Does Effective Leadership Come from Traits or Behaviors?

Are leaders born or made? The general consensus is that leaders are both born and made, but which aspect is more important? This article delves into that issue by comparing many individual differences that could potentially predict leadership effectiveness.


In this meta-analysis, which is a statistical compilation of many previous studies, the authors compared 25 individual difference variables by looking at their relationships with leadership effectiveness criteria. Fourteen of the 25 variables had not been reviewed in previous meta-analyses. The individual difference variables were categorized into two groups: trait-like individual differences and state-like individual differences. Trait-like individual differences are those that are more stable, such as personality and intelligence. State-like individual differences are more temporary and can be learned; knowledge and skills are good examples.


The authors found that overall, trait-like and state-like individual differences were fairly similar in their prediction of leadership effectiveness. In other words, according to this meta-analysis, leaders are both born and made to a fairly equal extent. Of the trait-like variables, the best predictors of leadership effectiveness were achievement motivation, energy, dominance, honesty or integrity, self-confidence, creativity, and charisma. Of the state-like variables, the best predictors were interpersonal skills, oral communication, written communication, management skills, problem-solving skills, and decision-making.

Based on this meta-analysis, it appears equally important to pick leaders with certain traits and to develop those leaders by increasing their knowledge and skills.


Hoffman, B. J., Woehr, D. J., Maldagen-Youngjohn, R., & Lyons, B. D. (2011). Great man or great myth? A quantitative review of the relationship between individual differences and leader effectiveness. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84, 347-381.

Image credit: istockphoto/ Vanessa Nunes