What is it about?

Do people with certain personality traits make better leaders? In this study, we statistically combined data from hundreds of studies conducted across the world to examine how personality traits predict an individual’s likelihood of being chosen as a leader, and their effectiveness as a leader. A key finding of our study is that interpersonal traits—Extraversion (how social and assertive the leader is) and Agreeableness (how compassionate and cooperative the leader is)—are stronger predictors of leader effectiveness in countries with collectivist cultures, where social coordination, interpersonal harmony, and group loyalty are highly valued. This finding suggests that perceptions of effective leadership traits vary across cultures. Further, we show that leader personality predicts leader effectiveness because of specific kinds of behaviors leaders enact. More Extraverted and Agreeable leaders tend to show Consideration (behaviors reflecting how supportive, caring, and nurturing the leader is towards others [getting along]), while more Conscientious, Extraverted and Open leaders tend to show Initiating Structure (behaviors reflecting how much the leader focuses on defining roles, scheduling work, and driving towards goals [getting ahead]). We also examined an additional personality trait called Honesty-Humility (sincerity, fairness, greed avoidance, and modesty), and our meta-analysis demonstrates that Honesty-Humility substantially and uniquely predicts leader effectiveness. Altogether, this study helps to clarify the what (which personality traits), when (in which cultures), and why (through which behavioral mechanisms) of the relationship between personality and leadership.

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Why is it important?

This study provides a comprehensive, multinational, updated meta-analytic review of the relationships between personality traits and leadership. This extends previous groundbreaking work by Judge et al. (2002). Second, by including data from different countries and examining how societal collectivism impacts how people perceive their leaders, the study shows how the role of personality in leadership depends on culture. Third, by investigating specific leader behaviors, we shed light on the underlying reasons and mechanisms for why certain personality traits are linked to effective leadership. Fourth, we found that a leader’s Honesty-Humility substantially predicts effective leadership, above and beyond the traits from the traditional Big Five personality model. Overall, we advance understanding of personality and leadership by: (a) accounting for cultural differences, (b) pinpointing the explanatory leader behaviors underlying personality effects, and (c) incorporating the personality trait of Honesty-Humility. These insights have implications for how organizations select, develop, and evaluate leaders across diverse cultural contexts.


I’m interested in finding circumstances where there might be an “Agreeableness Leadership Advantage.” I have a hunch that “nice leaders don’t always finish last,” but this seems to be more true in select situations (like Collectivist cultures). Doing this large multinational meta-analysis took years to complete, and it taught me a lot about the different ways leadership is studied and understood.

Anoop Javalagi
Northwestern University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Personality and leadership: Meta-analytic review of cross-cultural moderation, behavioral mediation, and honesty-humility., Journal of Applied Psychology, April 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/apl0001182.
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