The extent at which personality traits can predict a person’s leadership abilities


Personality traits are viewed as the determinants of the differences that distinguish one individual from another. These traits include intellectual ability, physical attributes as well as personality. They dictate how moral or immoral a person is in regard to their dispositions which are referred to as character or qualities.

A person’s true nature is thus regarded as his or her personality out of how consistent their character is over time (Whiteman et al 2003, p.3). On the other hand, leadership is portrayed as the ability to influence other people’s behaviour that results in making them believe or act through motivation.

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According to Lehman (2005, p.1), leadership abilities include vision, the ability to motivate others, emotional intelligence, ability to empower others, trustworthy, risk-taking, humour, focus and follow through. However, some personality traits favour leadership abilities whereas some do not. This paper critically analyses the extent at which personality traits can predict a person’s leadership abilities.

Personality traits and leadership

Various studies have clearly shown that there is a very close link between leadership abilities and personality traits. Many discussions about what makes an effective leader have also surfaced and the results all bend towards personalities. Each individual has distinct characteristics which are either strong or weak.

This is the reason why some leaders are more effective than others whereas a number of people cannot lead at all. These studies have birthed the Big Five Personality Dimensions which are used to describe highly effective leaders (Langone, 2002, p.1).

These dimensions include emotional stability, agreeableness, extroversion, openness to experience and conscientiousness. Emotional stability is a personality dimension that focuses on a person’s ability to handle criticism and stress. In addition, how secure and calm a person acts also determines their ability to control their emotions which is an essential component of leadership abilities.

On the contrary, people who are unable to handle their emotions make weak leaders due to the fact that they their behaviour becomes inconsistent thus damaging relationships (Bryman, 1986, p. 34-35).

Agreeableness is a dimension that refers to a person’s ability to mingle with others. It encompasses trust, compassion, cooperation and understanding all which are vital traits of a highly effective leader.

These traits enable a leader to enjoy a harmonious relationship with his colleagues as he is able to get along well with them, a trait that commands respect and enhances performance. On the other hand, a leader who is not agreeable has a chaotic relationship with those under him and this result in disrespect and distrust which reflects negatively on the output.

According to Langone (2002, p. 1-3), extroversion entails a person’s behaviour when in the company of others. The traits encompassed here include getting along well and easily with new people, being sociable, assertive, confident and being dominant.

Openness to experience is another dimension when it comes to personality traits and it involves a person’s ability to be creative, imaginative and receptive of new ideas. Such a person has a range of interests which enable them to be effective leaders as they are intellectually curious and open to new experiences.

Conscientiousness is the last dimension of personality traits and it focuses on a person’s ability to be persistent, responsible and success driven.

Such a person sets goals and works hard towards meeting them without loosing focus. On the other hand, a person who lacks in conscientiousness makes a poor leader since he is easily distracted thus impulsive. We do not have perfect individuals with all the listed traits but many of them who make effective leaders possess a range of these personality traits (Langone, 2002, p.1-7).

Leadership abilities are greatly influenced by personality traits according to Hogan (2003, p.1-3) who in his study cites that the two are synonymous. According to him, leadership is predicted by an individual’s personality and this determines how successful an organisation will be. He refers to four themes as being embedded in leadership which include competence, vision, integrity and decisiveness.

To gain an edge in the organisation, the leader must be competent and must also be visionary about where he is taking the company. He must be a good decision maker and at the same time lead without favours. These personality or character traits are epitome in deciding whether one has the right leadership abilities or not.

Personality traits predict leadership abilities as indicated in the study done by Herrmann (2009, p.2). In her perspective, personality traits contribute broadly to the success of an organisation in the sense that an effective leader performs highly. This is due to the fact that they are able to influence those working under them by using the special personality traits they possess. These traits distinguish them from other people in the company and lead to their being chosen as the torch bearers.

The Great Person Theory

Rating leaders through their personal traits is known as the Great Person Theory and this involves an assessment of their rare qualities which make them stand out. Great world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Junior come to mind and one cannot fail to marvel at their exemplary personal traits.

These traits include their charisma, decisive nature as well as their prominent intelligence. Leadership ability is not restricted to behaviour as it expands further to physical features which include gender, build and height. It is therefore interesting to note that many successful leaders are taller and capable in matters of intelligence.

In another perspective, height and intelligence as used in the Great Person Theory show emergence and effectiveness. It is therefore even more intriguing according to Wiggins et al (2006, p. 417) to note that studies carried on past American presidents showed that the more effective ones were the ones who were taller and intelligent.

