From what I see in the organizations where I consult, there’s an urgent need to understand leadership personality. All personality types have positive and negative potentials that can be described in terms of two hierarchies: productiveness and moral reasoning.
Freud pioneered our understanding of human nature with his classification of three personality types: erotic, obsessive and narcissistic. The psychologist Erich Fromm added a fourth type: the marketing personality as described by Michael Maccoby in Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, Crown Business, 2012.
Maccoby does an excellent review of these four leadership personality types, all with both positive and negative potential.
Productive vs. Nonproductive: Productive individuals are healthier than less developed, or even disturbed, personalities. A productive person is active and enthusiastic—someone who bounces back from failure and perseveres to achieve a reasoned purpose.
In contrast, unproductive people are less free and more reactive. They lack a clear purpose and are driven by addictive needs that make them fearful and dependent.
Moral Reasoning: Higher levels of moral reasoning don’t guarantee that actions will always have their intended benefits; however, we want leaders who seek to achieve a common good, not just feather their own nests.
While morally developed people are almost always productive, there are active, enthusiastic, productive people who cut corners (or worse) and score poorly on the moral-reasoning scale. In other words, being productive doesn’t necessarily mean being good.
The Dark Sides
Erotic personality type: When they are most productive, they bring people together, making connections and facilitating collaboration. The downside to this personality is codependency, wanting to please everyone, and indecisiveness.
Obsessives: The problems associated with the obsessive personality type are well known. They become mired in details and rules, losing sight of goals. They can be rigid, judgmental and insist on doing it their way. They become control freaks.
Marketing Personality Types: The biggest challenge with marketing types is their lack of a firm center, lack of commitment and continual shifting. They favor style over substance, spend a lot of energy selling themselves or chasing the next shiny thing, and may be incapable of fully committing to anything or anyone.
Narcissists and their need to achieve greatness can override everything else. They seldom listen to others and show little interest in coworkers. They aren’t worried about conscience or losing others’ love or respect. The narcissist has few internal demands to do the right thing.
Yet, the productive and moral sides of all four personality types bring added advantages to leadership. Surprisingly, one of the strongest leadership personalities, when used appropriately, is the narcissistic leader. We’ll discuss this in the next post.