Personality Traits and Leadership


Certain personality traits are positively related to leader effectiveness and team performance. These personality traits include surgency, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Even though there are no universal personality traits that are predictors of leader effectiveness in all situations, some situations and organization cultures require specific personality traits and leadership styles relative to the follower’s expectations of a leader (Hogan et al., 1994). “Personality traits, such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, openness, neuroticism, and self-monitoring influence implicit leadership theories. Specifically, individuals characterize a leader similar to self as ideal” (Keller, 1999).

Hollenbeck (2000) developed an integrated theory of person-organization fit in which the structure of an organization is compared to the personality traits of the organization’s people. Typically, organizations develop a functional structure that enables it to successfully integrate with its external environment. The functional structure characteristics create unique internal environment conditions that require organization members of particular personality traits in order to attain organization efficiency. In addition, Hollenbeck (2000) suggested that successful organizations employ people that have personality traits that enable the workers to fit well into both the organization’s internal and external environments.

Senior executives often select people for a leadership role solely based on the criteria of the candidate’s operational efficiency or experience. Sorcher (2002) suggests that the selection should be made on a broad range of soft leadership criteria including personal integrity, cultural background, and personality. Hogan (1994) states, “In our judgment, the best way to forecast leadership is to use a combination of cognitive ability, personality, simulation, role play, and multi-rater assessment instruments and techniques” (p. 497). In addition, personality measures are efficacious in predicting effective leadership.

Proactive personality was positively associated with both self-reported objective success criteria of salary and promotions as well as the subjective success-criteria of career satisfaction (Seibert, 1999). In a study of six hundred fifty-two employees composing 51 work teams it was determined that relationships of team member’s ability, personality and social cohesion contributed positively to team viability and team performance. “With respect to composition variables, teams higher in general mental ability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, and emotional stability received higher supervisor ratings for team performance” (Barrick, 1998, 377). In addition, the three personality characteristics of autonomy, control, and motivation orientation influence performance and achievement through achievement goal patterns, goal level, and mental focus. “Research suggests that global personality traits can help researchers to understand and predict the motivational strategies that people use while working toward goals in achievement settings” (Lee, 2003, p. 256).

A U.S. Army study examined criteria for leader effectiveness using both military and civilian subjects and discovered the importance of personality and leadership. Connelly (2000, p. 77) declares, “The Army study emphasizes the importance of creative thinking, complex problem solving skills, and social judgment skills, while the civilian study serves as a reminder that other leader attributes, such as personality and motivation, are critical to a leader’s success.” Military and civilian senior executives often select people for a leadership role solely based on the criteria of the candidate’s operational efficiency or experience. Sorcher (2002) suggests that the selection should be made on a broad range of soft leadership criteria including personal integrity, cultural background, and personality.

Prior research has shown that personality characteristics can be accurately assessed using of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (Witt, 2000; Young, 2001), DiSC®, (Morgan, 2000), Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (George, 1990), and the Five Factor Model (Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001; Larson et al., 2002). Judge (2002, p. 1) declared, “Overall, the five-factor model had a multiple correlation of .48 with leadership, indicating strong support for the leader trait perspective when traits are organized according to the five-factor model”. In fact, considerable personality-leadership effectiveness research has been conducted using the Big Five Personality Model or Five Factor Model (hereafter referred to as FFM). Barrick and Mount (2001) summarized the results of 15 meta-analytic studies, conducted over the prior 50 years that focused on the relationship of FFM personality characteristics to prediction of job performance. Results, summarized in Table 1, indicated that there is a positive relationship of FFM dimensions to job performance. In particular, conscientiousness and emotional stability were positively correlated to job performance in all jobs while the other FFM dimensions only had positive correlation to specific occupations. Salgado (2003) reached a similar conclusion in a study of Western European firms.

Table 1: Correlation Between the FFM Dimensions and Job Performance.

FFM TableLarsen (2002) declared, “For understanding an individual’s total personality, it is absolutely necessary to know something about the kinds and intensity of his interests” (p.217). In fact, for decades researchers have suggested there is a direct link between personality and vocational interests. In an effort to determine correlation between personality and vocational interests, studies were conducted using Holland’s Big Six domains of vocational interest and the Big Five model of personality traits (Barrick et al., 2003; Furnham, 2001; Larson et al., 2002). Results of the study showed a clear link between personality type and vocational interests. Larson declared, “Of the 30 correlations, five appeared to be substantial for both men and women and across interest measures. They are Artistic-Openness (r = .48), Enterprising-Extraversion (r = .41), Social-Extraversion (r = .31), Investigative-Openness (r = .28), and Social-Agreeableness (r = .19)” (Larson, 2002, p. 217). Barrick’s (2003) research yielded similar results with Enterprising-Extraversion (r = .41) and Experience-Openness (r = .39). Overall conclusions of these studies, however, indicate that while Big Five personality traits are directly related to the Big Six vocational interests, they are not substitutes for each other.

In the next blog post,  we will discuss the Five Factor Model of Personality in greater detail and examine their effect on leadership performance.


Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1993). Autonomy as a moderator of the relationship between the Big-Five personality dimensions and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology,78(1), 111-118.

Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Judge, T. A. (2001). Personality and performance at thebeginning of the new millennium: What do we know and where do we go next? International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 9(1/2), 9-31.

Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Gupta, R. (2003). Meta-analysis of the relationship between the five-factor model of personality and Holland’s occupational types. Personnel Psychology, 56(1), 45-75.

Furnham, A. (2001). Vocational preference and P-O fit: Reflections on Holland’s theory ofvocational choice. Applied psychology: An International Review, 50(1), 5-29.

Connelly, M. S., Gilbert, J. A., Zaccaro, S. J., Threlfall, K. V., Marks, M. A., & Mumford, M. D. (2000). Exploring the relationship of leadership skills and knowledge to leader performance. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), p65, 22p.

Larson, L. M., Rottinghaus, P. J., & Borgen, F. H. (2002). Meta-analysis of big-six interests and big-five personality factors. Journal of Vocational Behaivior, 61(2), 217-239.

Salgado, J. F. (2003). Predicting job performance using FFM and non-FFM personality measures. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 76(3), 323-347.

Sorcher, M., & Brant, J. (2002). Are You Picking the Right Leaders? Harvard Business Review, 80(2), 78-86.

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