Are transformational leaders born or developed? It’s a question that can be debated from multiple perspectives. If I didn’t firmly believe that leadership skills can be learned, I wouldn’t be in my current profession. However, I also believe that people’s natural dispositions can influence how they lead. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research that supports how personality traits have clear links to leadership success.
To give an example, transformational leadership can be measured by how well an individual scores on the “Big Five,” a set of five major personality traits that contribute to the likelihood of a person displaying the behaviors of a transformational leader. These personality traits are universal across culture and have biological origins. Kendra Cherry, author and psychology educator describes the Big Five as:
Characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness, people who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.
Attributes of agreeableness include trust, altruism, kindness, and affection. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.
Standard features of conscientiousness include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. People high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details. Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to be organized, spend time preparing, mindful of details, and finish important tasks right away.
Characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They deal well with stress, don’t worry much and are very relaxed.
Attributes of openness include imagination and insight. People high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests, and tend to be more adventurous and creative. They are open to trying new things, tackling new challenges, and thinking about abstract concepts. People low in this trait are often set in traditional ways of doing things and may struggle with abstract thinking.
Leadership assessments that measure the “Big Five” personality traits, find that those who score higher in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower in neuroticism, most often demonstrate behaviors that are described as transformational leadership. If you’re interested, you can take a free assessment online to measure how you score in the five personality traits.
What do you think about the Big Five? Where in your experience have you seen leaders with these traits that you would describe as transformational? And would you say that transformational leadership is determined by nature? nurture? or both?