Volume IV, No. 8
Leadership Personality: Do You Dr. Maynard Brusman
Have the Big Five Traits?
is a consulting
trusted advisor to
“Personalities at work are like cars in the city: They often the senior leadership
can keep us from our destination.” Pierce J. Howard, The team. He is the
Owner’s Manual for Personality at Work, 2001.
president of Working
Resources, a talent
ow well do you understand basic personality management
differences among the people at work? Knowledge consulting, training
of personality structure, dynamics and development is and executive
helpful to your:
coaching firm. We help
1. Personal professional development
2. Relationships with associates
select, coach and
3. Relationships with superiors and the organization in retain top talent. We
specialize in executive
The bottom line is performance. Whether you are working selection, competency modeling, succession planning,
in a team, leading a department, or selling a service leadership consulting, 360-degree feedback, change
or product, the way you communicate and persuade is management, emotional intelligence, culture surveys,
critical to your personal success and your company’s career development and leadership coaching.
Dr. Brusman is a highly sought-after speaker and
If you aspire to climb the leadership ladder, you will need workshop leader. He facilitates mission, values, and
to learn the basics of personality. Without studying for a vision retreats.
PhD in psychology, you can gain a firm understanding of “Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the
your own personality and those with whom you work.
United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in
his work with senior executives and upper level managers,
Psychologists now believe that of all the various methods and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher
for classifying personality dimensions, only one stands levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough
out as the most statistically robust: the Big Five. This business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching
means personality factors can be differentiated and field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom,
distilled into five separate components:
energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach,
N = Need for stability, negative emotionality,
Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching
He has been chosen as an expert to appear on radio
E = Extraversion, positive emotionality, sociability
and TV, and in the Wall Street Journal and Fast
O = Originality, openness, imagination
A = Agreeableness, accommodation, adaptability
C = Consolidation, conscientiousness, will to achieve,
55 New Montgomery Street, Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105
The Big Five Personality Factors
San Francisco and Marin locations
Toll free: 800-993-3354
he Big Five, or Five-Factor Model, has been around since
1936. With computers and factor analysis software,
research in the 1980s has consistently confirmed
that these five personality factors are the most A Word of Caution About Assessments
reliable for differentiating personality traits.
The Big Five synonym clusters appear to account Human personality is complex, and we have yet
to unlock its mysteries. The Big Five model gives
for most differences among individual personalities, us a uniform language based on standard definitions,
describing five universal dimensions. We score a high, but please note that no single profile represents an
low or mid-range rating in each dimension:
1. N refers to one’s need for stability or negative Many forces shape an individual. The Five Factors
emotionality. A person high in N is very reactive and form the main infrastructure. More than two dozen
prefers a stress-free workplace. A person low in N is different traits are subsumed under them, providing
very calm and relatively unaffected by stress that trillions of combinations. Human individuality is too
usually burdens others.
complex for any one system to explain adequately.
2. E refers to one’s “extraversion.” A person high The N Dimension and Stress
in E likes to be in the thick of the action, while a
person low in E prefers to be away from noise and
Your N score estimates the point at which your flight-
or-fight response is triggered. This period of arousal
is eventually counterbalanced by parasympathetic
3. O refers to one’s originality or openness to new arousal, or a return to normalcy and calmness.
experiences. A person high in O has an appetite for
new ideas and activities, and is easily bored. Those Individuals with higher N scores have a shorter
low in the O factor prefer familiar territory and tend “trigger” and can’t take much stress before feeling
to be more practical.
it. Those with lower scores have a longer fuse and can
take abundant amounts of stress before showing the
4. A refers to one’s accommodation ability signs.
or agreeableness. A person high in A tends to
accommodate the wishes and needs of others, while
Resilient N-/Low N Score: If you are particularly
a person low in A tends to cater to his or her own
resilient, you tend to respond to stressful situations
in a calm, secure and rational way. Typically, you are
stress-free, guilt-free and urge-resistant. Unless you
5. C refers to one’s consolidation or conscientiousness.
are very attentive, you may appear to others to be
A person high in C tends to consolidate energy when
too laid back and relaxed. Others may even perceive
accomplishing one or more goals. A person low in C
you to be uncaring, lethargic, insensitive or unaware
prefers multitasking and a more spontaneous work
of problems. You may need to take others’ concerns
more seriously if you want to nurture good working
These definitions come from Pierce J. Howard, PhD,
and Jane Mitchell Howard, MBA, as outlined in their
Responsive N=/Mid-Level N Score: You are responsive
book, The Owner’s Manual for Personality at Work
and tend to be calm, secure and steady under normal
(Bard Press, 2001). While others have written about
circumstances. You have a moderate threshold for
the Big Five Factors, this book summarizes how they
handling workplace stress.
manifest in the work environment.
Reactive N+/High N Score: You are reactive and tend
Is the Big Five personality assessment valid?
to respond to most situations in an alert, sensitive,
Researchers have pointed to reliability studies that
concerned, attentive, excitable or expressive way.
are consistent enough to approach the status of law.
