This is a guest post by Esra Çuhadar, Juliet Kaarbo, Baris Kesgin, Binnur Ozkececi-Taner. Research for this blogpost and the related research was supported by a TUBITAK Evrena grant (110K112) and a BAGEP award from the Science Academy.
Institutional perspectives in political science have been critical of personality theories, arguing that individuals’ behaviors can easily vary with different institutional incentives, constraints and opportunities, and role expectations. In opposition, personality approaches see individual characteristics as resilient and resisting change in case of situations and contexts. As this debate remains unresolved, in a recent study published in Political Psychology, we asked two questions: Do all political leaders change their personality characteristics when they occupy different institutional roles? And, which aspects of personalities are most likely to change across role positions? More specifically, we sought to understand what types of leaders would be most likely to change their expressed political personality when they came into a new political position. Our examination of three leaders who held different institutional roles in Turkish politics provided us with the opportunity for this theoretical investigation. We investigated and compared the personality profiles of three Turkish leaders—Suleyman Demirel, Abdullah Gul, and Turgut Ozal—and examined any changes in their leadership traits across roles. Each leader served as both prime minister and president –Gul was also minister of foreign affairs. Our study must be considered preliminary, and is suggestive of future research to develop our understanding of agents’ interactions with institutional structures.
Our study utilizes the Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA) framework. As a prominent approach to the study of political leaders, LTA framework conceptualizes personality as a combination of seven traits: belief in an ability to control events, conceptual complexity, need for power, distrust of others, in-group bias, self-confidence, and task orientation. These seven traits combine in particular ways to produce specific behaviors by leaders. For example, leaders, who have a high belief in their ability to control events and a high need for power, are expected to challenge constraints; leaders low in need for power and/or who do not believe they can control events are expected to respect constraints. Conceptual complexity and self-confidence are related to and predict leaders’ openness to information. Leaders with high scores on both traits and leaders who have high complexity and low self-confidence are expected to be open to information, whereas leaders with low scores on both traits and leaders with high self-confidence and low complexity are expected to be closed to information. These two composite traits combine with a leader’s motivation for leading to produce a typology of eight different leadership styles, namely active independent, collegial, evangelical, directive, expansionist, incremental, influential, and opportunistic.
Taking advantage of the Turkish political context in which prime minister and presidency roles are defined very clearly and differently by the Turkish constitution, and in which our three selected leaders served in both of these roles, we used a quasi-experimental design to first construct these leaders’ personality profiles and then examine them comparatively across roles. More specifically, we proposed that personality characteristics are more likely to change when certain types of leaders change roles. More specifically, we expected the following:
- Leaders who respect constraints (low in belief in ability to control events and low in need for power) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
- Leaders open to information (high in complexity and high in self-confidence) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
- Leaders with higher scores on complexity are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
We also expected some personality characteristics are more likely to change when new roles carry with them specific expectations and responsibilities. For example, we suggested that
- Task focus may be more likely to shift from goal-oriented to relationship oriented if the leader shifts to a less policy-focused position (e.g., from prime minister to president position).
- In-group bias is likely to decrease when the leader shifts from a partisan role (e.g., prime minister elected from a political party) to a less partisan role (e.g., president).
- Belief in ability to control events is likely to decline with a change from the prime minister to president role because prime ministers are considered the “doer” role, and presidents are more symbolic in parliamentary systems.
Our results support the expectation that leaders’ personalities can remain stable across different institutional roles. Personality characteristics for our leaders exhibited little change, when these leaders changed roles. We observed change in the same direction—all declined from prime minister to president profile—in three of the traits: belief in ability to control events, need for power, and task focus. However, in only one of these traits (task focus), we saw significant difference across roles. This finding has led us to conclude that personality is not directly determined by institutional incentives. We infer that this is expected by the changes in demands and expectations of the Turkish prime minister and president roles as articulated in the constitution. While the prime minister is a more active executive position emphasizing problem solving and policy implementation, the presidency is highlighted for its consensus building and above-politics status.
We also found that our leaders varied from one another, and from other world leaders. In other words, while there is no single (Turkish) president or prime minister profile, there is no one Turkish leader profile either. This finding is important as it helps us to evaluate another theoretical suggestion: that certain types of leaders may be more likely to change traits when they change roles. Our assessment provided mixed support for this argument. The trait stability we observed in two of our leaders was consistent with their orientations to challenge constraints, but this did not hold for all leaders. There was no clear pattern for openness to information as a mediating variable and mixed support for complexity as we had hypothesized and self-confidence.
We encourage future research to take seriously the specific role demands associated with institutional positions and how leaders’ personalities interact with those demands. This would build on our study (published in the Journal of International Relations and Development) that examines Turkish leaders’ reactions to a variety of structural constraints. A particularly promising avenue for future research would integrate work on role identities and their effects on personality traits. The relative potency of individual differences and institutional positions is an important question, worthy of further empirical exploration and theoretical development.
Esra Çuhadar is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Bilkent University in Turkey. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University during the 2011-2012 academic year. Dr. Cuhadar’s research interests include conflict resolution and political psychology. Her research has been published in academic journals such as Political Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Negotiation Journal, International Negotiation, Journal of Peace Research, Mediterranean Politics, International Studies Perspectives, Turkish Studies and Perceptions and also in various book chapters. Dr Cuhadar received one of the Young Scientist Awards (BAGEP) by the Science Academy in Turkey and received research grants from USIP, Sabanci University, TUBITAK, and German Marshall Fund.
Juliet Kaarbo is Professor in Foreign Policy at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of Edinburgh’s Centre for Security Research. Her research focuses on political psychology, leadership and decision making, group dynamics, foreign policy analysis and theory, parliamentary political systems, and national roles and has appeared in numerous journals including International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations, International Studies Review, Political Psychology, Cooperation and Conflict, International Interactions, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Leadership Quarterly. Kaarbo’s books include Coalition Politics and Cabinet Decision Making: A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Policy Choices University of Michigan Press 2012) and Domestic Role Contestation, Foreign Policy and International Relations (co-edited with Cristian Cantir; Routledge 2016).
Baris Kesgin is Assistant Professor Political Science at Susquehanna University. He specializes in foreign policy analysis and political leadership -more specially, of Israel and Turkey. His research appeared in Journal of International Relations and Development, International Studies Perspectives, Political Psychology, Perceptions, and Turkish Studies.
Binnur Ozkececi-Taner is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle East Studies at Hamline University (St. Paul, MN, USA). She received her Ph.D. from Syracuse University and also holds a degree in Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute. In addition to her book that examines Turkish foreign policymaking in the 1990s, Ozkececi-Taner’s publications have appeared in journals including Political Psychology, Journal of International Relations and Development, Contemporary Security Policy, Foreign Policy Analysis, Mediterranean Politics, and Turkish Politics, as well as in books, most recently Political Psychology of Turkish Political Behaviour.