Why Being the “Fun Leader” Can Lead to Not-Fun Outcomes

A recent study suggests that leaders who prioritize being charismatic and fun are usually motivated by personality traits associated with unethical behavior, including a need for attention and a desire for power.

Anyone who has ever watched The Office knows that being a “fun leader” doesn’t always mean that you’re a good boss.

Quite the opposite, really: A little too much fun—along with any personality trait that puts too much focus on you personally—might not be good for your ethical decision-making abilities.

A recent study, published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment and based on data gathered by the personality assessment firm Hogan Assessment Systems, found that leaders with personality traits like narcissism or a desire for power were more likely to take part in unethical behavior.

The study warns that narcissistic leaders are more likely to engage in unethical behavior. (NBCUniversal)

The study, relying on data from more than 3,000 managers and executives from a variety of industries, found that the most ethical leaders work with the interests of their followers in mind. Trouble arises when leaders lean too heavily on charismatic or aggressive personality traits.

“Over-reliance on these strategies, which is most common during times of stress or when a person stops self-monitoring, can ultimately hinder one’s job performance and career,” the report states. “For example, although it is often beneficial to question assumptions and scrutinize the rationale behind major organizational decisions, repeatedly questioning others may result in a reputation for being overly critical and difficult to work with.”

In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, study coauthors Kimberly Nei and Darin Nei underscored that warning: “Unchecked charisma will lead to a reputation of self-absorption and self-promotion. When team members get the sense that you are focused on your own concerns and ideas, they feel unsupported. The team may start to worry that you will no longer do what is best for the team or organization, and that you will instead do what is best for your own agenda.”

They suggest a more modest, analytical approach to leadership, with an emphasis on  consistency in how you handle decisions.

“Showing your team that you exercise caution, take calculated risks, and will adhere to organizational principles will go a long way toward gaining their trust,” the authors add.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but then again, great leadership isn’t always fun.

(NBCUniversal photos)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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