Every organisation, from Apple and Google to the US government, demands different skills and personal qualities in its leadership.
But research suggests there are two traits that are common to the majority of successful leaders: extroversion and conscientiousness.
According to a meta-analysis led by Timothy Judge, Ph.D., a professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, extroversion is the best predictor of leadership effectiveness (typically measured by assessments from subordinates and supervisors), followed closely by conscientiousness.
Psychologists define extroversion as sociability and enthusiasm, while conscientiousness refers to your organisation and work ethic. More recent research has found that conscientiousness is the only major personality trait that consistently predicts success, largely because highly conscientious individuals are good at setting and working toward goals.
The meta-analysis also offers some clues to why extroversion is so closely related to leadership. When Judge and his co-authors deconstructed the big personality traits, they found that dominance and sociability better predicted leadership than extroversion as a whole (though they caution that few studies looked at both these components of extroversion at the same time).
Judge and his co-authors also broke down the data by different fields and found that among business leaders, openness to experience (or intellectual curiosity) was just as important as extroversion.
Interestingly, the meta-analysis found that both extroversion and conscientiousness are better predictors of leadership emergence (or the likelihood of holding a leadership position) than leadership effectiveness. So if an introvert does make it to the C-suite, it’s entirely possible for her to be great at the job.
In fact, a growing body of research challenges the notion that extroverts make the best leaders and suggests that, in some cases, introverts make better bosses. That’s partly because they’re generally good listeners and tend to be very thoughtful.
Ultimately, none of this research implies that only people with certain personality traits can make it to — and thrive at — the top. But knowing that sociability predicts leadership success, for example, you can try to cultivate your own social skills in the workplace. You don’t need to change your personality to suit your professional ambitions, but you can certainly work to develop qualities that you may already have.
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