One approach to the study of leadership is to identify traits that characterize “natural- born” leaders, those who have the “right stuff.” According to the Great Person Theory of history, exceptional individuals rise up to determine the course of human events. This approach has had some support over the years since certain traits—such as ambition, intelligence, a need for power, self-confidence, a high energy level, and an ability to be flexible and adapt to change—are characteristic of people who go on to become leaders. Even physical height may play a role. In this regard, it is striking that across the entire twentieth century, the tallest candidate for U.S. president won an astonishing 23 out of 25 elections—that’s 92% of the time (1972 and 1976 were the only exceptions).
On the basis of past research, Shelley Kirkpatrick and Edwin Locke (1991) argued that certain stable characteristics are associated with successful leadership among business executives. In particular, they pointed to the importance of cognitive ability (intelligence and an ability to quickly process large amounts of information), inner drive (a need for achievement, ambition, and a high energy level), leadership motivation (a desire to influence others in order to reach a common goal), expertise (specific knowledge of technical issues relevant to the organization), creativity (an ability to generate original ideas), self-confidence (faith in one’s own abilities and ideas), integrity (reliability, honesty, and an open communication style), and flexibility (ability to adapt to the needs of followers and changes in the situation). “Regardless of whether leaders are born or made,” they say, “it is unequivocally clear that leaders are not like other people”