark side traits can inform the designing and development of long-term leader development programmes. They also sought to discover the various circumstances the bright side traits and dark side traits can be effective or ineffective and impeding or facilitating leader development during long term development programmes. For this s...

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