One approach to understanding leadership is to focus on person variables. Personality theories of leadership are explanations of leadership based on the idea that some people are simply “natural leaders” because they possess personality characteristics that make them effective (Zaccaro, 2007). One personality variable that is associated with effective leadership is intelligence. Being intelligent improves leadership, as long as the leader is able to communicate in a way that is easily understood by his or her followers (Simonton, 1994, 1995). Other research has found that a leader’s social skills, such as the ability to accurately perceive the needs and goals of the group members, are also important to effective leadership. People who are more sociable, and therefore better able to communicate with others, tend to make good leaders (Kenny & Zaccaro, 1983; Sorrentino & Boutillier, 1975).
Other variables that relate to leadership effectiveness include verbal skills, creativity, self-confidence, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness (Cronshaw & Lord, 1987; Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002; Yukl, 2002). And of course the individual’s skills at the task at hand are important. Leaders who have expertise in the area of their leadership will be more effective than those who do not. Because so many characteristics seem to be related to leadership skills, some researchers have attempted to account for leadership not in terms of individual traits but in terms of a package of traits that successful leaders seem to have. Some have considered this in terms of charisma (Beyer, 1999; Conger & Kanungo, 1998). Charismatic leaders are leaders who are enthusiastic, committed, and self-confident; who tend to talk about the importance of group goals at a broad level; and who make personal sacrifices for the group. Charismatic leaders express views that support and validate existing group norms but that also contain a vision of what the group could or should be. Charismatic leaders use their referent power to motivate, uplift, and inspire others. And research has found a positive relationship between a leader’s charisma and effective leadership performance (Simonton, 1988).
Another trait-based approach to leadership is based on the idea that leaders take either transactional or transformational leadership styles with their subordinates (Avolio & Yammarino, 2003; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Moorman, & Fetter, 1990). Transactional leaders are the more regular leaders who work with their subordinates to help them understand what is required of them and to get the job done. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are more like charismatic leaders—they have a vision of where the group is going and attempt to stimulate and inspire their workers to move beyond their present status and to create a new and better future. Transformational leaders are those who can reconfigure or transform the group’s norms (Reicher & Hopkins, 2003).