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Leadership Characteristics

People have been interested in leadership characteristics from as early as the 1920’s right through to the present day. Researchers are particularly interested in whether leaders have particular traits or characteristics that distinguish them from people who are not leaders.

Can Characteristics Predict a Leader?

The question that many researchers have pursued is whether or not a leader can be predicted from the possession of certain characteristics. For example a person who exhibits lots of energy or high intelligence.

leadership characteristics

(Photo Credit: Sean Nash)

To date research has failed to produce a list of characteristics that could guarantee successful leadership.

How Are Leaders Usually Selected?

Many leaders are in fact selected based on their value systems and personal beliefs. Also, with some of their individual characteristics such as communication skills, outgoing personality, charisma, intelligence, character, passion, focus, initiative, physical attractiveness, etc. However, adding too much weight to an individual characteristic can result in employers passing by on strong candidates and failing to identify weaknesses in others.

What Leadership Characteristics Make an Effective Leader?

Shaw defines effective leadership as:

“The process of aligning and guiding organizational resources in a manner resulting in the attainment of organizational goals.”

From a personality perspective a combination of trait and/or skill characteristics in an individual are largely what determines an individual’s ability to motivate others into action and become an effective leader.

When followers (the people who perform the work for the leader) were asked what leadership characteristics they most admired in effective leaders, the top characteristics came out as honesty, forward looking, competent, inspiring and visionary.

The US Army in their 1973 handbook of leadership list eleven characteristics or principles of effective leadership, which include…

  • Be technically proficient.
  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
  • Make sound and timely decisions
  • Set the example
  • Know your people and look out for their well being
  • Keep your workers informed
  • Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers
  • Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished
  • Train as a team
  • Use the full capacities of your organization
  • Know yourself
  • And seek improvement


The leadership experience (2008) By Richard L. Daft, Patricia G. Lane

Leadership development and the characteristics/traits of ethical and … By Scott M. Shaw, Capella University – School of Business

United States Army Handbook (1973)


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