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Leadership personality traits: Unlocking your potential

Leaders think about personality types in a flawed way that doesn't help them help others. Instead, look at the idea of a process communication model.

5 min read


Leadership personality traits: Unlocking your potential


Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Nate Regier, PhD, and is an adapted excerpt from “Seeing People Through: Unleash Your Leadership Potential with The Process Communication Model,” Chapter 4: “Influence.”

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“The true task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, since the greatness is already there.” — John Buchan

Have you ever heard people say things like this after they learn about their personality?

  • “I’m an extrovert, so don’t be offended by what I say.”
  • “As a High-D, I’m competitive. If you can’t hunt with the big dogs, stay on the porch.”
  • “Agreeableness is not one of my strengths, so don’t expect me to be sympathetic.” 

One of the most dangerous things that can happen with personality assessments is entitlement. People learn about their strongest type or style, embrace it and then hide behind it. Buoyed with new self-esteem from being told their personality is awesome, they begin to act as if it entitles them to behave without accountability.

Personality isn’t an entitlement program

Learning about our personality shouldn’t give leaders an excuse for entitlement. It should help them be more responsible, more capable, and more agile. A High-D is not destined to turn everything into a competition, and it’s not OK to do that. An extrovert can learn to be sensitive to another’s personal space.

Empathy and compassion can be developed, even by people with low agreeableness, which is a critical leadership skill. Instead of being an entitlement program or get-out-of-jail-free card, personality should be the mechanism by which successful leaders simultaneously honor their uniqueness and influence diverse capabilities and perspectives toward shared goals.

Types IN people, not types OF people

Part of the problem is how personality assessments are conceptualized. Most assessments based on theories about individual differences will categorize types of people instead of describing types in people. For the most part, theory-based personality models suffer from validity and reliability problems and tend to invite entitlement.

If you’ve ever described your personality with the phrase, “I am a __________,” you are most likely perpetuating the myth that personality is about types of people. Models based on behavioral observation, like the Process Communication Model, reveal a more nuanced picture of how personality actually manifests in people.

Personality and communication

Personality only matters when two or more people are trying to get something done. Even then, it only matters in how we communicate with each other across differences towards a common goal. Learning about personality differences is virtually worthless unless you also learn how to communicate effectively with them.

Personality models that don’t teach communication, cooperation, leadership and management skills are a waste of energy, money and time. Leadership development efforts that introduce people to personality diversity without going the distance to teach and hold leaders accountable to new communication behaviors are doing more harm than good.

Personality and engagement

Employees leave their leaders, not their companies. Research reported by Gallup shows that leaders account for 70% of variance in employee engagement. 

Successful leadership influence occurs by tapping into people’s unique motivational needs and preferred modes of communication. The Process Communication Model identifies what these are and how to feed them positively. This is a leadership goldmine because employees who are motivated according to their personalities are happier, more engaged and more productive.

Leaders who figure this out and develop the necessary communication and motivation skills can turn their influence into a tremendous lever for business success.

One of a leader’s most important roles is connecting team members with the purpose of an organization. People won’t connect with the purpose of an organization unless that purpose connects with their motivational needs. When they can align their motivators with something bigger than themselves, it allows them to apply their personality in ways that make a tremendous positive impact in the world. PCM is a powerful tool to help leaders facilitate these connections.

To unlock the leadership potential in your personality, ask yourself these questions:

  • How are you using your personality to become more response-able instead of more entitled?
  • How are you using your personality to bring out the best in others?
  • What skills do you need to learn in order to effectively communicate with other personality types?
  • How can you align the purpose and goals of your organization with what motivates your employees?


Nate Regier, Ph.D., is the CEO and founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a global leadership firm dedicated to bringing compassion into the workplace. Regier is a former practicing psychologist and expert in social-emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, and leadership. Recognized as a top 100 keynote speaker, he is the author of three books: “Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires,” “Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability” and his newest book, “Seeing People Through: Unleash Your Leadership Potential with The Process Communication Model.” He hosts a podcast called “On Compassion with Dr. Nate.”

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