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Mar 21, 2014

Dr. Laura Leduc Researches Values Beyond Personality Traits

“When we tap into peoples’ values, we can influence them in a positive and powerful way,” says Dr. Laura Leduc, management professor in the College of Business. As a professor of management, Leduc is interested in how values and personality traits relate to performance and motivation in the workplace. She believes that in order to be effective, managers must incorporate an understanding of an individual’s values that goes beyond simply understanding their personality traits.

Leduc recalls, “Before going back to school to get my PhD, I worked as a manager. I was fascinated that I could give employees the same set of instructions and they would do different things.  I found it puzzling and fascinating. I wanted to understand that process and figure out individuals and their performance.” This observation led Leduc to research personality traits, achievement values and performance in an academic setting.

According to a general consensus, personality traits are characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior; are consistent across all situations and; are based on biology or genetics. Most researchers use the “Big Five” taxonomy to categorize personality into five main traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

It has become popular to use solely personality traits to predict behavior. Many researchers believe that by understanding everything about these five traits, all behaviors can be predicted and explained. But Leduc believes that this approach is inadequate. Values also play an important role in predicting and understanding behavior.

Values, as Leduc explains, are beliefs about what is important.  Values have a learned component because they are modeled from parents, culture, teachers and peers. Achievement values provide information about worth in our society. Promotions, raises and any socially recognized accomplishment are achievement values in the workplace. In an academic setting, being a part of a winning sports team is an achievement value that Leduc has found to contribute to an increase student exam scores which goes beyond using only personality traits to predict behavior.

Leduc says the reason that values predict behavior and performance above personality is because values are related to conscious decisions about what goals people pursue, while traits are automatic. She explains that there are two parts to the motivation process: choosing a goal and pursuing a goal. Values influence our choice of goals, and as Leduc explains, once those goals are chosen, personality traits determine how we pursue them. Going further, Leduc emphasizes the importance of knowing that achievement values not only contribute to better performance but that they can change.

She notes, “As a parent, it’s nice to know you can influence your children and instill values, encouraging your children to do better in school. As a professor, it’s good to know students’ values are still changing. You can still have an impact. You can teach values and business ethics in a way that has an impact.

“As a manager, you can hire for personality, but still influence values.  The best transformative leaders are able to get people to follow them by tapping into their individual values. People are happier when they behave according to their values.”

These findings were recently published in Applied Psychology: An International Review. Leduc is currently on sabbatical, continuing her research into how personality and values are related. 



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