• Jeff Doolittle

What is the Darkside of Personality?

Star Wars presents an epic struggle between the light and dark side of the force. This special-effects-laden movie saga produced over ten billion dollars of revenue for Disney. However, in the workplace, the made-for-movie behaviors of darkside personality traits are not the same. Darkside personality types are proven to increase costly counterproductive work behaviors, such as sabotage, bullying, sexual harassment, fraud, employee theft, and absenteeism. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke, "if once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." Is the same true for leaders? This article provides insights and considerations for modern leaders into the dark side of personality in the workplace.

Dark Personality Definition

Like in Star Wars, the use of the word dark has a chilling effect. Before discussing the meaning of "dark" personality, it is helpful to understand what personality is. According to the American Phycological Association:

Personality refers to the individual differences in the characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

While research into the dark side of personality has increased in recent years, there is little consensus on what makes a personality feature dark. However, the following working definition is widely accepted:

A dark personality is socially undersireable and linked with interpersonal challenges and potentially destructive organizational behaviors such as aggression, manipulation, and exploitation.

Dark side personality traits are proven to increase the likelihood of leadership failure. In contrast, normal personality characteristics are proven to be catalysts for positive organizational results.


Darkside Personality Types

Darkside personality sits in between what is considered normal personality and clinical pathology. Modern research into dark personality has focused on the Dark Triad of personality which includes Machiavelianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

Machiavellianism refers to a personality type that is a master manipulator. They are described as calculating, conniving, deceptive, and lack empathy. A manipulative quote you could expect to hear from a Machiavellian is the quote attributed to P. T. Barnum, "there's a sucker born every minute." Machiavellianism is associated with increased counterproductive workplace behavior and a lack of conscientiousness. It is worth noting; however, at least one study identified both positive and negative effects with this darkside personality type.