I’m doing some literature review for a paper of mine. I came across the following paper:
The Business Executive: The Psychodynamics of a Social Role
By: William E. Henry
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 54, No. 4, Industrial Sociology (Jan., 1949), pp. 286-291.
It was written in 1949, and talks about the common characteristics of successful business executives. Typically I do not find these descriptive papers useful, but it is interesting to see how people in 1949 perceive what executives should do to be successful.
The paper listed the following personality patterns that are common for success:
- Achievement Desires
- Mobility Drive
- Idea of Authority
- Ability to Organize Unstructured Situations
- Strong Self-Structure
- Apprehension and the Fear of Failure
- Activity and Aggression
- Strong Reality Orientation
- Different Interpersonal Relations with respect to Superiors and Subordinates
- Broken Tie with his own Parents
- Dependency Feelings and Concentration Upon Self
That was a long list, if you check these on people we know, say Steven Jobs, you would probably be amazed how accurate these items can “predict” his success. I’m constantly suspicious of this type of work because they obviously miss the sample of failed cases. It could be the case that people who share these traits fail more, but due to the sample selection problem, we cannot observe them. What if some other factors are driving the success of these people, and they just learned to behave in this way (i.e., behaving in this way does not produce success.)?
This brings back to the argument of my paper: when people assume social roles, they behave according to the perceived traits of these roles. In many situations, the list of characteristics is a result of being successful, not a source of it.