How Personality Influences Leadership Self-Efficacy
*Tip! Check out my post What Is Self-Efficacy and How Does It Relate to Leadership for helpful context on how leadership self-efficacy is formed.
Often, the conversation around leadership boils down to specific skills that leaders do, or should, possess. A simple Google search proves this. Your results for a search like, “Leadership for young professionals” will deliver pages of listicles ranging from 3-22 of the “most essential leadership traits”.
In true listicle form, many will offer a short snippet explaining the leadership trait and why it’s important. If you’re lucky, it may also include an inspirational quote to go along with each item (like this one!).
I think this speaks to our collective desire to understand leadership. But maybe it also exposes a weak spot in how we tend to communicate about leadership.
Leadership is so human. Everything about the leadership experience is influenced by our thoughts, feelings and memories as leaders. Leading exposes our deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities, while also opening opportunities to feel intense pride and gratitude.
Because of it’s humanness, leadership is something that looks different and feels different from person to person. But that nuance is missed when we read and talk about leadership in a simplified, list-like manor.
I’ve been learning about Leadership Self-Efficacy a lot lately because I’m interested in the question, “What motivates people to want to lead and inspire others?”. And often, that has to do with one’s Leadership Self-Efficacy.
This week, I found research by Gregory Huszczo and Megan Lee Endres to be very helpful because they sought to explain how personality can predict Leadership Self-Efficacy. If you haven’t read my article on Leadership Self-Efficacy yet, here’s a simple definition: it’s your self-beliefs about your own leadership ability and potential.
One of the main ways we form our Leadership Self-Efficacy is through our past and present experiences with leadership. But that doesn’t address why some people may seek out more leadership opportunities, or what makes certain people more resilient than others to bad leadership experiences. That’s what we’re going to get into today.
Big Five Personality Theory
The Big Five personality theory has been around since the 1950s. Researchers and psychologists use it to explain some of the main differences in people and our responses to certain situations. The Big Five traits include: Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Openness, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.
P.S. You can take a Big Five personality test here for free!
Most people are pretty familiar with the differences between extraversion and introversion. It has to do with where we get our energy from - from being around others, or from within. A lot of personality differences can be explained by where someone falls on the extrovert/introvert scale.
As far as leadership is concerned, high extraversion is a good predictor of positive Leadership Self-Efficacy. Extroverts are typically good with people. So they’ve likely had plenty of success working with others, or getting followers on board with their ideas in the past. This will help them to feel more confident about their ability to do so again. Extroverts are also more assertive, and therefore are probably recognized by others as being stronger leaders.
When I’ve taken personality tests, I usually fall pretty close to the middle of extraversion and introversion, but a little more extroverted. I am very comfortable around people, but I’m not super talkative, as other extraverts are. I do think my extroversion gives me confidence in my leadership, but it still takes work and effort to be the upbeat, people-person many of my leadership roles have required.
Conscientious people are reliable, prompt and organized. They’re the type of people you can always count on, and they know it. People with strong conscientiousness are aware of the impact their own actions have on others, so they make sure to follow through on their commitments.
People who are conscientious also tend to have high Leadership Self-Efficacy. If you know that you’re a person who gets things done and follows through--even when unexpected obstacles arise--you’ll have more confidence in your leadership abilities. Conscientious people are also more methodic and good at setting up processes. This is a great skill as a leader because it will help ensure the success of your team, as well.
I didn’t realize how conscientious I was until I started working in a busy workplace. Initially, I was surprised by how many people let deadlines pass them by, and the lack of processes that were in place. The company was running just fine, but my personality felt unnerved without the structure and follow-through that was so important to me. I’ve found setting up systems and workflows for my side hustle to be very fun!
Openness speaks to your openness to new experiences. Are you adventurous? Curious? Do you like to seek out new ideas? People with high openness tend to be what others may call ‘insightful’ or ‘imaginative’. You like to entertain new ideas and try new experiences.
This trait also correlates with Leadership Self-Efficacy. If you have an open mind, you aren’t going to feel as threatened by new ideas for change. Openness is part of what makes some people flexible and others, not.
Openness is a mindset I often need to remind myself to adopt. Outside of the workplace, I am quite open-minded. I seek out new projects, enjoy learning about all sorts of topics and am always ready for an adventure. In work, however, I’m definitely tempted to rely on structure over creative, imaginative thinking. It’s my pragmatic side showing itself.
This is where we start to take a turn away from the positive correlations with Leadership Self-Efficacy. People who are agreeable are going to be very kind, compassionate cooperative and likely affectionate. While these are great people skills, they can sometimes impede one’s ability to be a successful leader.
For example, oftentimes leaders need to make hard decisions. Someone who is very agreeable may have a hard time making such decisions out of fear they would offend or upset others. Basically, the negative side of being an agreeable person is that you can also fall into people pleasing, which can negatively affect your leadership.
I mostly run into problems with agreeableness when I’m working with people older, or more senior than me. Especially when they are male. Sometimes, it seems, my agreeableness has been misunderstood as naivety, or not having my own thoughts and opinions. But when working with other agreeable, professional people it has always served me well.
“Neurotic” is a word almost always used as a dis. To be honest, I was pretty surprised to learn that neuroticism was a personality trait. That means that everyone falls on the neurotic scale - somewhere! Sometimes, neuroticism is called emotional stability, so you can be high on the neuroticism scale and low on emotional stability, or vice versa.
People with high neuroticism experience intense emotions, often negative ones. This trait leads to anxiety and depression, and usually neurotics are moody and tense. I don’t think it’s surprising then to learn that neuroticism doesn’t lend well to Leadership Self-Efficacy. If you’re nervous and stressed as a person, that will bleed into your views of yourself as a leader.
I am a relatively high neurotic person myself. I acknowledge and accept that reality, and I need to set up structures in my life and routine to protect myself from getting overly stressed. I also channel my energy into projects that are meaningful to me and creative to help prevent the negativity that comes so easily into my head.
How you can use this information about personality and leadership self-efficacy
Now, as with most personality assessments, you will fall into multiple buckets. And each of the Big Five personality traits are spectrums, so you may have certain characteristics of say, agreeableness, but not enough that it leads to people pleasing. Or, you may be an extrovert, but you still struggle with being assertive.
Hopefully, the information provided here gave you a new way to look at your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the parts of leadership that come most naturally to you will allow you to leverage them better, while also giving you insight into the areas you should be practicing to improve.