Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

The Dark Side: New Focus on Personality

A Scientific Data Matrix for Benefiting from Dark Side Characteristics

A new data matrix shows not only how dark side personality characteristics can be recognised, but also how people can benefit from their dark side by finding a suitable occupation.

Several studies indicate that bad management costs organisations billions of pounds of lost revenue each year - while 65-75% of leaders turn out to be incompetent. This rate is proportional to the levels of employee disengagement, which is at 75%. In the 1980s, after carrying out extensive research on the subject, organisational psychologists found that the main reason otherwise successful and talented leaders fail is the prevalence of their “dark side” characteristics.

Every person has a dark side. It comes into the foreground when we stop monitoring our own behaviour due to factors like stress, boredom, complacency, or even extreme comfort in our working environment. Often, these behaviours are just the overuse of our strengths. In 1992, Dr Robert Hogan defined 11 dark side characteristics (such as bold, mischievous, leisurely, colourful, reserved, etc.) of which most of us display about three. Although all of these characteristics can create derailment, a balance of dark and bright side characteristics is also useful and attainable, depending on role requirements.

Is it bad to have a dark side?

Not necessarily. The key is not just the balance, but also the compatibility of one’s job with one’s personality. Research by Hogan Assessments shows that bold managers give extraordinarily positive first impressions, and excitable people work with great passion and intensity. Some jobs benefit from an arrogant personality, such as entrepreneurs, lawyers or a media figures - but that can be more problematic for home care assistants, nurses and doctors. There are also differences in which kind of dark side characteristic one possesses: colourful leaders are evaluated as far better by their bosses than their reserved counterparts. On the other hand, a manager who isn’t remotely excitable can turn out to be dull and uninspiring, a low score on imaginative may show lack of vision, or a high cautious suggests indecisiveness.

Zsolt Fehér, Managing Director of Hogan Assessments Europe, recommends taking the following 5 steps to recognise and leverage dark side characteristics:

Listen to feedback from colleagues. Dark side characteristics become prominent when stressed or bored, which impacts one’s reputation. The focus becomes centred on negative characteristics rather than positive ones. Listening to feedback from peers and superiors allows us to better manage our reputations.

Be coachable. Pay attention to formal evaluations and try to read between the lines to pick out subtle, indirect criticism.

Learn from conflicts. What was the main reason for the conflict? What was disturbing about each person’s behaviour?

Reflect on those around you. Is a manager treating her subordinates differently than others? How does she talk to them? This can reveal a lot about a manager’s dark side.

Set up new behaviours. If someone is too reserved, he should be proactive in coming up with a new idea in each meeting. If he is colourful, he should listen to others before sharing his brilliant new idea.

The entire dark side doesn’t need to be tamed, just the characteristics that lead to derailment. There is just one thing that is harder than changing someone’s behaviours: changing someone’s reputation. But with time and practice, everyone will feel more and more comfortable in their new roles - which is beneficial for the whole workplace.

Dark side scale

Why is it dark?

Bright side of dark side

May be problematic in these roles

Beneficial for


volatile, unpredictable

enthusiastic, passionate

therapist, doctor

coach, actor


negative, cynical

insightful, perceptive

preschool teacher, school counsellor

journalist, lawyer


risk-averse, fearful of failure

deliberate, careful

business owner, stock broker

accountant, financial analyst


indifferent, socially-withdrawn

independent, objective

sales personnel, customer service

archivist, scientist


passive-aggressive, stubborn

cooperative, agreeable

HR manager, feedback coach

freelancer, cook


entitled, arrogant

assertive, confident

secretary, paramedic

entrepreneur, artist


manipulative, tests limits

charming, interesting

law enforcement, childcare worker

sales, adventure seeker


dramatic, distractible

entertaining, outgoing

auditor, programmer

politician, radio/TV host


eccentric, impractical

innovative, creative

data analyst, bank teller

designer,  hotographer


inflexible, micromanager

hardworking, detail-oriented

social worker, nanny

pharmacist, copywriter,


conforming, ingratiating

supportive, loyal

inventor, president

nurse, waiter