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Effect of a Leader’s Personality on Employee Motivation

Critically discuss the ways in which a leader’s personality might affect their employees’ motivation at work.

The term ‘personality’ and ‘motivation’ holds many definitions today, the term personality is a broad term that is used when applying to a range of people. Guildford (1959) defined personality as the unique traits for the individuals look different from others, in another way this is what people either see or perceive. The term ‘personality’ also means ‘mask’ which is from the Latin persona and is used when describing the physical, mental and emotional characteristics of an individual. The concept of motivation has many theories through history, philosophers and psychologists such as Maslow, Aristotle, Locke etc analyzed their studies based on what drives and motivates mankind and the process behind human behaviour (Madsen, 1968). Motivation is where the individual feels that work is sometimes good and sometimes bad but is that is fulfilling, satisfying and capable of development in all ways. In other words, the concept of motivation comprises both the characteristics of the situation and the individuals. This essay will critically discuss whether a leaders personality may affect their employee’s motivation at work and will convey a well structured evidence-based argument which will consider a range of perspective. This essay will focus on motivation by both managers and employee and their influences on motivation.

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Having a group represents how the leader should behave towards their employee and how the employee should respond back. By doing so, there may be differences occurring which affect the leader and employee interaction. Having differences in personality and leadership styles can immensely affect motivation at work (Daft, 2011). Differences between personality styles may come from different norms, values, and attitudes. This could be because people come from different backgrounds which therefore reflects on cultural norms and values and affect employee’s motivation at work. Personality types result in behaviour change and affect the employee and leader interaction. Thus leading to an understanding that some leaders have different personality e.g strong/weak. This influences employee performance. If a leader has a weak personality, then they may find managing people emotionally difficult because managing people is emotionally difficult rather than intellectually. Leaders are expected to surround themselves with strong subordinates e.g. people who are independent and take initiative rather than with people who cause trouble e.g. back talk. Thus, if a leader has a weak personality, they would not know how to fix this issue and lead the ‘motivated’ employees to feel ‘demotivated’ overall.

Content theories of motivation are theories that identify factors which individuals may need for example task factors, individual needs and management styles that shape individual motivation. However, process theories look at motivation as the outcome between the individual and their experiences of an organization. These processes depend on the individual’s experiences at work. With the likes of process theories, (Adams, 1963) claims that inequity motivates individuals to remove discomfort and restore a sense of equity to a given situation. Inequity exists when individuals feel that rewards received for their work is unequal to the rewards other individuals may receive for their inputs e.g. they may feel they received less than others in proportion to work efforts. Those who feel that they received more from their efforts are regarded as positive inequity. Individuals who feel overpaid have been found to increase their quantity/quality of work whereas those who are underpaid do the opposite (David and Wilson). This suggests that negative inequity can damage both performance and satisfaction and therefore lead employees to feel demotivated.

Content theories are based on assumption that individuals seek to satisfy all needs. Taylor (1911) stated that if leaders were to fulfill their responsibilities then there would be a rational division of labour. Therefore, suggesting the ‘laziness’ in employees could be resolved in the service of both employee and the organization. Maslow (1943) suggested that individuals needs were organized in a hierarchy of needs starting from psychological needs e.g. food and sleep to safety needs, needs for love, the need for self-actualization etc. When self- actualization is reached, individuals continue to become motivated. (McClelland, 1961) states that with content theories individuals have needs for achievement, power, and affiliation and tend to motivate individuals at a certain time. His theory can imply that each theory can be associated with work preferences thus helping managers to create work environments for individuals.

While such needs are unsatisfied, individuals are still preoccupied with them. (Maslow, 1943) suggests that psychological need is rare. Once one level of needs is met, the ‘higher needs’ such as safety needs etc emerge and dominate thus the meeting of a need is important in allowing other needs to emerge. However, this can also mean that once a need is satisfied then this no longer can motivate an individual and they may become self-confident however if they are thwarted then this leads to feelings of weakness and inferiority and thus lead individuals to become restlessness. Maslow (1943) states that a man is motivated by his needs to develop and reach his full potential and it would ideal for individuals to have a good notion of health in an organization as this is high in demand. However, Maslow (1943) concludes that there is more sickness than health in organisations which therefore leads to individuals being demotivated and unable to reach and maximize their full potential.

There is a link between Maslow’s view on ‘sickness’ as the failure to meet one’s basic needs. McGregor (1960) created his theory that relates to human motivation which is Theory X and Theory Y which refers to people’s behaviour and attitudes towards the environment. Theory X is referred to those individuals who are lazy and avoid tasks given, suggesting that leaders may set negative assumptions about the attitudes and capabilities of employees and therefore these assumptions can shape an organization it can begin to have effects on how employees may behave. Thus this can suggest that employees must be rewarded, punished and controlled. The problem of motivation lies not in the employee but in the mind of the leader, working with negative exceptions of environment can result in lack of work performance. Whereas, theory Y states that individuals are self-motivated, work hard and accept responsibility. This theory suggests that people are co-operative if leaders provide the condition under which they can do this so that individuals can achieve their goals by being directed towards business objectives. If leaders have a positive assumption about their employees, this can affect employees motivation to be positive and therefore a business can achieve their goals. (Myers-Briggs, 1962) identifies an explanation of personality due to the way individuals accept and reject different features of the environment. It isn’t clear whether people are blessed with certain personality by birth or the environment, however, this can imply that individuals remain self-choosing agents and open to change. (Wilson, 2013) argues that there are 5 personality preferences that structure personality and these are, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, extraversion and neuroticism.  With the use of this model, a leader can choose these factors to motivate employees driven by different goals. With the likes of environmental factors, (Wright, 2008) states that public service motivation can be seen as a vocation or a calling. This can suggest that rewards are always not materialistic and people gain satisfaction by helping others.

