It’s time to stop talking about great leadership personalities

It’s time to stop talking about great leadership personalities

March 17, 2016 by Stella Petrou Concha

Before you roll your eyes, don’t worry, this is not another blog post about the personalities of great leaders. By now, there’s been enough ink spilled on the topic that the last thing the world needs is another post on it.

What we all seem to forget is that being a leader is about who you are leading. Leadership styles don’t exist in glorious isolation, and a person’s approach will only be effective if it complements the way their team thinks. Or, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s ’92 presidential campaign; ‘it’s the team, stupid’.

When managers and teams think differently, they are more profitable.

Leading, following and personality

What really got me thinking about this problem was a study I came across last year from the Harvard Business Review. In it, the authors carried out a simple experiment – they tracked the profits of different pizza stores and compared the results with personality analyses of both the managers and their teams.

The results pointed to a curious trend. When managers and teams thought differently, they were more profitable. Introverted teams led by an extrovert where 16 percent more profitable than average. The same pattern was true when the leadership/team personalities were swapped.

However, when these personality types matched (extroverted leaders in charge of outgoing teams), profitability actually dropped 14 per cent below average.

Who knew pizza could tell you so much about leading a team?

Learning from the humble pizza

The humble pizza contains plenty of leadership lessons.

When leading a team, opposites attract

The big picture here is a little-known phenomenon called ‘dominance complementarity’, which refers to that different personalities offset the weaknesses of one another to create a more balanced whole.

When you put an extroverted manager in a room full of other extroverts, there’s a very real tendency for the leader to ignore the other loud voices in the room. When you replace them with a quieter leader who is more comfortable listening, then every extroverted voice in the room suddenly gets to chip in.

Of course your team will never be purely extroverted or introverted, we are all unique and sit somewhere on the scale between those points. What we all have to remember is that a great leader is self-aware enough to recognise the limits of their personality, the nature of the team they are leading, and then adjust their approach to match.

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