Several articles and books have enumerated the leadership characteristics of effective leaders. Indeed, I have taken on that task on a few occasions in this blog. But I want to look at some traits of effective leaders from perhaps a different perspective. I want to ask the question: “Do effective leaders have common personality traits?”
As a researcher, I know I can’t prove causation just by defining common personality characteristics. Nevertheless, this brief exercise might inspire some person to investigate the matter more deeply.
I looked at the biographies of 20 leaders who have been widely accepted as effective leaders. I then added five more names of leaders I know personally. The latter group does not have the recognition of the former group, but I desired to add some contemporary examples of leaders with whom I’m acquainted.
For the next step, I made a list of the personality characteristics of each person. If a personality trait showed up on a majority (13 of the 25) of the leaders, it made my list. In fact, of the seven traits, each of them was on the list a minimum of 18 of the leaders.
The Personality Traits
What then are the personality traits of effective leaders? Here are the seven I discovered in the order of frequency. I use the past tense in the seven items below since a majority of the leaders I studied were deceased.
- They had intense personalities. The list included both introverts and extroverts, so intensity is not the same as an exuberant personality. Rather, these leaders had a focus and determination that was evident even if they were quiet and calm on the surface.
- They had attitudes of gratitude. These leaders saw each day and each opportunity as a gift. They had the opposite of an entitlement mentality. As they rose through the ranks of their respective professions, they rarely complained or whined about their environment, pay, benefits, or lack of promotions. They were just grateful for the opportunities they had been given.
- They were intensely loyal. They were loyal to the organizations, to their superiors, to those who worked for them, and to their fellow employees and co-workers. Theirs was not a blind loyalty, but it was a deep and forgiving loyalty.
- They were joyous. Though their personalities were diverse, most of these leaders had a joy about them that was contagious. Some of the leaders manifest their joy with a winsome sense of humor. Others demonstrated joy by their ongoing contentment of life and its opportunities.
- They were self-deprecating. These leaders had a security that allowed them to be vulnerable and self-deprecating. They did not try to hide their weaknesses or lack of knowledge; indeed they often made fun of themselves. But if they had a leadership weakness, they would constantly strive to overcome the weakness, often unashamedly asking others for help.
- They were self-aware. Most of these leaders did not need an inventory or aptitude test to help them discover their weaknesses. To the contrary, they typically knew their weaknesses and, as noted above, would unashamedly let others know about their deficiencies.
- They had a constructive spirit. Everyone knows leaders and other people who are constantly complaining or pointing out the problems of others. These leaders, to the contrary, had the opposite of a negative spirit; they had a constructive spirit. They encouraged and praised people; or they dealt with others’ weaknesses and deficiencies in a constructive way.
The Overarching Theme
If there is an overarching theme in the personality traits of effective leaders, it is that they are secure people. They are secure in their abilities. They are secure in their relationships with others. They are even secure to some extent in their weaknesses.
Ineffective leaders tend to be more insecure. Very few of whom I am aware would have a majority of the seven traits I noted. Indeed this small exercise has given me a desire to look more in depth at how security versus insecurity plays itself out in the life of a leader. Perhaps one day I’ll get to that task. Or perhaps one of you readers could pursue it as well.
It seems to be an issue worth investigating further.