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Strong personalities are weak when faced with change

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - By Audun Farbrot

Management teams with members who have strong personality traits have difficulty adapting to rapid changes in their surroundings, according to new study.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Leadership and change

Companies and organisations must be able to adapt to sudden changes in their surroundings.

There are many examples of organisations that no longer exist because they did not manage to adapt quickly enough.

This requires managers and management teams that can implement necessary changes.

Talent and vulnerability

Associate Professor Jan Ketil Arnulf at BI Norwegian Business School has conducted a study of how managers with strong personality traits influence a management team’s ability to quickly adapt to changes in their surroundings.

Members of management teams will have different types of personality traits and some managers will have stronger personality traits than others.

On the one hand, personality traits can be explained as talent – something one is good at. It is a marked and strong trait.

Strong personality traits can also reflect vulnerability or more specifically behaviour in which one is stuck.

For example, extroverted persons have difficulty being quiet and introverted persons can have difficulty keeping a conversation going.

Followed management teams for three years

Arnulf was admitted to a marketing company where he followed ten different management teams with a total of 60 managers over a period of three years. The managers had the same tasks and areas of responsibility related to sales, costs and profitability.

The management researcher used a well-known and frequently employed personality test – Cattell’s 16PF5 – which tests 16 vital personality traits and intelligence: Warmth, reasoning (intelligence), emotional stability, dominance, liveliness, rule-consciousness, social boldness, sensitivity, vigilance, abstractedness, privateness, apprehension, openness to change, self-reliance, perfectionism and perceived tension.

The 60 managers were tested to find the ten management group’s most marked personality traits.

The scores from the personality tests were compared on a monthly basis with the financial results over a period of three years, a total of 33 measurements.

Strong traits make for inflexible habits

The strongest personality traits in all the teams proved to be more inflexible ways of doing business.

This became a significant problem for the management teams during the three-year period. Major changes in the market necessitated changes in order to succeed.

“Teams that had markedly strong personality traits were more inflexible than teams with less markedly strong traits”, Jan Ketil Arnulf points out.

The teams with the strongest personality traits were less apt to adapt to changes in the market.

This applied to all the personality traits studied with two exceptions: intelligence and stress robustness.

Management teams with members who had a high level of intelligence and a well-developed ability to withstand stress achieved better profitability than management teams where these personality traits were not as dominant.

Advice to organisations

The study shows that the members’ personality traits can influence how the management team solves its tasks.

“Personality traits most likely function the strongest if people are not aware of them”, Arnulf points out.

He believes teamwork training and enhanced awareness of how individuals function in a team will make a management team more flexible in their job and less vulnerable to habits and inflexible behaviour.

Reference:

Arnulf, J. K. (2012): Organizational change capacity and composition of management teams: A visualization of how personality traits may restrain team adaptability, Team performance management 18(7/8): 433-454, doi: 10.1108/13527591211281156.

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Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication at BI Norwegian Business School (E-mail:

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