This was in comparison to their shorter and less intelligent counterparts and the question on height and effectiveness does not fail to surface. Intelligence is well worth the challenge but a physical attribute such as height seeks a deeper explanation.

The answer to this is that tall people are intimidating and their towering frames always command respect. Height stereotypes which glorify tall people more than short people still exist and these epitomises the tall ones as more forceful and talented in comparison to the short people. This therefore places tall people up the ladder with the notion that they are more influential and thus more effective in leadership. In addition, gender also dictates leadership abilities and this explains why there are more male leaders than female.

Studies have shown that when men are rated to women, they have higher chances of being chosen as task leaders in their groups whereas women score highly as socio emotional leaders.

The personality traits that bring about these leadership abilities include that men are seen as more controlling and assertive as compared to women. On the other hand, women come through as more helpful and sympathetic hence the discrepancy (Wiggins et al 2006, p. 417 – 419).

On the contrary, the Process Theory of Leadership seeks to differ with the Trait Theory whereby it focuses on leadership abilities as learned and not inborn. The argument here is that effective leaders are not born but made through processes or learning and apprenticeship.

According to this theory, it only takes the will and desire to succeed in a leadership position and the rest fall into place. This process takes training, self study, experience and education which model people into ideal leaders. This theory further argues that these attributes are not natural and acquiring them takes continuous study and work (Abujarad, 2010, p.2-3).

This continuous process is what produces effective leaders who horn their skills on a daily basis to get to where they aspire to be. This they accomplish through the application of the acquired skills and knowledge as opposed to the Trait Leadership which cites that effective leaders are born and not made.

However, an effective leader must posses other attributes apart from skills and knowledge and this is where personality traits rule. These attributes include character, ethics, beliefs and values which leaders are born with (Northouse, 2010, p. 4).

In addition, it is important to note that a person’s behaviour largely lies on his personality. The decisions that people make are also influenced by their personalities which goes further into their attitudes and perceptions.

This is the reason why some people make good leaders while others do not. Personality traits explain why some people are shy or cold while others are outgoing and loud. Personality traits help predict other people’s behaviour as well as their performance in a job scenario. Understanding personality traits helps pick leaders from non leaders as the abilities are out in the open.

For instance, a shy and cold person cannot make a good leader since they have issues when it comes to interacting with new people and tend to withdraw to a comfort zone. A loud and outgoing person will make an effective leader as her will be able to form and grow relationships with those under him according to Achua (2010, p. 32-33).


This study focuses on the extent at which personality traits can predict a person’s leadership abilities. It is evident that leadership is synonymous with personality traits and there cannot be one without the other. The formulated theories by various researchers that include the Trait Leadership Theory and the Process Leadership Theory both present strong cases though they conclude that leadership takes both to be effective.

This is in reference to highlighted traits which are inborn as well as the acquired ones. Personality traits in the long run predict the kind of a leader an individual can become. The Big Five Dimensions of personality traits affirm this by showing that an effective leader must posses at least four of the listed attributes which determine how influential one will be as a leader.


Abujarad, Y.I. (2010) The impact of personality traits and leadership styles on

leadership effectiveness of Malaysian Managers. Academic Leadership Journal, 8(2), 2-3.

Achua, Christopher and Lussier, Robert (2010) Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development. 4th edition. USA, South Western Cengage Learning.

Bryman, A. (1986) Leadership and organisations. Great Britain, St Edmundsbury Press.

Herrmann, A. (2009) Using broad vs. narrow personality measures to predict leadership success: Does keeping it simple have an impact on predictive power and utility? Journal of organizational behaviour, 24(2), 1-2.

Hogan, R. (2003) Personality, leadership, and organisational effectiveness. London, Hogan Assessment systems Inc.

Langone, C. (2002) Discovering the Soul of a leader through an investigation of personality traits. Leadership Educators Journal, 6(1), 1-10.

Lehman, Z. (2005) Eight characteristics of leadership. Zimnotes Journal on leadership, 4(2), 1.

Northouse, P.G. (2010) Leadership: Theory and Practice. 5th Edition. USA, Sage Publications Inc.

Whiteman, Martha et al. (2003) Personality traits. UK, Cambridge University Press.

Wiggins, Elizabeth et al. (2006) Social psychology alive. USA, Thomson Wadsworth Publications.


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