Leaders have an important role within an organisation related to its success, productivity and the performance of the employees. The ‘fundamental task of a leader is to build and maintain a high performing team’ (Furnham, 2005, p.566). However, Yukl (2013, p.18) argues that there are numerous and diverse definitions concerning the concept of a leader as well as the term leadership, although a general consensus appears to suggest it involves a process of influencing and guiding relationships within an organisation . Guirdham (2002, p.15) emphasises the importance of leaders having good interpersonal and communication skills, which as Yukl suggest involves the ability to persuade others. Yukl (2013, p.18) further states there are additional factors that contribute to good leadership such as the situational context and the use of power. Another issue regarding the characteristics of leaders is that many theories and models have been based on Western perspectives (House and Aditya, 1997, p.409) and typically based on research with white males (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, CIPD, 2008, p.7). There is some cultural crossover in servant leadership, which according to Northouse (2013, p.219), was originally proposed by Greenleaf in the 1970s, and also has origins in ancient Eastern and Western philosophies; for example, it is deeply embedded in Arab-Islamic culture (Sarayrah, 2004, p.59). A further concern is raised by Mullins (2008, p.265) who states that determining who is a ‘good leader’ is a subjective judgement and cannot be based, for example, on financial performance alone. The aim of the following essay is to investigate whether certain characteristics are related to good leadership and which can be identified in theories and models of leadership such as trait theory, transformational and charismatic leadership as well as authentic and servant leadership. Finally, there will be a brief discussion regarding interpersonal characteristics such as emotional intelligence and communication skills.
Trait theories of leadership proposed that successful leaders possessed distinctive traits or characteristics that differentiated them from unsuccessful leaders and subordinates. As Northouse (2013, p.7) mentions there are common phrases in use in society such as ‘ he was born to be a leader’ or ‘she is a natural leader’ which suggest that people tend to think good leaders are born and not trained. The concept of leaders having certain characteristics dominated research prior to the Second World War. It was thought that individuals could be selected for leadership positions if they showed the appropriate characteristics or alternatively that traits could be taught to leaders (Furnham, 2005, p.571). Popular books, such as Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, propose that certain traits or characteristics can be learned. Covey (2004, p.46) states that ‘our character, basically, is a composite of our habits.’ Covey continues saying that habits are consistent, can be learned or unlearned and express an individual’s character and how effective or ineffective they are (Covey, 2004, p.46). Covey suggests that effective people are proactive, have a clarity regarding their life-goals, manage themselves, value and respect other people, are empathic and encourage positive teamwork (Covey, 2004, p.65). The seventh habit involves taking time to ‘sharpen the saw’ which Covey translates as meaning time to refresh physical, spiritual, psychological and socio-emotional dimensions of a person’s character (Covey, 2004, pp.287-288).
A number of characteristics and traits related to good leaders have been identified; for example, Smith and Foti (1998, p.147) undertook a study investigating the characteristics of emergent leaders and found that the traits of dominance, intelligence and self-efficacy were significantly higher in emergent leaders than other individuals who were not classified as emergent leaders. According to Furnham (2005, p.572), good leaders usually possess characteristics such as persistence, innovation and a willingness to take responsibility for their actions. Yukl (2013, p.146) similarly identifies certain characteristics related to good leaders which include a high tolerance of stress, emotional maturity, personal integrity, motivation and self-confidence. However, Furnham (2005, p.574) suggests that although there are numerous traits, there appears to be little agreement regarding which characteristics contribute to a leader being effective.