There’s no magic formula that predicts whether you’ll become president of the United States.
But research suggests there are certain personality traits that make it a lot more likely that you’ll ascend to a leadership position in your company, your government, or your school. One such piece of research is a 2002 review of studies by the psychologist Timothy A. Judge and colleagues.
Judge looked at the prevalence of what are commonly known as “Big Five” personality traits — openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — among different types of leaders. Among his findings: Extroversion is the strongest predictor of leadership and agreeableness is the weakest.
We should note here that we don’t recommend applying any of this research to individuals on your own. It’s near-impossible to assess someone’s personality unless you know them well, and unless you also happen to be a mental health professional.
We’re simply giving an overview of the personal qualities that typically show up in leaders.
Here’s what Judge’s research found:
Extroversion was the strongest predictor of leadership emergence — who becomes a leader — and leadership effectiveness — who’s successful in a leadership position. But it was a better predictor of emergence than effectiveness.
What’s more, when the study authors deconstructed extroversion into distinct parts, they found that dominance and sociability better predicted leadership than extroversion as a whole. This makes sense, the study authors write, “as both sociable and dominant people are more likely to assert themselves in group situations.”
Conscientiousness, or a person’s tendency to be organised and hard-working, was the second strongest predictor of leadership.
Again, conscientiousness was more closely linked to leader emergence than to leadership effectiveness. The authors write: “[T]he organising activities of conscientious individuals (e.g. note taking, facilitating processes) may allow such individuals to quickly emerge as leaders.
Openness to experience was the third strongest predictor of leadership. However, it’s worth noting that, in business settings specifically, openness was just as strongly linked to leadership as extroversion.
Neuroticism was not a strong predictor of leadership, meaning that highly neurotic people are not especially likely or unlikely to become leaders.
Agreeableness, or friendliness, was the “least relevant” to leadership of all the traits studied. Interestingly, however, when the researchers looked only at leadership effectiveness, agreeableness was related.
The authors write: “Because agreeable individuals tend to be passive and compliant, it makes sense they would be less likely to emerge as leaders.” However, once they reach the top, agreeable people may be more likely to succeed than those exhibiting the other personality types.
It’s important to note that, even if you take a psychological assessment and find that you don’t fit the personality type of a typical leader, you can still be a great boss. Take extroversion, for example: A growing body of research suggests that introverts can be just as effective leaders as extroverts, if not more so.
This research is more helpful in predicting broader social trends — like who might wind up in the C-suite or even the White House, and why.
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