Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Relationship between Major Personality Traits and Managerial Performance: Moderating Effects of Derailing Traits

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Relationship between Major Personality Traits and Managerial Performance: Moderating Effects of Derailing Traits

Article excerpt

In this study of 144 executives (45%) and middle-level managers (55%) we investigated the moderating effects of a derailing trait composite measure on the relations between five major personality dimensions and boss ratings of overall performance, advancement potential, and career difficulty risk. The five major personality traits measured were openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. A derailing trait is one that is associated with unexpected failure to reach a top position in an organization. The derailing trail composite was composed of five scales including: ego-centered, intimidating, manipulating, micro-managing, and passive-aggressive. Although received wisdom is that a "lack of character" is always detrimental to performance, the results of the study suggested that high scores on derailing traits will typically lead to higher performance ratings when examined across the executive success factors spectrum. Even though derailing traits moderated the relations between several of the personality factors and advancement potential and almost all of the personality factors and career risk difficulty, the expected level of performance for those high in derailing traits is typically much higher at low levels of the personality factors and virtually the same at high levels of the personality factors. The results suggest that derailment traits may actually be more functional than we previously thought. Implications for practice are noted.

The behavior of top level executives impacts the organizational bottom line. Top level executives impact top management team dynamics which in turn affects organizational performance (Peterson, Smith, Martorana, & Owens, 2003). Several studies have also shown direct effects for top level executive behavior on fiscal organizational performance indicators (Koene, Vogelaar, & Sorters, 2002; Russell, 2001). On the other hand, in one study of nearly four hundred of the Fortune 1000 companies, 47 percent of executives and managers rated their company's overall leadership capacity as fair or poor, only 8 percent rated it as excellent (Csoka, 1998). Furthermore, Howard (2001) forecasts a coming shortage of leaders based upon increased demand triggered by economic growth, retirement of current executives, and decreasing supply primarily a result of downsizing initiatives which have eradicated whole layers of middle management. Taken together, this suggests that research that examines what leads to executive success is a critical area of inquiry for organizational scholars.

Previous research on the topic of leadership derailment (McCaIl & Lombardo, 1983; Van Velsor & Leslie, 1995) suggests that those who arrive at top levels, as well as those who derail before reaching the strategic apex (or fail after arriving) are extremely bright. Most executive assessments therefore have a heavy emphasis on measurement of interpersonal functioning. However, Sperry (1999) has noted that corporate clients are much less convinced of the efficacy and predictive value of typical executive psychological assessment methods than they were a decade ago. Moreover, corporate clients point to reported derailment figures of up to 50% (Hogan & Sinclair, 1997) in questioning the value of current personality assessments. Character assessment is therefore suggested as an adjunct to traditional personality assessment to guard against ineffective executive hiring (Hogan & Sinclair, 1997; Leonard, 1997; Sperry, 1997; Sperry, 1999). Character assessment is defined somewhat differently by the different authors as they each tap different theoretical frameworks. However, the commonalities appear to be: ( 1 ) character is typically not measured by normal-range personality measures, (2) character is an enduring pattern of behavior, and (3) there is an implication but never direct statement that the lack of character will be detrimental to organizational functioning. …

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