Bi Leadership Research Paper

The best leaders are in the public sector and female leaders are better suited for leadership than men, indicates a study of nearly 3000 managers.

KNOWLEDGE @BI: Effective leadership

Personality is almost as significant as intelligence when it comes to our ability to perform work tasks efficiently.

“For leaders, personality plays an even bigger role than for many other professions,” according to professors Øyvind L. Martinsen and Lars Glasø at the BI Norwegian Business School.

Research has identified five key traits that, overall, provide a good picture of our personality. This is called the five factor model.

The five traits in the five factor model are: emotional stability, extraversion (outgoing), openness to new experiences, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The personality traits are measured in degrees, from high to low.

Five characteristics of effective leaders

“International research studies show that the most skilled leaders achieve high scores for all five traits,” according to Martinsen and Glasø.

High scores in the five personality traits give us the following five characteristics of very effective leaders:

  • 1. Ability to withstand job-related pressure and stress (leaders have a high degree of emotional stability).
  • 2. Ability to take initiative, be clear and communicative (leaders are outgoing, with a high degree of extraversion).
  • 3. Ability to innovate, be curious and have an ambitious vision (effective leaders have a high degree of openness to new experiences).
  • 4. Ability to support, accommodate and include employees (effective leaders display a high degree of sociability).
  • 5. Ability to set goals, be thorough and follow up (effective leaders are generally very methodical).

More than 2900 Norwegian managers studied

Øyvind L. Martinsen and Lars Glasø have analysed data from an extensive leader survey that was most carried out in 2011 by the Administrative Research Institute (AFF) at the Norwegian School of Economics. The survey measured personality traits in Norwegian managers, work motivation and organisational commitment.

More than 2900 leaders provided complete responses to the personality measurements. Of these, more than 900 were women, more than 900 were senior management and nearly 900 came from the public sector.

The survey is based on the recognised theory of human personality, which describes personality as stable response patterns in thinking, emotion and behaviour.

Women score higher than men

Female leaders score higher than men in four of the five personality traits measured.

“The results indicate that, as regards personality, women are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, support and targeted meticulousness,” according to the BI researchers.

The survey also indicates that female leaders have a somewhat stronger tendency to worry.

“Disregarding the worrying (emotional stability), it could be legitimate to ask whether women function better in a leadership role than their male colleagues,” according to Martinsen and Glasø.

Innovative public leaders

In their analyses, Martinsen and Glasø compared the personality traits of leaders in the private sector with leaders in the public sector. The results surprised the researchers, and might challenge our perceptions and stereotypes regarding leaders in the public sector.

Leaders in the public sector score higher in innovation, support and targeted meticulousness than their colleagues in the private sector. “Can the best leaders really be found in the public sector?”, the researchers wonder.

The analyses also show that senior management has greater potential for innovation and systematic and targeted behaviour in the leadership role than leaders at lower levels in the organisation.

Motivated for the job

Martinsen and Glasø also investigated whether there were any correlations between leaders’ personality and whether they have an internal or external motivation for the job.

  • Internal motivation is an expression of a genuine interest in the work, perceived opinion about the work and perception of independence.
  • External motivation is a form of motivation where we, for example, perceive that the work is governed by external rewards (e.g. bonus). Research has consistently found that such forms of motivation, in the best case, have an impact on simpler routine tasks.

The results show that high numbers in the five traits in the five factor model are associated with internal motivation. This means that those with a basic personal expertise for the leader role, are also those with a favourable internal motivation for doing the job.

The researchers find that external motivation is correlated with low emotional stability, low sociability and low regularity.

“Leaders with difficulties handling pressure, that have a lower tendency to support and that are less thorough and targeted, state that they have higher levels of external motivation in their job,” according to the researcher duo.

Work motivation is yet another reason to spend time identifying leader candidates that have personality traits that support becoming effective leaders.


Martinsen, Øyvind and Lars Glasø (2013): Personlighet og ledelse. I R. Rønning, W. Brochs- Haukedal, L. Glasø, & S. B. Matthiesen (ed.). Livet som leder. Lederundersøkelsen 3.0 (p.47-72). Fagbokforlaget: Bergen.


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Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication, BI Norwegian Business School.

I recently took the CPI 260, a personality test designed to assess leadership potential, and one piece of feedback I received was a report comparing my characteristics to those of successful leaders.

The report, which includes clients' ratings in 18 key areas such as decisiveness and the ability to handle sensitive problems, is based on years of research on the factors that go into effective management. The CPI 260 and the reports that come with the results are used by major companies including Red Cross, AIM Investment Services, and Delta Associates.

We spoke to Rich Thompson, divisional director of research at CPP, the organization that publishes the CPI 260, about how the report is produced. (You can see a sample report here.)

In the 1990s, 5,610 managers and executives participated in leadership-development programs at The Center for Creative Leadership. All the execs — a group of mostly white men from a wide range of industries — took the CPI 260 and received 360-degree feedback from managers, peers, and subordinates.

A team of researchers led by psychologist Sam Manoogian, Ph.D., then looked at which CPI 260 scores correlated with the most positive feedback in different areas. Manoogian was the chief assessor at CCL from 1996 to 1999, and, based on his experience, he selected the 18 traits that he felt were crucial to successful leadership.

They are organized into five core competencies: self-management, organizational capabilities, team building and teamwork, problem solving, and sustaining the vision. The competencies represent a hierarchy, so each competency builds on the ones before it. Self-management is at the bottom: You can't excel in any domain until you're able to regulate your own thoughts, emotions, and habits.

Here are the 18 traits of successful leaders, according to the report:

1. Self-management

Effective leaders can regulate their time, attention, and emotions, and they are familiar with their strengths, weaknesses, and potential sources of bias.

Self-awareness refers to your ability to manage your own feelings so that you respond to people and events in an authentic and appropriate way.

Self-control is about being disciplined, without being too reserved or inflexible.

Resilience involves managing stress and devoting time to important areas of life outside work.

2. Organizational capabilities

Successful managers know how to use power appropriately, work within established procedures, and make decisions.

Use of power and authority involves exercising power without overwhelming coworkers.

Comfort with organizational structures means following rules and policies — while still supporting individuality.

Responsibility and accountability involves owning up to your mistakes and expecting others to do the same.

Decisiveness is about balancing different perspectives and taking appropriate action.

3. Team building and teamwork

Team building comes down to leading or participating in groups of people with distinct personalities, motivations, and skills.

Interpersonal skill refers to the ability to be approachable in spite of the authority you hold.

Understanding others is about being able to empathize with different people's feelings.

Capacity for collaboration means knowing that solving problems requires a variety of ideas and opinions, without getting sidetracked by conversation and debate.

Working with and through others involves both sharing and delegating assignments.

4. Problem solving

Problem solving is very much about managing group politics and understanding why people act the way they do.

Creativity is about challenging the status quo, even while respecting organizational procedures.

Handling sensitive problems involves confronting delicate issues head-on, instead of running away from them.

Action orientation means knowing when it's time to make a decision — even if you haven't gathered all the information you'd ideally like to have.

5. Sustaining the vision

Successful leaders don't just have a plan in mind for their own success — they can also see the company's future and have concrete goals for the organization. They are consistently able to inspire confidence in and motivate their coworkers.

Self-confidence means being optimistic, even in spite of your worries, and communicating that optimism to others.

Managing change is about striking a balance between stability and growth and being open to new approaches without getting distracted from the main goals.

Influence involves being outgoing and persuasive, without being overbearing.

Comfort with visibility means not freaking out when you're in the spotlight talking about the organization's values, or when you're networking for the sake of furthering your organization's mission.

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