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Leadership and personality

A connection between leadership and personality, the main findings from studies presented from 2000 to 2012.

In the 21st century, management positions are expected to increase, multiply, and form a more significant part of the labor market than in previous years. In contrast to the beginning of the 20th century, where you could find a handful of managers in a factory with hundreds of employees, today, organizations are becoming "flatter" in their hierarchical structure, middle levels in management are expanding, working in a matrix structure allows and requires senior employees to become temporary team managers or project managers, Etc.

Accordingly, the interest in quality management and quality leadership is deepening. Since the 1990s, the relationship between personality and leadership has needed to be more consistent. In the beginning, researchers examined the personality characteristics of leaders in depth, assuming that the leader's personality is the one that impacts his effectiveness. Later we explored the conditions, practices, and aspects related to the interaction between the leader's characteristics and external factors. Today, there is a growing interest in the personality of the leader. The article below will present the main findings from studies delivered since 2000 on the relationship between personality and leadership. Most studies dealt with the connections between the Big Five model and leadership from different angles, but several studies examined other personality models.

Lee, Koenigsberg, Davidson, & Beto (2010) 

It is noted that in the literature on leadership, there are two main trends: the trait trend and the situation trend. Without significant success, the trait trend has tried to define which personality traits make an effective leader. On the other hand, the situational approach examines which behaviors of the leader make him effective, emphasizing behaviors related to the position, work tasks, responsibilities that the leader takes, and his attitude to his subordinates. An example of such an approach is the formative leadership of Bass (1985). At the same time, in recent years, several studies have been presented that found connections between personality traits and an effective leadership style, and therefore the trait approach has been revived. For example, among various indicators, the Big Five model yielded significant correlations with effective leadership when studies demonstrated positive relationships between each personality trait and leadership effectiveness (eg Silvershorne, 2001).

Studies focused on Transformational leadership found connections between extroversion and agreeableness and Transformational leadership (for example - Judge & Bono, 2000), and a meta-analysis by Judge, Bono, Ilies & Gerhardt (2002) found connections between all Big Five (except agreeableness) and active leadership (the ability to motivate subordinates). However, emotional stability was found to be a weaker predictor for the criteria.

The relationship between perceptions and position regarding leadership and personal characteristics.

Hautala (2006) refers to the trend of personality research in leadership and notes that the trend dominated in the 1990s and has returned to the forefront in recent years. Transformational leadership was found to be linked to many positive results, so the researcher found interest in examining the personality characteristics of these leaders. The researcher believes that Transformational leadership will become the most effective leadership pattern in the future world of work, where the workforce is more professional, hierarchies are flatter, and teamwork is the key to success.

In previous studies, diverse findings emerged regarding the connections between leadership and personality. In the context of the Big Five theory, the researcher cites several studies in which links were found between Transformational leadership and traits of extroversion, agreeableness, and openness to experiences. In addition, a handful of studies dealt with the relationship between Transformational leadership and the 16PF questionnaire, which examines slightly different traits from the Big Five, and found a connection between warmth and tension (a negative relationship with the latter) and openness to change. The researcher used the Myers-Briggs personality questionnaire, which examines eight personality preferences based on Jung's theory: introvert-extrovert, sensing-intuition, thinking-emotion, and perception-judgment. The preferences are combined to build a 4-dimensional pattern, so there are 16 possible patterns. Concerning Jung's personality characteristics, the findings cited by the researcher were not uniform.

The researcher found that most of the managers in the sample assessed themselves as extroverts, using their senses to perceive the world and relying on thinking and judgment. The managers rated their Transformational leadership level higher than the level rated by their subordinates, especially managers who were extroverts. These gaps require managers to be more aware of their behaviors and implications, especially those who perceive themselves as extroverted, intuitive and


Bono & Judge (2004) present a meta-analysis of studies on personality and leadership. They point out that the

 eight dimensions of rewarding and formative leadership (idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individual consideration, contingent reward, management by exception-active, management by exception-passive, laissez-faire, where the first four dimensions belong to Transformational leadership and the rest to rewarding leadership ) were found to be valid predictors of subordinate behaviors in work performance and job satisfaction. At the same time, the researchers point out that Avolio and his partners, in a study published in 1999, found that six dimensions are required to describe Transformational and rewarding leadership (influence and motivation were combined into one factor, and passive exception management was combined with laissez-faire "sit back"). However, Transformational leadership consists of one general factor.

Bono and Judge describe the expected relationships between the eight dimensions and the Big Five traits. They hypothesize that: extroverted people will be high in the dimension of inspirational leadership and intellectual challenge (intellectual stimulation) and Transformational leadership in general; People open to experiences are expected to present high levels of intellectual challenge and inspirational leadership and Transformational leadership in general; Modesty and kindness are not characteristics of the charismatic leader, but nevertheless, pleasant leaders may be high in charisma (a combination of influence through idealized (idealized influence) and inspirational leadership) and be a role model as well as in individual consideration and low on passive management (management by exception passive + laissez-faire), due to their high availability to subordinates; Conscientious leaders are expected to be especially strong in the dimensions of continuous reward (Contingent reward) and active exception management (Management by exception-active) and low on passive management; People with low emotional stability will have a low tendency for charismatic leadership, intellectual challenge, Transformational leadership in general, but have a high tendency for passive leadership.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis of studies on personality and leadership published up to 2002 and found the following findings:

Charisma, intellectual challenge, personal attitude:

-Extroversion is positively and consistently linked.

