Are Leaders Born or Developed?

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. Alexander the Great

There is an ongoing debate about whether leaders are born or developed. Though there is research to indicate some people are born with attributes that are associated with leadership, we have discovered that those attributes won’t guarantee their success as a leader. In fact, the attributes that allow for a leader to be successful and sustain a positive influence on others can be developed over time.

baby-leader1That being said, it is important to identify the attributes that are most correlated to success, and what are things that can be developed over time.

In an effort to explore the connection between a persons personality and their leadership potential, I explored the research searching for any patterns or predictability. The authors used the five-factor model as the organizing framework and analyzed 222 correlations from 73 samples (Judge, Bono, Ilies, Gerhardt, 2002). The five-factors include Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

In examining their research, I focused on the five-factors to predict leadership by reviewing the approach used by the authors – a qualitative review of the trait perspective in leadership research, followed by using meta-analysis.

The purpose of the study was to provide a quantitative review of the relationship between personality and leadership. The authors use the five-factors as an organizing framework to estimate relations between personality and leadership (Judge, Bono, Ilies, Gerhardt, 2002).

The Five-Factors.

The components of the five-factor model are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Consientiousness.

  • Neuroticism represents the tendency to exhibit poor emotional adjustment and experience negative affects.
  • Extraversion represents the tendency to be sociable, assertive, active, and to experience positive affects.
  • Openness to Experience is the disposition to be imaginative, nonconforming, unconventional, and autonomous.
  • Agreeableness is the tendency to be trusting, compliant, caring, and gentle.
  • Conscientiousness is comprised of two related facets: achievement and dependability” (Judge, Bono, Ilies, Gerhardt, 2002).

The five-factors have be found to relevant to many aspects of life (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998). Here are the Results and Findings of my research on leadership.

Results & Findings.

When assessing the specific traits, Extraversion emerged as the most consistent correlate of leadership. Not only was it the strongest correlate of leadership in the combined analysis. Results confirmed that Extraversion was more strongly related to leader emergence than to leader effectiveness (Judge, Bono, Ilies, Gerhardt, 2002).

Conscientiousness and Openness

Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience were the strongest and proved to be the most consistent correlates of leadership. Conscientiousness rated the second strongest to predict leadership. People being willing to take the lead in facilitating processes, projects, or discussions tend be related to leader emergence than to leader effectiveness.

Openness to Experience proved to be the most controversial to assess from the data, Neuroticism failed to prove to be a significant predictor of leadership, and Agreeableness was the least relevant of the five-traits.


A major point is made by the authors by differentiating “leader emergence vs. leader effectiveness”. Extraversion may prove to allow more individuals to emerge as a leader, but it does not mean that they will be an effective leader.

A leaders capacity to show empathy and reflect resonant leadership skills are more essential than having an outward personality. A leaders role is to create a culture of trust and core values that allow the team to function properly. “Leaders get what the create, or what they allow” (Cloud, 2013, p. 160).

The more you develop your ability to show empathy and connect with the emotions of those you lead, the more influence you will have with those you lead.


Judge, T., Bono, J., Ilies, R., and Gerhardt, M., (2002). Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 4, (Oct., 2002), pp. 765-780.

Cloud, H. (2013). Boundaries for leaders: Results, relationships, and being ridiculously in charge. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 197-229.

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