Big Five personality Traits and Trait Theories of Leadership

By John W. Fleenor
Center for Creative Leadership


These two related topics are discussed as entries in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. From an historical perspective, the trait approach represents an important advance in the study of leadership. It was one of the first efforts to apply rigorous research methods to the study of leadership. The trait approach was also an early attempt to answer the question of whether leaders are born or made. Based on their studies, trait researchers began to understand that even if dispositional characteristics exist that can make one an effective leader, there are many important leadership attributes that can be developed.

The emergence of the five-factor model of personality was an important advance in the creation of an orga­nizing framework for the traits thought to be important for effective leadership. Through the factor analysis of personality assessments, researchers found that personality traits can be grouped into five factors: Emotion­al Stability, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Research has found that four of these factors individually (i.e., Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness) are positively related to leadership. The five factors in combination have been found to be pre­dictors of leadership emergence and effectiveness. Because correlations between the five personality factors and leadership are typically found to be low to moderate, however, there are still questions about the true effects of personality on leadership.


Fleenor, J.W. (2023). Big five personality traits. In G.R. Goethals, S.T. Allison, & G. J. Sorenson (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of leadership studies (Vol. 1) (pp. 57-60). SAGE Publications.

Fleenor, J.W. (2023). Trait theories of leadership. In G.R. Goethals, S.T. Allison, & G. J. Sorenson (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of leadership studies (Vol. 2) (pp. 935-938). SAGE Publications.

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