- Neuroticism (the opposite of the trait is now known as emotional stability) is negatively and consistently linked.

- For pleasantness and openness to experiences, the findings are inconsistent in the various studies; sometimes, there is a positive association, and sometimes a negative one.

Transformational leadership includes:

- Extraversion is positively and consistently linked.

- Neuroticism (emotional stability) is negatively and consistently linked.

- The findings are inconsistent in the various studies for pleasantness and openness to experiences. Sometimes there is a positive association, and sometimes, a negative one.

The connections between rewarding leadership were weaker in strength. However, here again extroversion and neuroticism were consistently associated with continued rewards, while the other traits did not produce a consistent finding. The other dimensions did not yield significant findings from a practical point of view, except for a negative relationship between pleasantness and the other dimensions of rewarding leadership (except for continuous reward).

In general, charisma is the dimension most strongly related to personality among the dimensions, while managing exceptions is most weakly associated with personality. The researchers conclude that the connections between personality and the dimensions of Transformational-rewarding leadership are too weak to be of significant use in the real world, but qualify their conclusions: it is possible that the dimensions do not well predict a manager's effectiveness; It is possible that the Big Five model is not a good model for the needs of such research; It is possible that there is a gap between the rating of behaviors in the world of work and laboratory research, which produced more robust findings regarding relationships between personality and leadership.

The relationship between leadership effectiveness and personality characteristics

Bradley, Nicol, Charbonneau & Meyer (2002) investigated the relationships between personality and leadership within the Canadian military. At the beginning of the article, the researchers note that Northouse presents in his book Leadership Theory and Practice (second edition) 5 factors related to effective leadership: intelligence, self-confidence, decisiveness, integrity, and sociability. They also point out that other researchers, who reviewed other studies, presented other traits: conscientiousness and emotional stability (Hogan, Curphy & Hogan 1994). Moreover, the researchers also cite the findings of Barrick & Mount (1991), who found predictive validity for traits of extroversion and agreeableness for success in training managers and working as a manager, and of Bas (1998), who found that effective leadership is linked with self-acceptance, superiority, sociability and an internal focus of control. That is, the researchers bring diverse findings, sometimes even contradictory, from the research literature in the years preceding their own research.

Bradley et. al. Present findings regarding relationships between personality traits measured before the start of command training in the Canadian Army and success in training and in the command position 3-4 years after the course. An internal control focus was found to be weakly related (power of 0.16) to the final training score and at a slightly stronger level (0.20) to the leadership rating given to the trainee by the instructors in the course. Other traits such as dominance, self-esteem, energy level, and achievement were found to be related to peer evaluations of the trainee's leadership ability. These levels are low even in relation to the existing findings in the research literature, where personality questionnaires do not reach correlation levels higher than 0.30.

It is possible that the criteria based on the subjective evaluations of instructors and peers are not reliable; personality may predict typical performance (in the current job) better than maximum performance, which is required in the course and at the beginning of the position (then the pressures of adaptation bring the employee to work at the top level he is capable of); It is possible that despite the attempt to refer to narrow personality characteristics and clear criteria, there was still too broad a reference (for example, leadership is a very broad concept); It is possible that the characteristics of the training itself had a more significant effect on the ratings at the end of the course than the personal qualities of the individual, and this is because the trainees were motivated to behave in similar ways, which do not necessarily reflect their personality. Finally, domain truncation may have caused extremely low correlations. Based on a personal interview, personal evaluations of the same personality traits were not found to be related to the outcomes of the course completion (grade, instructor evaluation, peer evaluation).

In the context of performance in the commander's work itself, dominance, energy level, and internal control focus made for good predictive criteria after 3-4 years in the position. Dominance was associated with physical fitness score (0.39), general military score (0.28), transformational leadership score by self-report (0.48) and peer evaluation (0.31), self-reported contingent reward score (0.42) and peer evaluation of Passive exceptions management (passive management-by-exception) (-0.34). The energy level was found to be significantly related to self-score in transformational leadership (0.40), and the internal focus of control is related to peer evaluation of passive exception management (-0.30).