Under stress, you may appear anxious, tense, restless,
In the business world, this model provides a reliable,
depressed, easily discouraged, temperamental or
standard vocabulary with which to discuss personality
worried. In tough times, you need time to vent your
frustrations or alleviate your concerns before you’re
The most highly regarded standard test for measuring
ready to tackle the next job challenge. You may fill
the Big Five is Costa and McCrae’s NEO PI-R, also called
the role of conscience or emotional barometer for
the NEO. In the fall of 2000, the Howards introduced
your team or organization.
the WorkPlace Big Five ProFile (WB5P), which features
questions and reports that incorporate workplace
The E Factor: Sociability
The A Factor: Negotiation
This factor describes comfort levels with external
Your A factor is an estimate of the point at which
you tire of being defiant and turn to acts of
submission. Biologically, it is based in the dominance
Introvert/E-: If you’re an introvert, you prefer challenge system of our brains.
working alone. Typically, you are a serious, quiet,
private person who may opt to write or email
Challenger/A-: You relate to authority by
instead of talking to others. Others may consider
being skeptical, tough, guarded, persistent and
you a loner.
competitive. You may come across as hostile, rude,
self-centered or combative.
Ambivert/E=: If you fall in the mid-range on the E
scale, you tend to move easily from working with
Negotiator/A=: You can shift between competitive
others to working alone. You have a moderate
and cooperative situations and usually push for a
threshold for sensory stimulation and may tire of it
after a while.
Adapter/A+: You tend to relate to authority by
Extravert/E+: You prefer to be around other people being tolerant, humble and accepting. You may
and are talkative, enthusiastic, sociable and fun-
come across as naïve, submissive, conflict-averse
loving. You often become the formal or informal
and even unprincipled because you will yield your
leader. You may not be a good listener because you
tend to dominate the conversation.
The C Factor: Focus
Recognizing your natural tendency to be surrounded
by people, noise and activity will help guide you in This personality dimension describes your capacity
making career choices.
to focus attention on sustained, repetitive, goal-
The O Factor: Curiosity
Flexible/C-: You tend to approach goals in a relaxed,
spontaneous, open-ended way. Your mind can switch
his factor reflects your openness or originality—
tracks on the run. You may be a procrastinator
your level of curiosity versus comfort with familiar
or viewed as casual about responsibilities or
Preserver/O-: If you are in the low range for this Balanced/C=: You tend to keep work demands and
personality factor, you are practical and down to
personal needs in balance. You can switch from
earth. You approach work with efficiency and are
focused activities to spontaneous diversions.
comfortable with repetitive activities. Others may
view you as conservative, narrow in your thinking,
Focused/C+: You work toward goals in a disciplined,
set in your ways or even rigid.
dependable fashion. You proceed in a linear,
sequential manner, with a strong will to achieve.
Moderate/O+: You tend to be somewhat down You typically consolidate your time, energy and
to earth, but you’ll consider a new way of doing
resources in pursuit of your goals.
something if convinced. You aren’t known for your
creativity or curiosity, but you appreciate innovation Understanding the Nature
of Great Leaders
Explorer/O+: You tend to have many broad
interests and like to be cutting-edge. You are often Machiavelli, in The Prince, argued that the best
curious, introspective and reflective, seeking new
leader needs to do whatever it takes to get the
experiences and thinking about the future. You may job done. If toughness is required, or if a situation
be easily bored. Others may view you as impractical calls for tenderness, successful leaders will adapt to
succeed. Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi, author of Flow:
The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1996, found
that creative geniuses share one tendency: They do
what it takes to get the job done, even if it requires
a behavior that is less than appealing.
Portrait of a “Natural Leader”
There has been substantial research over the last two decades on the Big Five profile of an ideal leader. This
does not mean people who fail to fit this profile are unable to lead; rather, the Big Five profiles the typical
leader’s personality, based on organizational studies. These personality traits move along a continuum, and one
can exercise non-preferential behaviors when necessary.
The natural leader defined in Big Five terms is resilient (N-); energetic, outgoing and persuasive (E+);
visionary (O+); competitive (A-); and dedicated to a goal (C+).
“Leadership involves persuading other people to set aside for a period of time their individual concerns and to pursue a
common goal that is important for the responsibilities and welfare of a group.” (Hogan, Curphy and Hogan, 1994, “What
we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality.” American Psychologist. 49(6), 493-504.)
Leaders who are generally calm (N-) must occasionally show agitation and strong emotions (N+). They may be
generally outgoing and assertive (E+), and occasionally retire in solitude (E-). They may espouse a vision (O+)
and also be practical and efficient (O-). They can be unyielding (A-), but also nurturing on occasion (A+). And
although they must focus on goals (C+), they must occasionally be spontaneous (C-) and playful.
The Big Trade-Offs
It is impossible to have some traits simultaneously. The drive to lead and achieve (A-) runs contrary to
interpersonal sensitivity (A+). If you want a leader with a strong drive, you must typically sacrifice some
interpersonal sensitivity. If you want a leader with strong interpersonal sensitivity, you must sacrifice some
amount of drive.
Carefully identifying the needs of a specific role prior to selecting or appointing a leader will help determine
any necessary trade-offs.
If you want to learn more about where you score on the Big Five personality factors, there are a few commercial
online assessment sites. But simply knowing where you stand, without factoring in the context of your work
environment, provides an incomplete assessment. A coach or consultant can help you apply this information for
personal development and career advancement.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Mail: P.O. Box 471525
San Francisco, California 94147-1525
Helping Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally Intelligent People