This article was produced and financed by BI Norwegian Business School

Big bonuses don’t make big bosses

A good leader has a genuine interest in the work, rather than a mere wish for money. The latter is correlated with low emotional stability and low sociability.

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BI Norwegian Business School

BI is a private and independent business school in Norway.

Personality traits are almost as significant as intelligence when it comes to our ability to perform work tasks efficiently, according to Professor Øyvind Lund Martinsen and Professor Lars Glasø at the BI Norwegian Business School.

For leaders, personality plays an even bigger role.

More than 2,900 Norwegian managers studied

The researchers have analysed data from an extensive leader survey that was most carried out on more than 2,900 Norwegian managers in 2011.

They measured personality traits, work motivation and organisational commitment.

The survey is based on the recognised theory of human personality, which describes personality as stable response patterns in thinking, emotion and behaviour.

Research has identified five key traits that, overall, provide a good picture of our personality. This is called the five factor model.

The five traits

The five traits in the five factor model are:

Emotional stability, extraversion (outgoing), openness to new experiences, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Previous studies show that the most skilled leaders achieve high scores for all five traits.

High scores in the five personality traits the following five characteristics of very effective leaders:

1. Ability to withstand job-related pressure and stress (emotionally stable).

2. Ability to take initiative, be clear and communicative (extravert).

3. Ability to innovate, be curious and have an ambitious vision (open to new experiences).

4. Ability to support, accommodate and include employees (high sociability).

5. Ability to set goals, be thorough and follow up (leaders are methodical).

Women score higher than men

Female leaders scored higher than men did, in four of the five personality traits measured.

The results indicate that, as regards personality, women are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, support and targeted meticulousness.

The survey also indicates that female leaders have a somewhat stronger tendency to worry.

Motivated for the job

Martinsen and Glasø also investigated whether there were any correlations between leaders’ personality and whether they have an internal or external motivation for the job.

Internal motivation is an expression of a genuine interest in the work, perceived opinion about the work and perception of independence.

External motivation is a form of motivation where we, for example, perceive that the work is governed by external rewards (e.g. bonus). Research has consistently found that such forms of motivation, in the best case, have an impact on simpler routine tasks.

The results show that high numbers in the five traits in the five factor model are associated with internal motivation.

This means that those with a basic personal expertise for the leader role, are also those with a favourable internal motivation for doing the job.

The researchers find that external motivation is correlated with low emotional stability, low sociability and low regularity.

Leaders with difficulties handling pressure, that have a lower tendency to support and that are less thorough and targeted, state that they have higher levels of external motivation in their job.

Innovative public leaders

Martinsen and Glasø compared the personality traits of leaders in the private sector with leaders in the public sector.

The results might challenge our perceptions and stereotypes regarding leaders in the public sector:

Leaders in the public sector score higher in innovation, support and targeted meticulousness than their colleagues in the private sector.

The analyses also show that senior management has greater potential for innovation and systematic and targeted behaviour in the leadership role than leaders at lower levels in the organization.



"Personlighet og ledelse", i Rønning, Brochs-Haukedal, Glasø, & Matthiesen (red.): Livet som leder. Lederundersøkelsen 3.0, Fagbokforlaget 2013. (Not online).


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