What role does personality play in leadership?

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The personality of a leader is a key element in the broad equation that makes up their leadership style. In every group situation, members bring a set of personality traits, and these tendencies affect each member's contributions to the group in terms of leadership style. In addition, the personalities of the group that one is leading impact the dynamic of the group, and this environment dictates the way that a leader must approach their work. Personality greatly affects how one interacts with others and therefore how one acts as a leader of that group.

Personality can relate to how outgoing or reserved a person is, and this distinction separates what I see as two different types of leaders: the director and the facilitator. Examples of both of these positions can be found in a variety of contexts, but in both styles, the key is having the personality traits conducive to holding that role. The director's strength lies in his ability to tell others what to do, and the facilitator thrives on leading group discussion and collaboration. After being presented with this distinction, some may prefer one immediately favor one of these two leadership styles, yet both are applicable in different situations. The director and the facilitator have their place in the set of leadership styles that can contribute to a successful project, and each are dependent on personality traits. 

The director is someone who takes immediate and extended control over the group's actions. He wants to be involved in every level of the process and is not afraid to speak up - and sometimes speak over - other voices in the group in order to share his opinion. I think that this approach to leadership style is rooted in certain personality traits, including things as abstract as self confidence and things as basic as a talkative quality. He needs to be comfortable in his own ability to make decisions on the group's behalf and courageous enough to take responsibility for any mistakes that he makes while speaking for the group. Often the director sees that in order to be successful, his group needs to be led and assigned tasks through a central channel. Teachers have to act as directors in the classroom, and officers in the military must take on a similar approach to leadership on the battlefield. However, leaders in both of these dissimilar positions must have a certain set of personality traits. It is these traits, courage, confidence, decisiveness, that help him to take control of a group and serve at the top as the deciding force for the good of the group.

The facilitator is the other style of leadership related to control of a group. For every decision that the director makes on behalf of the group, the facilitator takes the time gather the group and provide the appropriate environment for them to be able to make their own decision. The facilitator is especially important in groups where the unique input of each member is key to the group's success. In a think tank setting, where each member's contribution - in the form of background knowledge or intelligence - will benefit the group, the facilitator serves as a valuable asset. Similarly, in the context of a student group project, where peers are working together and each must contribute to the task, a leader who acts more as a guide and less of an authority will greatly assist the group. However, when the group needs a quick, smart decision to be made, the facilitator's personality traits may hinder his ability to do this. If a leader is contemplative, cautious, slow to make decisions, or simply hesitant to speak on behalf of others without first asking their opinion, he will not be able to act as a director and may only thrive in settings requiring a facilitator. Again, these personality traits have a large impact on a leader's ability to act a certain way and thus meet the needs of a certain group.

            The leader's personality traits are not the only factor that will affect a group dynamic; the personalities of those being led is also an important element. Leaders must be prepared to face conflicts that are rooted in personality differences. Often, leaders struggle to unite a group that consists of differing personalities. In these situations, personality can affect decision making, efficiency of work, and overall successes. However, because personality is a characteristic that cannot be completely suppressed, leaders must be prepared to build bridges between differing personalities, for the good of the group.

In some groups, especially where leadership qualities are a prerequisite for membership, leaders may struggle to reign in the personalities of the group's members. In group projects for a class of honors students, where most are used to being leaders in their general education class, problems may arise to a "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. On an all-star team, a similar situation may occur; those who are used to being captains of their own respective teams may not initially be willing to listen to another person in a leadership position. Here, the personalities of the group will present a challenge to a leader, and he must adapt his approach to leadership accordingly. In a group of leaders, assigning tasks may help the group to feel involved, and these mini-leadership roles may satisfy their need to control an aspect of the project.

Quiet or tentative personalities in a group may challenge leaders just as much as a group of outspoken people. If the group members are afraid to speak up or are inexperienced, a leader may struggle to motivate members to become involved and to share their ideas. A similar approach of assigning tasks may encourage this group; if a quiet group member assumes that someone else will speak up or take charge, he might be less willing to become active. However, with his own task, he may rise to the challenge and bloom. In addition, it may be helpful for the leader to meet one on one with members. Taking away the intimidating group setting may make members feel more comfortable. This example of group dynamics demonstrates how differing personalities in a group may affect how a leader needs to lead.


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