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The 'Big 5' Personality Factors - Leadership Development

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

In this week’s article, we discuss the five-factor model, more commonly known as the ‘big 5’ personality traits and how you could consider using it within your workplace or business.

More broadly, the big five describes the personality traits surrounding:

· Conscientiousness

· Agreeableness

· Neuroticism

· Openness to experience

· Extraversion

So where are we going with all of this? The important aspect to note here is this, when we look at these personality traits, and examine them, we can pin-point areas for improvement, and formulate strategies to build up our junior personnel as the future leaders of tomorrow.

Some very quick definitions, from McShane, et al. (2016):

Conscientiousness – people who are very organised, dependable, goal-focused, thorough, disciplined, methodical and industrious. People with low conscientiousness tend to be careless, disorganised and less thorough.

Agreeableness – people who tend to be trusting, helpful, good-natured, considerate, tolerant, selfless, generous, and flexible. People with low levels of agreeableness, without surprise, are uncooperative and intolerant of the needs of others, and are self-centred toward their own goals and motivations.

Neuroticism – characterises people on their level of anxiousness, insecurity, self-consciousness, and whether they are depressed or temperamental. People with low levels of neuroticism, or a high level of emotional stability, tend to be very well poised, secure and calm.

Openness to Experience – generally referring o the extent to which people are imaginative, creative, unconventional, curious, non-conforming, autonomous and aesthetically perceptive. People with low levels of openness to experience tend to be resistant to change, less open to new ideas, and more conventional and ‘fixed in their ways’.

Extraversion – these are the types of people who are outgoing, talkative, energetic, sociable, and assertive. The opposite is introversion, where these people tend to be more quiet, cautious and less interactive with others. Extraverts get their energy from the outer world, and introverts tend to steer toward personal reflection.

The Interesting Thing

In recent years, the big 5 has been used in a variety of ways, both academically and more informally. Interestingly, the big 5 has been used to analyse leadership success in the military operational environment. Bartone, et al. (2009) looked at the big-5 when they were evaluating the influence of ‘psychological hardiness, social judgement, and the big 5’ on leadership performance at the US military academy cadets at West Point. The results of which identified the fact that extroversion, hardiness and emotional intelligence are among some of the traits in the best of the best at West Point. Subjected to both military field, and academic training, over a four-year period, the cadets’ leadership abilities are put to the test in varying scenarios and environments.

How is it useful?

It’s not exactly easy to measure someone’s level of ‘hardiness’ and ‘emotional intelligence’ under real-life pressure without simulating, or augmenting real-life scenarios. However, if you're looking to design a leadership improvement program, you might want to consider using the 5-factor model. You could also consider designating some training around the character traits, values, and behaviours which you wish to see in your company and its culture, further aligning and developing your people as leaders. You might even identify these types of traits in future selection, or recruitment, both internally and externally from your organisation. Perhaps you notice right off the bat that you could use some fine-tuning yourself as a leader. There are many tools which you can draw from, either academic, or more informal types, so that you can get a better understanding for how it can be used, and in what context.

Some available tools:

There are a few free resources available online, which you have at your disposal for testing the 5-factor personality types, including:

· Science of People – Big 5 Personality Test

Quote on Leadership

“The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. You never quite get there, but by putting junior leaders’ frontline troops in charge, our SEAL platoon and task unit were far more effective. It created a culture of leaders at every level of the team” – Jocko Willink, The Dichotomy of Leadership, 2018.

Interested in knowing more? Visit our website for more information, or send us an enquiry.


Bartone, P.T, Eid, J., Johnsen, B.H., Laberg, J.C. & Snook, S.A. (2009). Big five personality factors, hardiness, and social judgement as predictors of leader performance. Leadership & Organisation Development Journal, 30, 6, pp. 498-521.

McShane, S., Olekalns, M., Newman, A., & Travaglione, T. (2016). Organizational behavior: Emerging knowledge, global insights. (5th ed). North Ryde, N.SW: McGraw-Hill

Willink, J., Babin, L. (2018). The Dichotomy of Leadership. Pan Macmillian, Australia.

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