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What 100 Years of Research Shows About Effective Leadership

Nov. 20, 2009 Psychology Today

What do we actually know about effective leadership?  One hundred years of research on the topic has led to some clear answers.

First, are leaders born or made?  The answer is both, but more made than born.  Leadership is a complex and sophisticated social role.  Although certain qualities do predispose some people to attain leadership positions and be better at leading, effective leaders actually hone their skills through experience, conscious self-development,education, and training.

Second, does leadership training work?  Relatively recent analyses of over 100 years of leadership training and development efforts suggests that most programs do indeed lead to some positive change.  Is the change dramatic?  Sometimes.  Certain crucible, or trigger, events can lead to substantial improvement in leadership ability.  For the most part, however, leadership development is a long-term and incremental process.

Third, are there certain elements that all (or most) great leaders share?  We are quite sure that the theory of transformational leadership represents the very best elements of leadership.  Effective leaders tend to be inspirational, visionary, and serve as positive role models for their followers.  But the very best leaders also care sincerely about their followers, their well-being and their personal development.  Great leaders also empower followers and encourage them to be creative and to take initiative.

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