As A Leader, Your Personality Is Everything (Part One)

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

I bet you can’t guess who this is straight away:

Age 23: lost a job

Age 23: was defeated in bid for state legislature

Age 24: failed in a business venture

Age 25: was elected to legislature

Age 26: sweetheart died

Age 27: experienced several emotional issues

Age 27: was defeated in bid to be speaker of the house

Age 34: was defeated for nomination to Congress

Age 37: was elected to Congress

Age 39: lost renomination to Congress

Age 40: was defeated in bid for land office

Age 45: was defeated in bid for U.S. Senate

Age 47: was defeated for nomination to be vice president

Age 49: was defeated in bid for Senate a second time

Age 51: was elected president of the United States

This person was……… Abraham Lincoln .

What does this say about Lincoln? Well, he was persevering, he accepted criticism and he was resilient – you could say a real tough SOB. It’s these personality traits that made him the President we remember today.

This is Part One of a series on the importance of your personality and it’s implications for you as a leader. It is one of the most important assets you possess. Did you know that? Your personality traits are the standard behaviors you exhibit, and they are what your followers come to depend upon . For example, you might be typically dominant, or perhaps you’re always a friendly person, or even someone who takes very few risks. These examples are personality traits.

Even traits that might be classically defined as bad are valuable in the right context. If you’re known for aggression, then if you’re predictably aggressive then you could make a mean negotiator in the right circumstances. The important thing is that you behave consistently , and it’s your personality traits that describe your behaviors. People know what to expect from you, if they know your personality traits.

The US presidential election is all about traits – probably more than policy.


Barack Obama is friendly, steady, and empathic.

McCain is dominant and demonstrates conformity.

Well that’s my view anyway. The months and weeks up to the election are really a phase of showcasing personalities . Don’t you think? Ask 1,000 Americans who will vote about their chosen candidate; you’ll hear more about personality than policy.

This is because by building a strong perception of your personality in your followers (and potential followers), they will know what to expect from you, trust you and vote for you at the right time.

The implications for new IT leaders are obvious – if you open up to people and show who you are underneath, they’ll know what to expect from you. It’s a sure fire way of developing trust and respect . It’s about behaving consistently and with integrity . IT is complicated enough for people without putting the extra burden of working out who you are and how you behave.

Many new leaders try to be ‘all things to all people’, in other words, they adapt their behavior in accordance with what their followers want to see. But this confuses them . Leadership, unlike the presidential election campaign, isn’t a popularity contest. In most situations, personal integrity and consistency are the only ways of building a strong following.

The world is changing and, with it, the IT industry. Outsourcing has disrupted the IT economy, and IT is under threat from technologically-savvy business people. What IT needs are strong leaders who stand up for who they are. There won’t be room for wishy-washy leaders who just go with someone else’s flow! So what does your personality bring to the table, and more importantly, do your people know what it is?

Footnote: The above isn’t just theory. I’ve put this thinking into real business practice for my own purposes, and also for the people I have subsequently mentored. A few years ago I joined an organization where, at first, I felt I didn’t fit in. So I made the mistake of trying to be ‘all things to all people’. What I found was that I was considered a ‘nice chap’ but folks didn’t really know what I stood for. This meant that my personality traits didn’t shine through and it created the perception of weakness on many fronts. I was also given, in several cases, the totally wrong assignments. It was only when I stood up for what I believed in and acted with personal integrity did my situation recover.

Next Time: How to assess your personality.

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4 thoughts on “As A Leader, Your Personality Is Everything (Part One)”

  1. There was a magazine advertisement in the 1960’s about Abraham Lincoln called, “Would You Hire This Man.” I think it was an insurance company that placed the ad but, so far, I can’t find it anywhere on the web.
    It listed all of Abe’s failures and then the fact that he was elected president. I saw your post about Twitter on Steve Pavlina’s website and decided to visit your site. I’ll be back.Thank you.

  2. @John – I haven’t seen that ad anywhere. Just googled it too – no luck. If you find it, let me know! Thanks for the compliment John. I hope you come back and feel I’ve added value!

  3. Successful Managers tend to have that “iconic” personality. They tend to leave a very strong impression on their subordinates and co-managers. CEO’s tend to look for that kind of quality. It requires time and toil to get to that level though.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

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