What is leadership?

Famed management consultant Peter Drucker, PhD, once described leadership as being about followership. This may sound redundant, but from our perspective, there’s much more to it. At Hogan, we’ve been studying leadership for decades. In fact, we’re an international authority in the subject—specifically in the relationship between leadership, personality, and job performance. But we realize that, if you’re not an expert, the topic can seem incredibly complex.

Let us explain.

What is leadership?

Most people tend to think about leadership in terms of job titles. People managers, especially those who appear leaderlike or conform to cultural norms about leadership, are often credited with being good leaders. Whether someone is charismatic, assertive, or high ranking, however, has little to do with their leadership abilities. So, what is leadership, then?

Leadership is not a title but an ability to inspire followership.

Hogan’s definition of leadership focuses on team outcomes. Leadership is the ability to build and maintain a team that performs well relative to its competition. In other words, effective leaders can organize people to outperform other teams.This point of view means that leadership is not a title but an ability to inspire followership. Leaders are not people who are nominally in charge. They are people who form teams, units, departments, organizations, or other affiliations to achieve goals.

This definition of leadership is informed by the socioanalytic theory of personality, which fuses psychoanalytic theory and role theory with evolutionary theory. Throughout the history of our species, nearly every significant human achievement has relied on coordinated effort between members of a team and its leadership.

Why is leadership important?

According to socioanalytic theory, people have three basic evolutionary needs, which are also known as the “master motives.” These include getting along (in cooperation for social acceptance), getting ahead (in competition for status and survival), and finding meaning (through systems such as philosophy, sciences, and religion). Individual differences in how people pursue and meet those goals contribute to the success of the group.

Throughout history, warfare has made cooperation within groups necessary. Because coordinated groups typically outperform disorganized groups, the primary goal of leadership is to persuade people to set aside individual desires temporarily for the good of the group. This means leadership is fundamentally a resource for group survival—and bad political leadership can put our survival at risk. Estimates suggest that as many as six times more people were killed by their own governments than by foreign or internal war in the 20th century.2

Leadership is fundamentally a resource for group survival.

From an organizational perspective, leadership is important because organizational performance depends on leaders’ skill in building and maintaining high-performing teams.  Although organizational success is susceptible to outside forces, the effect of leadership on organizational outcomes is strong. Researchers estimate from 14% to 45% of an organization’s financial results derive from its executive leadership.3 Leaders do not achieve these results singlehandedly, but they do create conditions that impact team effectiveness.

Finally, on an individual level, bad organizational leadership can cost us our well-being. Most of us have had incompetent, hostile, or absentee leaders in the workplace who have caused us great misery. In fact, 65% of people say the most stressful part of life is their immediate boss.4­­ Successful leaders provide an environment that positively supports employees’ ability to contribute to organizational goals.

In short, who is in charge matters!

What is the role of personality in leadership?

At Hogan, we often say that who we are is how we lead. This tenet shows how the role of personality is essential in understanding and assessing leadership.

Personality has two components, identity and reputation:

  • Identity is our personality from an inside view, formed by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the image we want to project to the world.
  • Reputation is our personality from an outside view, formed by others’ observations of how we behave.

Career success depends on people reconciling their identities with their reputations.

Reputation, not identity, is how people evaluate each other. Career success depends on people reconciling their identities with their reputations. Career problems can arise when people’s identities depart significantly from their reputations, caused by over- or underestimation of their abilities. Objective personality data helps people understand their reputations, offering a realistic view of how others perceive them and empowering them to adapt their behavior.

What follows are the links between personality and organizational success.5 Personality predicts leadership style. Leadership style influences employee attitudes, team culture, and team performance. And both employee engagement and team performance affect organizational performance.

What are the different types of leadership styles?

Broadly, leadership style is affected by a leader’s performance across four leadership domains.6 A domain refers to a wide area of multidimensional leadership demands that combine to influence a leader’s effectiveness in achieving team outcomes. Effective leaders know how to balance the range of demands across these four domains:

  • Intrapersonal – handling pressure, challenge, and learning
  • Interpersonal – facilitating communication and connections
  • Operational – driving results, accountability, and structure
  • Strategic – creating vision and strategy for the future


If effective leadership is like mountain climbing, then many routes exist to reach the summit. Individual leaders have a combination of strengths that produce a rich and complex interplay among the domains.

Effective leaders who understand their leadership styles know when to rely on which domains. No single leadership style is “best” because the four domains are expressed differently according to the context of a leader’s role, the overall organizational context, and the needs of the team. A leader might leverage the interpersonal domain in one situation and the operational domain in another.

What are the differences between leadership and management?

True leadership is effective leadership, although it might go by different names. It is the ability to build and maintain effective teams and create a context for team success. Management is a role that demands different tasks at different hierarchical levels in different industries. Although the two can overlap, the difference between leadership and management is skilled action versus a job title.

