Is there a most suitable ‘managerial personality’?

Finding the right candidate to fill a management vacancy is never easy. There are so many potential candidates with a wide range of differing backgrounds and skill sets to choose from and the role of manager can often be so generic that it becomes hard to pin people down to the person specification. This is where information from personality questionnaires can prove useful as it can go a long way to guiding an organisation on how an individual is likely to behave in a given situation.

So what I’ve been thinking about lately is whether there is a type of personality that is likely to make a good generic manager? I’ve been reading some articles that focus on this, particularly in relation to the ‘Big Five’ personality factors (Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Conscientiousness, Openness and Agreeableness).  So what follows is a summary of some the research and some of my own musings on this topic.

Extraversion

The literature suggests that managers need to be extraverted. This seems pretty common sense to me because managers exist in an extraverted world; studies would suggest that the average manager spends 50 per cent of their working hours involved in discussions, experience up to 15 fleeting contacts per day and is likely to spend only one period of at least half an hour alone each day. A number of studies have found that extraversion to be a modest predictor of managerial performance. A manager required to run a large team and constantly interact on many different levels within the organisation may struggle with a low score on the Extraversion scale and is not likely to thrive, enjoy the role and may be stressed by the constant interaction required of them.

Emotional Stability

A high score on Emotional Stability broadly refers to an individual who is relaxed, composed, calm and secure. The research would suggest that individuals with very low scores on this scale (high levels of neuroticism), are prone to excitability and over cautiousness and may find the inherent nature of a changeable managerial role challenging. McCredie’s studies into the predictors of managerial effectiveness found a strong correlation between stability and colleague ratings of overall effectiveness (McCredie, 2010). So I’d definitely be a little bit cautious in considering individuals with very low scores on this scale as they may be less effective in a high pressured, deadline driven role.

Conscientiousness

Does a manager need to be Conscientiousness? Immediately I thought yes, but then after a little reflection it occurred to me that maybe too much conscientiousness could be a bad thing. Managers that are too obsessed about planning, are excessively rule bound and conforming characters may be considered rigid and inflexible. They could lack interpersonal sensitivity and may be ineffective in jobs requiring co-operative exchange with others (Witt et al. 2002). But is a low scorer going to be dependable enough and have enough concern for high standards? Obviously that depends upon the particular requirements of the job that you are selecting for, but I think I’d be a little cautious about those individuals falling at either extreme on this scale.

Openness

How Open-Minded does a manager need to be? Openness refers in general to an individuals’ ability to think in an abstract manner and to think up new ways of doing things, with low scores tending to be highly practical and work in a routine manner with little interest in the arts. I suppose this comes down to the industry and type of team being managed. There is a suggestion in some of the literature that an open minded person may be more effective in an entrepreneurial role, or in a business start-up situation where the environment is less predictable. There is less evidence within the research that would suggest that open-mindedness is an effective managerial predictor, so I think I would be more flexible when considering scores on this scale.

Agreeableness

The agreeableness scale at its high scoring end refers to a trusting, accommodating type of person who may find themselves being taken for granted as they cannot say no. On the lower end of the scale, individuals can be critical, fault finders who do not suffer fools gladly yet these are the more self-sufficient, shrewd and dominant types. Immediately a low scorer springs out to me as a better managerial personality type, however, there does not appear to be too strong a case for or against the agreeable manager in the literature. Although some studies indicated that a low score on the agreeable scale may predict managerial performance (Peterson et al. 2003). I think I would be cautious in considering the very high scorers who may struggle constantly try to please everyone and to take tough decisions.

So to summarise some of the literature on personality data, the “emotionally stable extravert” seems most likely to succeed in a managerial role. I would exert caution when considering the extremes on conscientiousness and agreeableness and I think the open-mindedness of an applicant really depends on the industry. Obviously every role is different, and each organisational culture is different. But it is worth taking some time to think about the personality of the individual being recruited into an organisation and to use any data that you have derived from personality questionnaires to your advantage.

If you do not currently use personality questionnaires as part of your selection process and would be interested in finding out some more about them, take a look at our Psychometrics pages and give us a call for a no obligation chat.

References

McCredie, H (2010). Selecting and developing better managers. Lulu Enterprises.

Peterson, R.S., Smith, D.B., Martorana, P.V. & Owens, P.D. (2003). The impact of chief executive officer personality on top management team dynamics: One mechanism by which leadership affects organizational performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 795–808.

Witt, L.A., Burke, L.A., Barrick, M.R. & Mount, M.K. (2002). The interactive effects of conscientiousness and agreeableness on job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(1), pp.164-169