IT Geeks Are Different

When it comes to IT geeks in leadership positions, Bill Gates is the exception, not the rule. Considering the traits and behaviors of effective leaders, most geeks face more challenges that hinder their ability to lead than they have intrinsic capabilities for leadership. Studies have shown that IT geeks (1) are generally not visionary, an attribute that is key to effective, transformational leadership (Lounsbury et al., n.d.); (2) are generally introverted, preferring to work alone, which makes motiving others and being an effective communicator difficult if not impossible (Institute for Management Excellence, 2003); (3) are generally not conscientious, meaning they have an inclination to disregard rules, norms, and values (Lounsbury et al., n.d.); (4) are not concerned about image management, which makes modeling the way a challenge (Lounsbury et al., n.d.); and (5) generally prefer thinking to feeling, which makes leading from the heart challenging (Institute for Management Excellence, 2003).

There are three personality preferences that give IT geeks hope to become effective leaders: (1) IT professionals are predominantly thinkers, a trait they share with people in management and executive positions; (2) two thirds of IT geeks prefer judging over perceiving, meaning they are generally decisive and organized; and (3) some IT geeks have intuition, and therefore have the ability to think strategically and systematically (Institute for Management Excellence, 2003). IT geeks are also emotionally resilient, open to change and new ideas, intrinsically motivated, and tough minded (Lounsbury et al., n.d.).

Let’s explore a few studies that produce these findings.

The Big Five Personality Traits

In the 1970s, two independent research teams studied personality traits of thousands of people and found the same results. The first team was Paul Costa and Robert McCrae at the National Institutes of Health, and the second team was Warren Norman of the University of Michigan and Lewis Goldberg of the University of Oregon. Analysis of each team’s data revealed that most human personality traits, regardless of language or culture, fall within five dimensions, known as the Big Five: Agreeableness/Teamwork, Conscientiousness, Emotional Resilience/Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness (The Big Five Personality Test, n.d.).

John Lounsbury of the University of Tennessee, R. Scott Studham of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Robert Steel of the University of Michigan, and Lucy Gibson and Adam Drost of conducted a study of 9,011 IT professionals, extracting data from’s archival database, a database that included 2,000 unique IT job titles (Lounsbury et al., n.d.). Their study analyzed IT professionals according to the Big Five personality traits. In addition, because the Big Five traits were deemed to be too broad, they included seven narrow-scope personality constructs in their analysis: Assertiveness, Customer Service Orientation, Intrinsic Motivation, Image Management, Optimism,

Tough-Mindedness, and Visionary Style. For these 12 factors, they compared the results for IT professionals against 200,000 individuals from all occupations in their database to determine how those traits related to career satisfaction. The study examined two research questions:

  • 1. On which personality traits do IT professionals differ from other occupations?
  • 2. Which personality traits are related to career satisfaction for IT professionals?

Their findings are summarized in Table 2-3.

In 2002, another group of researchers (Timothy A. Judge, University of Florida; Joyce E. Bono, University of Minnesota; Remus Ilies, University of Florida; and Megan W. Gerhardt, University of Iowa) analyzed 78 leadership and personality studies published between 1967 and 1998 against the Big Five traits. They found that extraversion was the factor most strongly related to leadership, followed by conscientiousness, emotional resilience, and openness. Agreeableness was only weakly associated with leadership (Northouse, 2007).

Table 2-3 Big Five Personality Traits Study Results

Personality Trait



Big Five:

Agreeableness/T eamwork

Propensity to work as part of a team and cooperatively function on group efforts.

IT professionals’ mean scores not significantly different from norm group.


Dependability, reliability, trustworthiness, and inclination to adhere to company rules, norms, and values.

IT professionals’ mean scores were BELOW other occupations.

Emotional Resilience

Overall level of emotional resilience in the face of job stress and pressure.

IT professionals had significantly HIGHER mean scores compared to other occupations.


Tendency to be sociable, outgoing, gregarious, expressive, warmhearted, and talkative.

IT professionals’ mean s Mission Viejo, CA: Toastmasters International. cores not significantly different from norm group.


Receptivity/openness to change, innovation, novel experience, and new learning.

IT professionals had significantly HIGHER mean scores compared to other occupations.



Disposition to speak up on matters of importance, express ideas and opinions confidently, defend personal beliefs, seize the initiative, and exert influence in a forthright but not aggressive manner.

IT professionals’ mean scores not significantly different from norm group.

Customer Service

Striving to provide highly responsive, personalized, quality

IT professionals had significantly


service to customers, putting them first, and trying to make them feel satisfied.

HIGHER mean scores compared to other occupations.

Intrinsic Motivation

Disposition to be motivated by intrinsic work factors such as challenge, meaning, autonomy, variety, and significance.

IT professionals had significantly HIGHER mean scores compared to other occupations.

Image Management

Disposition to monitor, observe, regulate, and control the self-presentation and image projected during interactions with others.

IT professionals’ mean scores were BELOW other occupations.


Have an upbeat, hopeful outlook concerning people, situations, prospects, and the future, even in the face of difficulty and adversity; a tendency to minimize problems and persist in the face of setbacks.

IT professionals’ mean scores not significantly different from norm group.

T ough-Mindedness

Appraise information, draw conclusions, and make decisions based on logic, facts, and data rather than on feelings, values, and intuition; disposition to be analytical, realistic, objective, and unsentimental.

IT professionals had significantly HIGHER mean scores compared to other occupations.

Visionary Style

Focusing on long-term planning, strategy, envisioning future possibilities and contingencies.

IT professionals’ mean scores were BELOW other occupations.

a This is a career satisfaction study. Extraverted IT professionals are as satisfied with their careers as extraverts in other occupations. However, two-thirds of IT professionals are considered introverts (Institute for Management Excellence, 2003).

Data derived from Lounsbury et al. (2009). “Personality Traits and Career Satisfaction of Information Technology Professionals.” eCareerFit.Com.

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