Leadership Characteristics


 From ancient time to the postmodern period, theorists have produced a wide array of personal characteristics and skills in their effort to define an ideal leader. Early period attributes related to a leader being a singular source of authority and being endowed with unique qualities that allowed them to capture their follower’s imagination. Many of these attributes emphasized a leader’s physical characteristics, social background, and personality. However, the evolution of leadership theory has produced additional leadership characteristics that emphasize a leader’s personal interrelationship with followers. In fact, Stogdill’s 1970 leadership characteristics survey indicated that the most important leadership attributes are sociability and interpersonal skills; a 40% increase over a similar survey conducted in 1948 (Bass & Stogdill, 1990, p. 81).

 Certain core leadership characteristics appear to be consistent over time. These include honesty, morality, high energy levels, and respect for followers. In addition Bass (1990) states:

The leader is characterized by a strong drive for responsibility and completion of tasks, vigor and persistence in the pursuit of goals, venturesomeness and originality in problem solving, drive to exercise initiative in social situations, self-confidence and a sense of personal identity, willingness to accept the consequences of his or her decisions and actions, ready to absorb interpersonal stress, willingness to tolerate frustration and delay, ability to influence other people’s behavior, and the capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand (p. 87).

 Leaders not only need these characteristics but they should keep focused on the future, maintain a systems approach in their thinking, and be oriented toward developing a network of contacts that provide long term benefit his organization (Kantor, 1995).

 Being aware of leadership characteristics is an important component of developing a personal action plan to become a more effective leader. It seems logical, however, to determine the relative importance of various characteristics in order to focus more attention on higher ranking attributes. In this regard, Kouzes and Posner (1993) conducted a survey where they had their subjects rank leadership characteristics in order of importance. The results listed in Table 1 show that the top rated characteristics concern honesty, vision, and inspiration. These findings agree  with similar importance posited by other leadership authorities including O’Toole (1996), Kantor (1995), and Kidder (1995).


 In our next post, we will discuss differences between management and leadership.



 Bass, B. M., & Stogdill, R. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.

Kantor, R. M. (1995). World class: Thriving locally in the global economy. In F.Hellelbein & M. Goldsmith & R. Beckhard (Eds.), The leader of the future : new visions,strategies, and practices for the next era (pp. 89-98). San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

 Kidder, R. M. (1995). Universal human values: Finding an ethical common ground. In J.T. Wren (Ed.), The leader’s companion : insights on leadership through the ages (pp. 500-508).New York: The Free Press. 

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1993). Credibility : how leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

 O’Toole, J. (1996). Leading change: The argument for values based leadership. New York: Random House, Inc.

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