Research on the Dark Side of Personality Traits in Entrepreneurship: Observations from an Organizational Behavior Perspective

By Klotz, Anthony C.; Neubaum, Donald O. | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Research on the Dark Side of Personality Traits in Entrepreneurship: Observations from an Organizational Behavior Perspective


Klotz, Anthony C., Neubaum, Donald O., Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice


While the personality of entrepreneurs can be cast in positive and negative lights, it is essential that researchers understand the complex process through which personalities shape behavior and influence outcomes. Building on Miller's observations on downsides of entrepreneurs' personalities, we present five broad lines of inquiry derived from the organizational behavior literature to guide future research on the role of personality in entrepreneurial phenomena. These streams of research have implications for how personality is conceptualized in the entrepreneurship literature, and we urge researchers to examine interactions among different personality traits, and between traits and contextual and affective variables which play a critical role in personality-outcome relationships. Finally, we encourage scholars to consider the personality of new venture team members, and how some traits may serve important resource-conservation roles.

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Danny Miller (2014) makes a compelling presentation describing the Janus-faced nature of personalities (defined as stable and consistent structures of individuals, characterized by patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; Kendall & Hammen, 1995) typically associated with entrepreneurs. Miller observes that positive personality traits, such as energy, passion, and need for achievement, can, at times, prove valuable to nascent and founding entrepreneurs, but that the negative extremes of some personality traits (e.g., overconfidence, narcissism, aggressiveness, deviance, and obsessiveness) may have serious and detrimental personal, organizational, and societal outcomes. We fully support Miller's argument that the organizational sciences often overlook the "dark side" of phenomena and agree that entrepreneurship scholarship would benefit from more research like Haynes, Hitt, and Campbell's (2015) work which examines the deleterious effects of hubris and greed on social and human capital in new ventures, family businesses, and corporate ventures. Like DiNisi (2015), we also agree there is potential for studies of personality to contribute to the entrepreneurship literature. However, given that the study of entrepreneurs' personalities has made limited progress, it is essential that when we set the direction for future work in this important area, we make sure that we continue to build on the foundation that has been laid by over a century of personality research, rather than treating "entrepreneurial personality" as a unique phenomenon.

To that end, we extend the recommendations from the commentaries of Miller (2014) and DiNisi (2015) with a keen eye directed toward our fellow organizational behavior (OB), and personality and social psychology scholars who have amassed a great deal of knowledge regarding how high and low levels of ostensibly good and bad personality traits influence individuals, teams, and organizations. Indeed, when viewing the concept of an "entrepreneurial personality" through an OB lens, it becomes clear that even the use of this term is misleading, as just like all individuals, each entrepreneur's personality is unique, and each consists of many behavioral tendencies. In this commentary, we first suggest that conceptualizing personality traits associated with entrepreneurism as Janus-faced as Miller has done is problematic and limiting, and then forward several considerations gleaned from personality research in the OB literature which, if applied to the study of personality in entrepreneurial contexts, should advance our literature on how individual characteristics meaningfully affect outcomes relevant to the study of entrepreneurship.

Multifaceted, not Janus-Faced, Personalities of Entrepreneurs

Our first observation is that the positive and negative personality traits highlighted by Miller (2014) are not Janus-faced, but independent behavioral tendencies anchored by their own high and low levels. In the field of psychology, the structure of personality was established long ago, with much of the management literature focused on the "Big Five" Model of personality traits (i. …

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