Personality and Leadership

Topics: Big Five personality traits, Leadership, Trait theory Pages: 9 (2509 words) Published: January 9, 2011
that “the history of the world was the biography of great men” (Carlyle, 1907, p. 18). This “great man” hypothesis—that history is shaped by the forces of extraordinary leadership— gave rise to the trait theory of leadership. Like the great man theory, trait theory assumed that leadership depended on the personal qualities of the leader, but unlike the great man theory, it did not necessarily assume that leadership resided solely within the grasp of a few heroic men. Terman’s (1904) study is perhaps the earliest on trait theory in applied psychology; other discussions of the trait approach appeared in applied psychology in the 1920s (e.g., Bowden,

1926; Kohs & Irle, 1920). Cowley (1931) summarized well the
view of trait theorists in commenting that “the approach to the study of leadership has usually been and perhaps must always be through the study of traits” (p. 144).
Despite this venerable tradition, results of investigations relating personality traits to leadership have been inconsistent and often disappointing. Most reviews of the literature have concluded that the trait approach has fallen out of favor among leadership researchers. As Zaccaro, Foti, and Kenny (1991) noted, “trait explanations of leader emergence are generally regarded with little

esteem by leadership theorists” (p. 308). The original source of skepticism with the trait approach is often attributed to Stogdill’s (1948) influential review. Although Stogdill did find some consistent relations, he concluded, “The findings suggest that leadership is not a matter of passive status or of the mere possession of some combination of traits” (Stogdill, 1948, p. 66). As Bass (1990) noted, after Stogdill’s (1948) review, “situation-specific analyses took over, in fact, dominating the field” (p. 59). Indeed, Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (1996) and Yukl and Van Fleet (1992) commented that any trait’s effect on leadership behavior will depend on the situation. Even today, with the renewed interest in dispositional explanations of attitudes and behaviors, there remains

pessimism about the relationship of personality variables to leadership. Conger and Kanungo (1998) described the trait approach as
“too simplistic” (p. 38). House and Aditya (1997) concluded, “It appeared . . . that there were few, if any, universal traits associated with effective leadership. Consequently, there developed among the community of leadership scholars near consensus that the search for universal traits was futile” (p. 410).

Notwithstanding these stark assessments, all of the aforementioned reviews uncovered some traits that appeared to be related to leadership emergence or effectiveness. Table 1 provides the results of previous qualitative reviews of the leader trait perspective. In preparing this table, we took several steps to reduce it to a manageable level. First, several reviews were excluded from presentation in Table 1 (e.g., House & Howell, 1992, was excluded

because it focused on charismatic leadership; Stogdill, 1974, was excluded because it was quite similar to reviews completed before [Stogdill, 1948] and since [Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1998]). Second, characteristics that were identified as not being personality traits (motivation, knowledge, intelligence—see below) were excluded. Finally, Bass’s (1990) comprehensive list was shortened to include only those traits that were supported in 10 or more studies in his review.

Several aspects of the results in Table 1 are noteworthy. It is clear there is some overlap in the traits identified by the reviews. For example, self-confidence appears in all but two of the reviews, and other traits (adjustment, sociability, integrity) appear in multiple reviews. On the other hand, despite some agreement, the

reviews are not overly consistent. C. R. Anderson and Schneier (1978) commented, “These searches seemed to result in a myriad Timothy A. Judge and Remus Ilies, Department of Management, University of Florida; Joyce E. Bono, Department...
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