Over the past several
years, one of the most important contributions psychology has made
to the field of business has been in determining the key traits
of acknowledged leaders. Psychological tests have been used to determine
what characteristics are most commonly noted among successful leaders.
This list of characteristics can be used for developmental purposes
to help managers gain insight and develop their leadership skills.
The increasing rate of change in the business environment is a major
factor in this new emphasis on leadership. Whereas in the past,
managers were expected to maintain the status quo in order to move
ahead, new forces in the marketplace have made it necessary to expand
this narrow focus. The new leaders of tomorrow are visionary. They
are both learners and teachers. Not only do they foresee paradigm
changes in society, but they also have a strong sense of ethics
and work to build integrity in their organizations.
Raymond Cattell, a pioneer in the field of personality assessment,
developed the Leadership Potential equation in 1954. This equation,
which was based on a study of military leaders, is used today to
determine the traits which characterize an effective leader. The
traits of an effective leader include the following:
- Emotional stability. Good leaders must be able to tolerate
frustration and stress. Overall, they must be well-adjusted and
have the psychological maturity to deal with anything they are
required to face.
- Dominance. Leaders are often times competitive and decisive
and usually enjoy overcoming obstacles. Overall, they are assertive
in their thinking style as well as their attitude in dealing with
- Enthusiasm. Leaders are usually seen as active, expressive,
and energetic. They are often very optimistic and open to change.
Overall, they are generally quick and alert and tend to be uninhibited.
- Conscientiousness. Leaders are often dominated by a sense of
duty and tend to be very exacting in character. They usually have
a very high standard of excellence and an inward desire to do
one's best. They also have a need for order and tend to be very
- Social boldness. Leaders tend to be spontaneous risk-takers.
They are usually socially aggressive and generally thick-skinned.
Overall, they are responsive to others and tend to be high in
- Tough-mindedness. Good leaders are practical, logical, and to-the-point.
They tend to be low in sentimental attachments and comfortable
with criticism. They are usually insensitive to hardship and overall,
are very poised.
- Self-assurance. Self-confidence and resiliency are common traits
among leaders. They tend to be free of guilt and have little or
no need for approval. They are generally secure and free from
guilt and are usually unaffected by prior mistakes or failures.
- Compulsiveness. Leaders were found to be controlled and very
precise in their social interactions. Overall, they were very
protective of their integrity and reputation and consequently
tended to be socially aware and careful, abundant in foresight,
and very careful when making decisions or determining specific
Beyond these basic traits, leaders of today must also possess traits
which will help them motivate others and lead them in new directions.
Leaders of the future must be able to envision the future and convince
others that their vision is worth following. To do this, they must
have the following personality traits:
- High energy. Long hours and some travel are usually a prerequisite
for leadership positions, especially as your company grows. Remaining
alert and staying focused are two of the greatest obstacles you
will have to face as a leader.
- Intuitiveness. Rapid changes in the world today combined with
information overload result in an inability to "know"
everything. In other words, reasoning and logic will not get you
through all situations. In fact, more and more leaders are learning
to the value of using their intuition and trusting their "gut"
when making decisions.
- Maturity. To be a good leader, personal power and recognition
must be secondary to the development of your employees. In other
words, maturity is based on recognizing that more can be accomplished
by empowering others than can be by ruling others.
- Team orientation. Business leaders today put a strong emphasis
on team work. Instead of promoting an adult/child relationship
with their employees, leaders create an adult/adult relationship
which fosters team cohesiveness.
- Empathy. Being able to "put yourself in the other person's
shoes" is a key trait of leaders today. Without empathy,
you can't build trust. And without trust, you will never be able
to get the best effort from your employees.
- Charisma. People usually perceive leaders as larger than life.
Charisma plays a large part in this perception. Leaders who have
charisma are able to arouse strong emotions in their employees
by defining a vision which unites and captivates them. Using this
vision, leaders motivate employees to reach toward a future goal
by tying the goal to substantial personal rewards and values.
Overall, leaders are larger than life in many ways. Personal traits
play a major role in determining who will and who will not be comfortable
leading others. However, it's important to remember that people
are forever learning and changing.
Leaders are rarely (if ever) born. Circumstances and persistence
are major components in the developmental process of any leader.
So if your goal is to become a leader, work on developing those
areas of your personality that you feel are not "up to par".
For instance, if you have all of the basic traits but do not consider
yourself very much of a "people" person, try taking classes
or reading books on empathy. On the other end, if relating to others
has always come naturally to you, but you have trouble making logical
decisions, try learning about tough-mindedness and how to develop
more psychological resistance. Just remember, anyone can do anything
they set their mind to...