Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Are You a Type A or B Personality?

Achievement-addicted or laid-back? Why it matters.

Hard driving and competitive, or easy-going and laid back; which type are you? Why does it matter? Research in the 1950s (and through the 1970s) suggested that Type A personalities – hard-driving, competitive, status-conscious, and seemingly achievement-addicted – were more prone to coronary heart disease and heart attacks. Type Bs were apparently less likely to develop coronary disease.

 This research seemed to support the common stereotype of the hard-driving business executive who rushes around, seemingly never having enough time in the day to get things done, working late hours, until he finally has a heart attack (the early studies were all done on men, by the way).

 Subsequent research, however, questioned the original findings and suggested that only some elements associated more commonly with Type A personality, specifically hostility, aggression, and lack of positive emotional expressiveness, were associated with greater risk of heart attacks.

 Reviewing some of the research on the Type A behavior pattern and combining it with what we know about management/leadership may lead to an answer. Perhaps it is the aggressive, irascible Type As that are coronary prone because they try to do everything themselves and become overloaded and overstressed? They are not good team players and rarely delegate work to others. The lack of emotional expression may suggest they hold everything in, and it is this combination, rather than the achievement-oriented part of the Type A personality, that leads to coronary disease.

 Regardless of the connection to heart disease, there is a fundamental difference between Type As and Type Bs. Here are some adapted items from the interviews and questionnaires used to determine the Type A personality. Which are you? 

(Affirmative responses suggest Type A personality) 

• Are you pressed for time at and after work?

• Do you always take work home with you?

• Do you eat rapidly?

• Do you have a strong need to excel?

• Do you have trouble finding time to get your hair cut/styled?

• Do you feel or act impatient when you have to wait in line?

Hostility-related items:

• Do you get irritated easily?

• Are you bossy and domineering?

• When you were younger was your temper fiery and difficult to control?


On a more positive note, and not surprisingly, Type As do appear to be more successful in terms of work accomplishments, but Type Bs are better able to enjoy the moment (and there are plenty of successful Type Bs). In reality, however, the Type A-B personality is a normally-distributed continuum, with relatively few people being strongly driven and competitive (As) or totally laid back (Bs). Most of us are probably slightly on one side or the other of the A-B divide.


Follow me on Twitter:!/ronriggio


Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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