How the traits of the leader in a person’s personality emerge

Reflecting well on the words of the initial quote by Warren Bennis, two questions arise spontaneously:

  • Why in every human group does an individual tend to emerge and end up being the leader of the group?
  • What are the characteristics that favor the emergence of an individual as a leader compared to other members of the group?

In the tutorials on leadership character theories, we highlighted that the character approach investigates the character or personality of successful leaders, trying to answer the following question:

What kind of person a good leader is?

In answering this question then came the conviction, according to which, if in some people some typical characteristics of leadership can be seen, then they can aspire to be leaders.

In reality, unlike other theories on leadership, the Character Theory has failed to develop leadership styles that can be put into practice, precisely because its limitation lies in the fact that the character has or does not exist.

The main traits of the leader or characteristics

Adopting an empirical research approach, the first theorists have hypothesized that leaders have a universal set of physical characteristics, personality types and attitudes that combine to form the basis of their leadership success.

Initial trait research seemed to support the belief that there were distinct differences in leaders’ personalities compared to those of the followers.

A recent extensive and comprehensive list of preferred leadership features to achieve OKR is found in John William Gardner’s research that has studied leaders and organizations throughout North America.

The most common features of the research that John William Gardner listed in his work “On Leadership” (1989) are:

  • Vitality and physical endurance
  • Intelligence and action oriented judgment
  • Desire to accept responsibility
  • Competence
  • Understanding of the followers and their needs
  • Ability to deal with people
  • Need for realization
  • Ability to motivate people
  • Courage and resolution
  • Reliability
  • Self-confidence
  • Assertiveness
  • Adaptability and flexibility

The results of his studies seem to indicate that, although similar traits can be found in various leaders, it is not said that a successful leader in a situation can easily transfer or have the same success in an unrelated situation.

Wanting to give a personal interpretation, I say that, however it may be, from the research done over the last 30 years, a set of fundamental traits, characteristics or qualities of the leader emerge which can be summarized as follows.

Tendency to improve oneself and others

This trait is a healthy ambition to succeed ethically, combined with initiative and sacrifice to bring improvement to oneself and others.

Motivation to be a leader

This trait of intrinsic motivation is a profound desire to be a guide and to inspire others to achieve shared goals.

Honesty and integrity

This two traits representing the reliability and transparency of a leader are the basis of a long lasting leadership.

Trust in yourself and others

This trait is believing in one’s own and others’ ideas and abilities.

Business knowledge

This trait is the competence of the field in which one operates.

Emotional maturity

This trait represents precisely being endowed with emotional intelligence and inner stability.

Ability to influence others

This trait is the ability of influence as a healthy and natural consequence of previous traits.


The Character Theory, although today it is largely outdated, has made an important contribution to assessing those character traits that allow the potential leader or each organization to make an assessment of its leaders, their strengths and their weaknesses, pushing them to become aware and develop their own identities.

This can easily be done where there is an act of personal choice, such as honesty, integrity and the increase in skills and knowledge, or with more dedication and commitment to those traits where a long commitment and exercise is required, such as emotional capacities, right motivation and trust in others.