Distinction Between Personality and Behaviour

There is a fundamental distinction is between personality and behaviour. The word “personality” has many common uses and many definitions. So what doers it mean? Essentially, personality is taken to mean a mix of values, world-views, set responses and characteristics which are relatively enduring aspects of the person.

What Is Personality?

Personality is taken to be what we are while behaviour is what we do. We cannot change what we are but we can change what we do – for short periods of time at least. The ability to change behaviour is at the root of the concept of management style.

As Robin Stuart-Kotze says,

“… it has been maintained … that personality becomes virtually fixed at about age five. Current research indicates that we are more flexible than that but that changing one’s attitudes, values, beliefs and aspirations – the substance of personality – is difficult”

What is Behaviour?

Behaviour, on the other hand, is what we do. While much of our behaviour (see Theory X and Theory Y) is of course the result of our values and beliefs, it is much easier to behave differently (if only for a short while) than to change beliefs. Moreover, if we try out different behaviours – different ways of doing things – and find that they are a success, this in itself may cause us to change even deeply held views and values.

The word “personality” is used in everyday language quite differently from the way that the behavioural scientist uses it. People talk about other people as having a nice personality, a cheerful personality or even as having lots of personality. Sometimes people are said to have no personality. The word, in everyday speech, tends to have an evaluative meaning and refers to the degree to which we are attracted, repelled or bored by another person. This is not the way that the effective manager or behavioural scientist uses the word.


There is no single accepted definition of the word “personality”. However, a very good one is that given by Wright,

“the relatively stable and enduring aspects of individuals which distinguish them from other people and form the basis of our predictions concerning their future behaviour.”

The last point is the most important. Since we seek predictability, we seek to learn those things about our fellow beings that will enable us to predict what they will do – in given situations. The better we know them, the more likely we are to be able to make such a prediction. Personality, in this sense, is not about social skills. It is not about evaluation. It is about seeking those aspects of a person which can be said to account for their behaviour and predict it in the future.

Some researchers hold that personality becomes fixed by age 5. This is most unlikely and current research indicates that our attitudes, belief systems and aspirations – components of personality – while difficult to change, continue to adapt during life. However, if the word “personality” means anything, it must refer to those more stable motivations to our actions.

Why is an Understanding of the Difference So Important

Well self-awareness in terms of preferred behaviours is the fundamental facet of all exceptional leaders. If you know what your preferred behaviours are then you can adapt and chnage these depending on the situation and the individuals you are dealing with. A good example of where this is of use is in sales.