Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Demystifying Personality

Written by: on April 21, 2023

For as long as humans have existed, personality has been studied. And yet a comprehensive understanding of what makes humans so different from each other has largely remained a mystery, especially when it comes to proving personality science. Daniel Nettle set out to solve this mystery in his 2007 book titled, Personality: What makes you the way you are? In this work, Nettle offers a quantitative, scientific approach to personality theory using psychology and factor analysis to distill human personality characteristics to what the field of psychology calls The Big Five: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness and Openness.[1]

I have read numerous books on personality over the years and am an avid user of Gallup’s Strengthsfinder,[2] as well as a certified Enneagram coach. However, until I read Daniel Nettle’s book, I had not observed the intersection of neuroscience and personality theory. Being able to describe how people are different is interesting and useful, but being able to observe those personality trats in the brain and even begin to map genetic variants to personality takes the implications to another level.

Nature vs. Nurture

Behavior geneticists estimate that our personality is based 50% on genetics and 50% on life experience and environmental factors. Curiously, research shows that “simple notions about the influences of family environment on personality must be discarded,” contrary to popular belief.[3]  In fact, there is a great deal we do not know about how the non-genetic components of personality are formed, which is indirectly related to my research on how to equip early adolescent girls with protective factors that increase resilience to daily stress. The 50% estimate of genetic-based personality makes me wonder if there is a similar percentage of stress resilience that is based on genetics, leaving up to 50% able to be impacted in a positive or negative way. If so, being able to enhance resilience by up to 50% offers remarkable potential. I have added that dynamic to my research list to investigate.

Overlaying The Big Five with the Enneagram

In addition to relating personality theory with my research topic, I am also curious how The Big Five correlate with the Enneagram (my personal area of expertise). After a cursory review of related literature, I found a research study that explores that very thing. The OPQ32, a widely used measurement tool for personality, was given to 241 voluntary participants from various countries and their Big Five traits were compared to their Enneagram profiles.[4]  The study found a strong association between Enneagram personality type and OPQ32 and found that “it is possible to correctly classify the personality of around 70-75% of people in terms of their independently identified type.”[5]

The following diagram from the study shows how the 9 Enneagram types correspond to The Big Five.[6]

Per the diagram, as an Enneagram 7, I would likely be high in extraversion, low in neuroticism, high in openness, lower in agreeableness and lowest in conscientiousness.  In actuality, my scores on the Big Five were med-high extraversion, med-low neuroticism, high openness, high agreeableness, and med-low conscientiousness. It was fairly close!

Leadership Guidelines for Personality Theory

As demonstrated by my personal results above, while every individual is unique, it’s the aggregate data that allows us to see trends and make predictions. There are positives and negatives to this approach that are important for a leader to understand. Understanding your team members’ personality goes a long way in knowing how to uniquely motivate them, provide support and constructive feedback, however a leader must be careful not to make assumptions or predict future performance based on personality. In my coaching sessions, I advise people to consider the following guidelines when it comes to personality: 1) personality types should never be used a weapon 2) personality types should never be used as an excuse 3) all personality types are valuable.  With these guidelines in mind, a leader can use personality theory to bring out the best in the people they lead.


[1] Nettle, Daniel. Personality What Makes You the Way You Are. Oxford ; Oxford University Press, 2007.

[2] https://store.gallup.com/c/en-us/5/books

[3] Nettle, 217.

[4] Brown, Anna, and Dave Bartram. “(PDF) Relationships between OPQ and Enneagram Types.” Research Report. Surrey: SHL Group plc, January 1, 2005. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253435630_Relationships_between_OPQ_and_Enneagram_Types.

[5] Brown, Anna and Bartram.

[6] Brown, Anna and Bartram.

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

8 responses to “Demystifying Personality”

  1. Laura,

    I appreciated your post, thank you. I appreciate the connections you made to the Enneagram chart. Thank you for taking the time to construct this and share it with us. God Bless.

  2. Kristy Newport says:

    This is good to keep in mind:
    “I advise people to consider the following guidelines when it comes to personality: 1) personality types should never be used a weapon 2) personality types should never be used as an excuse 3) all personality types are valuable.”

  3. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Hi Laura
    I was wondering the same thing about the Enneagram and if it lines up with Trait Theory. Overall, what are your conclusions?
    Whole Trait Theory is not as comprehensive, it has to be accounted for if not completely adopted due to the neuroscience. What do you think on that front?
    I would tho k we will have to be multilingual when it comes to personality types yet be able to understand how they correspond to The Big Five. Your research is an amazing start to this. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Chad – It’s true that there are so many different personality tools that it can be confusing. In general, I like the Enneagram because doesn’t just box you in and define you, but helps you understand how you behave in times of stress and in growth. It’s a tool that helps you grow instead of stay stagnant, which is not as indicative in the other tools. However, simplicity is key. So if an organization or leader already uses one of the other theories, like The Big Five, it’s good to stay cconsistent.

  5. Laura, I was really looking forward to reading your blog on personality knowing that you have done so much work in this area. Thank you for finding a way to connect this book with the work you are doing and thank you for reminding us how unique we are.

  6. mm Shonell Dillon says:

    Thanks for your post. Does identifying the personality help the sessions to run smoother or with ease.?

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