The five fundamentals of personality enable coaches to use psychology at the broadest level in our coaching. We find as executive coaches that three of the five fundamentals are mastered by adroit leaders. Before revealing those three fundamentals, let’s explain all five.
Conscientiousness—Think Meryl Streep. A strong sense of conscientiousness results in a scrupulous, punctual, reliable, dependable, purposeful, organized, strong-willed and determined character. Other traits of conscientiousness are competence, order, dutifulness, achievement, self-discipline and deliberation. Great musicians, athletes, performers and leaders do not become great without a generous portion of this fundamental. Leaders with high conscientiousness are associated with high achievement.
People who are less conscientious are poor at applying standards of discipline, morals and ethics; they are more lackadaisical in working toward their goals. However, a coach can develop conscientiousness by improving planning, organizing and carrying out tasks so clients experience firsthand the positive feelings associated with the satisfaction of accomplishment. Also, a coach can point out that successful leaders are ever increasing their maturity by always learning while they are leading.
Agreeableness—Think Jay Leno. Agreeableness is a dimension of interpersonal tendencies. The agreeable person is one who is positive in outlook. He or she is polite, trusting, and prefers cooperation over competition. He or she feels compassion for and empathy toward others and eagerness to help them—and believe others will help them in return. Agreeable people are straightforward, altruistic, compliant and modest.
By contrast, the disagreeable or antagonistic person in the extreme is egocentric, skeptical of the intention of others, and usually has empathy deficit disorder and is overly competitive.
I suggest leaders try to balance ego and empathy to make themselves more agreeable. The practice of empathy brings egos down to a healthy level. Agreeableness increases confidence in the successful leader as positive results become contagious.
Openness—Think Steve Jobs. The fundamental ingredients of openness include intellectual curiosity, inventiveness, sensitivity to art and beauty, imagination and independent judgment. Open individuals are curious about both their inner and outer worlds and are willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values. They experience positive and negative emotions keenly. Openness is closely related to divergent thinking and creativity.
Men and women who are not open-minded tend to be conventional in behavior and conservative in outlook. They prefer the familiar, and their emotional responses may be muted. These individuals may have a narrow band of interest in their surroundings.
Open individuals are willing to question authority and entertain new ethical, social and political ideas, but that does not mean they are unprincipled. A leader will have to determine when to adhere to convention and when to be unconventional, or more open, in his or her strategic problem-solving and decision-making. Coaches help develop openness with constant reminders to monitor one’s own mindful choices.
Extroversion—Think Bill Clinton. Extroverts are most comfortable on center stage and crave attention. Extroverts can display warmth, gregariousness and assertiveness. Extroverts are socially dominant, active, upbeat and energetic. They like speaking, excitement and stimulation. They remain optimistic and tend to be cheerful.
Introverts are more difficult to describe. They are even-paced and not necessarily unhappy or pessimistic. They are reserved but may be seen by others as unfriendly. They are independent but may be seen by others as not being a team player. They may say they are shy, but what they mean is that they prefer to work alone.
A great book on extroversion is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in the World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She reveals that one-third of the population are introverts. Introverts prefer listening to speaking. They innovate and create but dislike gross self-promotion. She cites Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss and Steve Wozniak as well-known introverts.
Leaders need to be what I call “ambiverts.” They need to be an introvert or an extrovert when the need arises. Extroversion diminishes with age, probably because people prefer to maintain relationships and tend to lessen their assertive dominance in social situations.
Neuroticism—Think Woody Allen. This fundamental speaks to our ability to adjust to psychological distress and the tendency to obsess about negative experiences. This fundamental of psychology presents the contrast between emotional stability—an ability to adjust—at one end, and maladjustment—neuroticism—on the other. Being maladjusted means not being able to adjust quickly enough or long enough to turn the emotionally draining moment into a leadership moment. People who dwell on the negative find it harder to adapt at work. They tend to be less able to cope with other people’s stress, which leaders have to do daily. We all have some amount of neuroticism. Leaders need to have less neuroticism and more emotional stability than the people they lead. Leaders must be able to face stress without becoming upset or rattled. The coach can help the client learn how to regulate the flood of negative emotions, focus on leadership and avoid causing unpleasant situations.
Which of these five fundamentals are essential for able leaders? The three fundamentals of conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. With time and coaching, leaders can monitor and control the two others: extroversion and neuroticism.