Agility is an attitude or is mainly characterized by the character of a person – at least the majority of magazines, blogs and books on this subject. But I wondered: Can a manager or specialist change his character so easily and take the so-called “agile mindset” or is it actually not possible? To this end, I have examined a number of scientific studies on character change and then give concrete tips on how to change one’s character, at least superficially.

Selected research on changing a character

Especially Top management needs character – a new generation of top managers puts the old grey man under pressure with charisma, audacity and cleverness. But can anyone learn this, or is such a character innate, and if so, how can a character be changed?

The question now is whether a top manager can simply change habits and character. Do you see yourself as being able to become a role model with your character like the young start-up founders, Jürgen Klopp and Dieter Zetsche?

For many years, researchers have not agreed on whether character traits can be deliberately altered. As early as 2006, Roberts et al. 92 long-term studies and find that the basic character is divided into surface and core characteristics. Core features are deeply rooted in a person’s subconscious. Surface features form a person’s individual routines and abilities. These are:

  • Openness: The willingness to deal with new issues without a bias
  • Conscientiousness: self-control and accuracy of a person
  • Extraversion: Setting in dealing with other people
  • Tolerance: The adaptation and ability to understand other people.
  • Neuroticism: Emotional and psychological strength of a person

The question arises whether and how core or surface features can be changed or not. For further investigation, Specht et al. (2011) analysed almost 15,000 subjects and found that people change significantly after adolescence, especially between 25 and 30 years of age (entry into the profession) and again from retirement at about 67 years of age. Especially when you start work or promotion, goals change and new skills and routines are acquired for this purpose. However, these new routines and abilities often only superficially influence a person’s character, i.e. surface features. According to the study, special changes in the core characteristics are often due to a traumatic experience, which is usually negative, for example, death of a fellow human being or car accidents.

According to the above-mentioned study, it is hardly to impossible to change one’s core characteristics by natural means. Only an adaptation of routines and the appropriation of abilities to control the character allow for an outward-looking change. Surface features can therefore be changed.

Changing routines and skills

According to the studies studied, humans can consciously make changes in surface characteristics, even if this requires perseverance. Each of us has daily routines (e.g. going to the office, brushing our teeth before breakfast) and behaviors (e.g. emotional discussion in case of problems or withdrawal during intense arguments). This is the heartiest and deepest routines, which are often difficult to influence. A high level of internal motivation and a pronounced perseverance are therefore required. Such a change consists of three steps (see Lindner 2020):

  • Step 1: Recognize routines
  • Step 2: Identify motivations
  • Step 3: Internalize New Behaviors

1. Detecting routines

The first step is to choose certain character traits and recognize routines associated with them. Feedback from colleagues, employees and friends is also well suited for this purpose. Some examples are:

  • Neuroticism (I control my employees too much),
  • Extraversion (I’m too rational and don’t go into enough attention to my employees),
  • Openness (I take too few risks and focus on stability),
  • compatibility (I hardly listen to my employees) and
  • Conscientiousness (I hardly plan projects and have little overview).

2. Motivation for change

The next thing that matters is to find a motivation for change. Not every habit is automatically important enough to be changed and not every person has to be perfect. Perfectionism in particular may be a hindrance to an authentic appearance. However, it is important to change certain routines that often stand in your way. So what is the trigger for you to change a certain situation? Also make a note of the possible triggers. Examples are:

  • Neuroticism (an employee has quit because of you because he can’t develop because you slow him down),
  • Extraversion (you don’t get much information because employees are more likely to avoid communicating with you),
  • Openness (an employee has quit because of your low risk appetite),
  • tolerance (you annoy colleagues by certain routines) and
  • Conscientiousness (your low level of planning constantly puts you in critical situations that you are hardly meaningful).

Always remember that changing habits is not a ‘must’, but rather a ‘could’.

3. New actions become routines

The final step is to draw the right conclusions from your findings and put them into practice. Now write down properties and how you want to improve them. Examples are:

  • Neuroticism (I want to give employees more freedom),
  • Extraversion (I want to engage more actively with employees and also address unpleasant topics),
  • Openness (I would like to take significantly more risks and promote projects if in doubt),
  • tolerance (I would like to listen more to my employees) and
  • Conscientiousness (I want to map projects more carefully and in the project tool).

As a result, these actions must now be implemented. Try to integrate the new routines into everyday situations and, for example, after a conversation with an employee, do you reflect: Have I listened enough?

By the way, according to a scientific study, you have to perform the new action a few times until it becomes routine. The researchers around Phillippa Lally et al. (2006) from University College London has researched this in a study. She gave nearly 100 subjects the task of acquiring three new habits (including a 15-minute walk each morning). The average number of conscious executions of the activity up to the automated habit was 66 times.

A final recommendation is to schedule a reward while following the new routines. For example, did you make the decision quickly enough in the meeting today, or did you frustrate the team by waiting? Have you listened enough in your one-on-one conversation with Mr Müller today, or have you spoken too much again? The idea behind this small reward is that a kind of trigger is set in your brain: the next time the same situation occurs, I perform the following routine program, as it causes a reward (e.g. a good coffee).


Management in modern times depends to a lot on character. It is precisely this fact that makes it very difficult to describe and define modern management in a truly accurate way. The central point is a change in one’s own behaviour. This is not easy and requires a lot of perseverance. Because the basic character is often fixed and can hardly be changed. What can be adjusted, however, are routines and behaviors. It is therefore necessary to break out of certain routines and change one’s own values and character traits.

Reading tip: Chef is narcissist

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Gender note: I have used the male form for easier reading. If no explicit distinction is made, women, miscellaneous and men as well as people of any origin and nation are always meant. Read more.

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Lally, P., Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H. & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology. October(40):998-1009 Issue 6.

Lindner, D. (2020). Virtual Teams and Home office – Recommendations on technologies, working methods and leadership. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Roberts, B., Walton, K. & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of Mean-Level Change in Personality Traits Across the Life Course: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. Psychol Bull. 132(1):1-25. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.1.1.

Woodpecker, J., Egloff, B. & Stefan, C. (2011). Stability and Change of Personality across the Life Course: TheImpact of Age and Major Life Events on Mean-Level and RankOrder Stability of the Big Five. SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research, No. 377


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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