Ever wonder what personality traits create the perfect leader? Some fascinating studies about personality and leadership reveal curious findings. For instance, did you know that narcissists may make better decisions? Like it or not, it’s true. One study found that individuals who ranked high in narcissism outperformed those with low narcissistic tendencies on a decision-making task. Why? Narcissists were better at filtering out misleading information and staying more committed to long-term goals.
Other personality traits have also been linked to leadership, and are even more revealing. In academia, there’s substantial literature about personality traits and their influences on both life experiences and leadership. One such study tested the personalities of adolescents at age 17, then followed them again at age 29. Their findings? Extroversion was the No. 1 personality characteristic that predicted leadership success. Extroversion includes one’s assertiveness, confidence, energy levels, social skills, optimism and willingness to actively engage in their communities.
So, can introverts be great leaders? While a USA Today poll found that 65% of executives consider introversion a barrier to advancement, there’s evidence to suggest introverts may make better bosses in many cases. Take Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Charles Schwab, for example. A Harvard Business Review article notes that introverts are great bosses for proactive teams. In fact, in a study of 130 franchise pizza companies, extroverted leaders actually got worse results from highly proactive teams, and only did well when their teams rated low on proactiveness. Therefore, as with many things, the answer to the introversion-extroversion debate may be a resounding, “it depends!”
However, many transformational leaders have other key qualities. A transformational leader is a person who inspires others, creates vision and deepens commitment to needed change. According to a Leadership Quarterly research article, the secret ingredient for these leaders is a personality trait called conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is the combination of one’s tendencies to be organized, hard-working, thorough and deliberate. This quality, combined with emotional intelligence and experience, is the main driver of effective transformational leadership. Interestingly, qualities such as extroversion, openness and agreeableness didn’t make the cut!
So, what does all of this mean? Certain qualities of personality can predict your likelihood to be a leader. However, most of these qualities can be learned and trained; there’s no personality test in the world that can tell you who you are or determine your potential. The real trick is to know your strengths and weaknesses, then commit to unlocking your hidden potential—which we all have, even if you’re already a leader.
If you’d like to learn more about improving or developing the qualities required for effective leadership, please check out our courses in Executive Education at the Daniels College of Business.