Employees may become demotivated and unsatisfied at work because they may not feel connected to the success of the company because their daily work isn’t tied to business success, e.g. they may not deal with ‘clients’ and therefore they may have trouble relating to it. (Hertzberg, 1959) did a study at the University of Pittsburgh to ask 200 employees which is known as his dual factory theory of motivation on when individuals felt satisfied and dissatisfied. He found out that incidents including promotion recognition etc were regarded as satisfaction. However, incidents involving salary and supervisors etc were regarded as dissatisfaction. This theory and (Maslow’s 1943) is criticised because this theory cannot predict individual behaviour through analysing needs.

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It can be argued that individuals have a collective and personal unconscious, (Jung, 1968) ‘personality theory’ states that individuals form a part of an inner/outer world where individuals are driven by rational forces e.g. individuals keep reserved for a ‘role on another stage’: there are two sides of an individual’s personality e.g. leaders may want to progress in ways that would allow them to maximize their potential. An example is (Jung, 1968) theory of extroverts and Introverts, some leaders may have a personality type of an ‘introvert’, these individuals are receptive to the force of collective unconscious e.g. they are unsociable, prefer to be alone etc. This results in less ambition towards work. Some individuals are not motivators because they may not be perceived as transformational in their leadership style compared to ‘extroverts’ because these individuals are people who are practical and outgoing. If leaders hold these traits then this can hold a positive impact on employee motivation because they remain equally transformative due to problem-solving. These leaders tend to be more successful due to their communication skills and the job performance of the employees are enhancing when they are being motivated by their job satisfaction. Controlled (extrinsic) motivation is one type of motivation, these are verbal rewards and are tangible which are provided by leaders. Employee satisfaction doesn’t derive from work itself but of a well-performed job. (Brundin Fet al, 2006). Another type is intrinsic which is driven by a sense of dedication for example self-interest in work and enjoyment.

Furthermore, Individuals can become demotivated when their work isn’t acknowledged and if they aren’t given the opportunities. Negative feelings such as stress can disrupt work balance (Brundin et al, 2006). Innovative companies like Google make their employees interact to work on side projects because they want them to have a habit of thinking. This allows employees to not perform tasks over and over again but rather to pitch in their own ideas and this can lead to motivation.  It can also be argued that employees may not see the value of the business because they may not believe in their work, and in order to change this, leaders need to motivate employees over the long term. This is because they could be insecure about their job or because as a company they may have poor communication skills which can result in poor performance and lead employers to hate their job due to the fact they don’t enjoy it. It is not just the leader’s personality that can demotivate employers but also due to the fact they need their own self-motivation.

People have an ‘ego deal’ (Levninson, 2003) which is compromised by values, skills, and expectations, thus implying that an individual can have a driving force to achieve their personal aspiration. If a leaders objective is not in favour of the employee then the employee may not be at their potential and therefore it is not a leader’s personality that can affect an employers motivation but a leaders decision. With the likes of (Bandura’s, 1977) ‘social cognitive theory’ some people doubt that they don’t have what it takes to succeed and thus it can lead to lack of motivation and achieve limited success even in environments that may provide many opportunities. (Locke and Latham, 1990) conducted a test on over 40,000 people in several countries to explain why certain individuals perform better than others. They found out that if leaders give praise, feedback etc then this makes a difference to employees commitment to a difficult goal. The higher the goal the higher the performance rather than having easy goals and less motivation. Employees need to set their own goals in order to motivate themselves and the leader can support this by self-management skills e.g. giving positive feedback as this can increase an employees sense of self- efficacy and setting ‘SMART’ objectives. By doing this employees goals can be specific, measurable etc and thus a leader’s own expectation of an employee could be regarded as significant as they shape the goals they set themselves.

Therefore, in conclusion, having considered all of the relevant factors, it is evident that both leader’s personality can affect an employee’s motivation as well as employees self-motivation. To be successful both employee and leaders needs to have strong personal traits such as communication and self-confidence. If a leader doesn’t show strong skills, this can reflect poorly on the employees and if employees show a lack of motivation this can lead leaders to have a negative personality and thus leading business failure. Employee and leaders need to balance in a management team. Both Maslow’s and Hertzberg theory has methodological problems, for example, it can be argued that these researches have not been conducted under controlled conditions, therefore, these suggestions on whether employee motivation can be invalid e.g. Hertzberg’s theory; they could’ve attributed the good things to themselves and the negative things to the situation. Even though, leaders job is to give guidance towards achieving goals, shouldn’t employees be able to find motivation without the help of a leader? Employees are adults and can motivate themselves, however, having leadership and employee relationship needs to balance and people who have great personalities have the motivation, those who desire and fight for their goals are able to attain their goals.


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