Has the Ideal Leader’s profile been found?

In their very practical and recommendable book The Owner’s Manual for Personality at Work (Bard Press 2001) Pierce J. Howard and Jane Mitchell Howard of CentACS (Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, see www.centacs.com) make a bold statement:

“…the natural leader defined in Big Five [personality traits] terms is resilient (N-), energetic, outgoing and persuasive (E+), visionary (O+), competitive (A-) and dedicated to a goal (C+).”

A rough translation of the profile of this ideal leader to Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) terms indicates that the Howards very highly value the leadership capabilities of a non-Neurotic ENTJ. This comes close to Otto Kroeger’s and Janet M. Thuesen’s nickname for one of their favourites for leadership positions, the ENTJ: “Life’s Natural Leaders” (see their book Type Talk at Work).

But, would it be so simple as this – to assume that there is one ideal profile for a successful leader? Isn’t it much more likely that different situations and even different organisational functions often require quite different types of leaders? In history, there have been many successful leaders of other types. The truth might not be quite as simple as suggested by the Howards.

Yet probably most of us would agree that the opposite of this ideal profile, an N+ E- O- A+ C- (in Big Five traits terms) or a Neurotic ISFP (in MBTI terms), would not very often have success as a leader.

The MBTI practitioner ethic emphasises that the Indicator should not be used as a screening tool in recruitment processes. Contrary to this, CentACS, a consultancy working with the Big Five personality profiling, clearly recommends this trait-based approach for use in recruitment. Oh yes, the MBTI profile is based on types, not traits, but isn’t the MBTI actually evolving towards a trait-measuring instrument, which would be more acceptable also in the academic community? That’s at least what the MBTI Step II appears to emulate, with each of the four dicotomies further analysed into five facets – very reminiscent of the Big Five personality traits, which also consist of a number of facets.

So, what direction should we take, when choosing persons to leadership positions in organisations? Besides their track record and accomplishments, should we increase our reliance on a valid personality assessment, based on measuring candidates’ traits – using the Big Five or even the MBTI – and perhaps also compare results to personality profiles of persons who have been successful in similar kinds of jobs? What’s your opinion?


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