In a meta-analysis, Judge, Bono, Ilies & Gerhardt (2002) describe the state of research regarding the relationship between personality traits and leadership. They present many researchers, from the mid-20th century to the beginning of the 21st century, who have concluded that the relationship between personality and leadership is too weak to be of real value, that there are few (if any) traits universally associated with leadership, and that the relationships are always situational. Despite this, in all the studies, certain traits were found that were related to leadership, and the researchers present an exhaustive table of these traits, noting that traits such as self-confidence, adaptability, sociability, and honesty appear in many studies. However, many traits are rare in the various studies. One of the main problems is the lack of a uniform personality structure in research. For example, self-confidence and adaptability are two aspects of "emotional stability" in the Big Five model of personality but were examined separately in different studies. Therefore, the researchers are re-examining the past studies through the lens of the "big five" in order to examine personality characteristics that emerged as significant for leaders in various studies. They examine which personality characteristics (the big five and the small traits found in each big factor) are related to perceived leadership (the degree to which a person is perceived as a leader, leadership emergence) and effective leadership (as measured by the evaluations of managers, colleagues, and subordinates).

Examining the two criteria (perception and effectiveness) together, it was found that extroversion is related at a sound level (0.31) to both of them together, conscientiousness (0.28), neuroticism (-0.24) and openness to experiences (0.24) show satisfactory levels of correlations to the combined criterion. Pleasantness was weakly related (0.08) for the combined leadership criterion. The "small" traits presented lower correlations (for example - self-confidence 0.14) compared to the big traits, and in most cases, the correlations were not at all uniform between the various studies (i.e., positive correlations were found in some and negative correlations in others). An exception was extroversion, where the dominant and sociable sub traits predicted leadership better than the extraversion super trait.

For each of the criteria separately, positive and significant correlations were found for the traits of extroversion and openness to experiences; Conscientiousness was found to be related to perception as a leader but not to leader effectiveness, While neuroticism was found to be negatively associated with leadership effectiveness, but not consistently related to the manager's perception as a leader; Pleasantness was not found to be uniformly associated with any of the criteria.

The researchers examined to what extent the findings are consistent between different research populations: in the business world, in the military and the public sector (teachers, politicians), and among students. Extraversion was the only trait that emerged related to the leadership criteria across situations. The business and academic worlds shared neuroticism and openness to experiences, while the public-military sector and students shared conscientiousness.

Attempting to examine which personality traits predict the leadership criteria, the researchers found that extroversion and openness to experiences predicted all three criteria at a sound level, but conscientiousness was the most prominent for the perception as a leader criterion and the combined criterion. Neuroticism did not predict leadership in any way, while agreeableness negatively predicted perception as a leader.

The researchers conclude that the significant connections between the leadership criteria and the Big Five model justify using these personality traits to predict leadership effectiveness and perception as a leader. Extraversion is the most relevant trait for good leadership, but it is more strongly related to the perception of leadership than to the leader's effectiveness. After this trait, openness to experiences and conscientiousness were also good predictors, where conscientiousness was also found to be more related to a person's perception of a leader than to the effectiveness of his leadership. Openness to experiences is a controversial feature in the Big Five model. However, it significantly contributes to predicting leadership in the business world, especially in the criterion of leadership effectiveness. Finally, of all the traits, agreeableness showed weak links to leadership, which makes sense given the nature of the trait: the tendency to conform to others and their desires.


The research on leaders' personalities has returned to the forefront in the last decade. However, despite many attempts to examine which personality characteristics distinguish between good leaders and non-leaders, it is evident that there is difficulty in reaching an agreement between different researchers, even when examining studies that refer to one central personality model (the Big Five).

One primary reason is the difficulty in defining what quality leadership is. Another reason is the great diversity that exists between quality leadership in different environments, even within the business world of work (in the private sector), not least when trying to reach generalizations beyond sectors, and also include the public sector (security organizations, the education system, other government organizations) which is a Multidimensional organization and very diverse in itself.

Despite all these, in the meta-analysis studies of Bono & Judge (2004) and Judge (2002) one can find significant trends: extroversion and emotional stability are linked with characteristics of Transformational leadership, while agreeableness is inversely related to most of the characteristics of rewarding leadership; Leaders are perceived as leaders by others and as effective leaders when they have a high level of extroversion, conscientiousness and openness to experiences, but here too agreeableness was negatively linked to leadership.

By: Merav Hami, psychologist


Bono, J.E., & Judge, T.A. (2004). Personality and transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 89 (5), pg. 901-910.

Bradley, J.P.; Nicol, A.A.M.; Charbonneau, D. & Meyer, J.P. (2002). Personality correlates of leadership development in Canadian forces officer candidates. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol. 34 (2), pg. 92-103.

Hautala, T.M. (2006). The relationship between personality and transformational leadership. Journal of Management Development, Vol. 25 (8), pg. 777-794.

Judge, T. A., Bono, J. E., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. W. (2002). Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87(4), pg. 763-780.

Lee, W.J.; Koenigsberg, M.R.; Davidson, C. & Beto, D.R. (2010). A Pilot Survey Linking Personality, Leadership Style, and Leadership Success among Probation Directors in the U.S. Federal Probation, Vol. 74 (3), pg. 34-56.

Wielkiewicz, R.M. (2002). Validity of the Leadership Attitudes and Beliefs Scale: Relationships With Personality, Communal Orientation and Social Desirability. Journal of College Student Development, Vol. 43 (1), pg. 108-118.

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