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  • Tamar Balkin

Can Being A Leader Change You For The Better?

"It’s not who you are underneath;

it’s what you do that defines you."

(Nolan, 2005, 1:11:09)

Our personality traits, are typically defined as relatively stable patterns of behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. They are essentially how our internal personality translates how we interact with life. The pervasive approach amongst psychologists has been that personality stabilises at age 30, or perhaps as late as 50. Unless a person sustains a head injury it is unlikely that their personality will change. Researchers identified five general personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Regular readers would be aware that there is rarely one theory amongst psychologists and increasingly personality research is demonstrating the impact of external or environmental factors on personality. There is a view that people create, seek out, or otherwise gravitate to environments that are compatible with their traits. Some researchers argue that we have a ‘set point’ to which our personalities return after being impacted by a life event or external factor. Others argue that our external social roles impact our personalities, the third perspective is that our values and the ability to reach them may be involved in changes in personality.

Can we actively change our personalities?

There is also growing interest into external interventions that may change personality traits and the internal or self‐induced actions to develop personality. Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that individuals need to want to change their trait-related behaviours, either as an end in itself or in order to achieve other goals. They also need to consider what behavioural changes are feasible and be able to consistently implement them to ensure they become habits.

If you are feeling nostalgic, click here for a clip of Superman changing into Clark Kent

What is the impact of major life events or transitions?

Regular readers are aware that we cannot control everything in life. Transitions are the “environmental changes are so drastic that that usual behaviour patterns are disrupted and we have minimal control over the environment.” Common Transitions include: Education; Employment; Marriage; Parenthood; Immigration; Retirement; and Redundancy.

One group of researchers found that transitions strengthen personality. The alternative view is that transitions provide an opportunity for change because to cope successfully with the new and the unpredictable requires a reorganisation of priorities and adaptation to new environment, thus they alter personality.

What about the transitions associated with leadership?

As a person transitions to a more senior role they will experience increases in job role demands, a crucial manifestation of role expectations, in addition increases in leadership job tenure leads to increases in cognitive complexity. As a person progresses within their leadership role and into more senior leadership roles they are constantly transitioning. A recently published article found that the conscientiousness component of personality adapts to the changes in job responsibilities associated with leadership.

Is this research really something new?

The Hawaii longitudinal study of personality and health, which began in 1959 is an ongoing investigation of 2000 first‐ through sixth‐grade elementary school children who were first assessed on their personality traits. Today 73% of participants are still happy to be involved in research.

The current findings tend to support the view that during the 40s and 50s, Extraversion and Openness remain relatively stable, where as Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability show slight increases over time.

How does this relate to our day to day behaviour?

In my opinion, irrespective of whether the origin of our personality may lies in our biology and or environment, self‐regulation remains the most important driving force in the shaping of our day to day behaviour.

We all have unique cognitive schemas that we develop to categorise our social world and shape our behaviour:

(a) encodings or categories for construing the world,

(b) expectancies and beliefs about the world (e.g., self-efficacy),

(c) affects, goals and values,

(d) competencies, and

(e) self-regulatory plans.

Remember that we are uniquely characterised by the content of these systems, by the particular way they are inter-connected, and their accessibility.

So what about leadership?

As with any transition, leaders have the opportunity to decide if it will change them for the better or worse. Good leaders are constantly motivated to improve their behaviour irrespective of their personality, habits or ignorance. They know that explanations for behaviour do not serve as excuses for inappropriate actions. My brave clients, and their bosses, have decided that leadership is the perfect time to improve their self-awareness, emotional intelligence and behaviour. Are you ready to?



Kay L. Ritchie , & Robin S. S. Kramer,(2016) Why (and how) Superman hides behind glasses: the difficulties of face matching. Journal of Geek Studies 3(2): 12–16.

Li, W.-D., Li, S., Feng, J. (Jasmine), Wang, M., Zhang, H., Frese, M. and Wu, C.-H. (2020). Can becoming a leader change your personality? An investigation with two longitudinal studies from a role-based perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Boer, L., Klimstra, T.A., Branje, S.J.T., Meeus, W.H.J. and Denissen, J.J.A. (2019). Personality Maturation during the Transition to Working Life: Associations with Commitment as a Possible Indicator of Social Investment. European Journal of Personality, 33(4), pp.456–467.

Hennecke, M., Bleidorn, W., Denissen, J. J. A., & Wood, D. (2014). A three‐part framework for self‐regulated personality development across adulthood. European Journal of Personality, 28, 289–299.

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Hampson, S.E. (2012). Personality Processes: Mechanisms by Which Personality Traits “Get Outside the Skin.” Annual Review of Psychology, [online] 63(1), pp.315–339. Available at:

‌ Ardelt, M. (2000). Still Stable after All These Years? Personality Stability Theory Revisited. Social Psychology Quarterly, [online] 63(4), pp.392–405. Available at: [Accessed 12 Oct. 2019].

Hampson, S.E. and Edmonds, G.W. (2017). A New Twist on Old Questions: A Life Span Approach to the Trait Concept. Journal of Personality, 86(1), pp.97–108.

‌ (n.d.). Personalities Can Change After Taking on Leadership Roles. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2020].


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