To clarify this difference, we define two categories of leadership: emergent leaders and effective leaders.

  • Emergent leadership refers to achieving status within an organization. Emergent leaders display charisma, achieve personal advancement, and seem traditionally leaderlike.
  • Effective leadership refers to improving team performance. Effective leaders earn the trust of followers, promote employee engagement, make good decisions, and set team vision.

The rate of incompetent management is 50% to 75%.

Emergent leadership and effective leadership aren’t mutually exclusive, but only about 10% of leaders are both emergent and effective.7 In fact, the rate of incompetent management is estimated to be 50% to 75%, meaning most managers aren’t effective leaders.8 Effective leaders, regardless of their management status, are defined by their ability to build a high-performing team.

Who becomes a leader? Can anyone become a leader?

All of us have personality strengths that can help us perform in the workplace. Effective leaders have specific characteristics that help them excel at building and maintaining high-performing teams. Emergent leaders, on the other hand, tend to be charismatic people who advance within organizations. Consequently, those who earn job titles associated with leadership aren’t always those who are true leaders within organizations.

People can cultivate strategic self-awareness and seek development to improve their leadership skills, but not everyone has characteristics that support leadership or an interest in leadership. People’s values and unconscious biases drive them to seek roles and work environments they find rewarding. When we separate fulfillment at work from status hierarchy, then leaders, potential leaders, and followers are freer to pursue work they value.

How can you assess leadership skills or leadership potential?

Leadership potential depends on how others are likely to perceive a leader—that is, leadership potential is about a person’s reputation. Unlike identity, reputation is observable, measurable, and predictive of job performance. Valid, reliable personality assessments can be used to assess the leadership skills—including personality strengths, potential derailers, and values—that are important for leadership success in a given role and organization.

Hogan’s three core personality assessments­­ can be used to predict leadership performance by describing the reputation that a person likely has in the workplace and the culture they are likely to create for their team:

  • The Hogan Personality Inventory, or HPI, uses seven scales to measure the bright side of personality. The bright side of personality consists of everyday personality characteristics that describe how people relate to others when they are at their best. Everyday personality affects leaders’ ability to get along with others and achieve their goals.
  • The Hogan Development Survey, or HDS, uses 11 scales to measure the dark side of personality. The dark side of personality involves derailers, which are strengths that can become shortcomings when overused. These behaviors tend to emerge with stress, pressure, or boredom. All of us have counterproductive behaviors that prevent us from maximizing our strengths, and leaders are no exception.
  • The Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory, or MVPI, uses 10 scales to measure what we call the inside of personality. The inside of personality consists of the values, motives, and unconscious biases that determine the kind of work we find fulfilling and our preferences for different working environments. These also determine the type of culture leaders create for their teams and organizations.


Personality assessment data provides insights that can have both positive and negative implications for leadership performance. The same leadership personality characteristics that are successful in one environment can be counterproductive in another. Consider a potential leader’s scores on Inquisitive, an HPI scale that measures the degree to which someone is perceived as bright, creative, and interested in intellectual matters. A leader with a low Inquisitive score might tend to understand applications and implementation but rarely talk about the larger corporate vision. A leader with a high Inquisitive score might tend to understand and express the big picture but could become bored with implementation or repetitive tasks.

What are the most important leadership skills?

The most important leadership skills are the ones that inspire followership, or those that enable leaders to build and maintain effective teams.

In one sense, the agility or flexibility to know which strengths and skills to leverage at any given time, which we call strategic self-awareness, might be the most valuable leadership characteristic. Strategic self-awareness empowers leaders to draw upon the most fitting domains at the optimal times.

Since leadership is the ability to inspire followership, then a good leader displays the qualities that people tend to look for before choosing to follow someone. According to James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, these qualities are covered in four broad themes: integrity, judgment, competence, and vision.9 At Hogan, our perspective is informed by the research of Kouzes and Posner, as well as our own. We consider the four most important qualities to be integrity, judgment, credibility, and support.

Integrity is perhaps the most important characteristic of a good leader. Integrity affects followers’ productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. A leader’s judgment determines their ability to learn from mistakes and their ability to make decisions, which affect the welfare of followers. Good leaders are perceived as having strong business acumen and are persistent about pursuing team success. Finally, good leaders guide and empower their teams to achieve their collective mission, and their support of their teams balances encouragement and challenge.

How can leaders develop themselves?

Leaders can develop themselves with strategic self-awareness and behavioral modification, which can lead to reputational change.

Is leadership development the same as personality change? Not exactly. Leadership development is related to observable behavior and reputation, not identity or biology. Although leadership development isn’t easy, leaders can gradually modify their behavior over time. With the help of feedback, coaching, and continuous developmental efforts, leaders can change their reputations.

Successful leadership development is founded in the relationship among assessment, learning, and development. Here’s an overview of how development works:

  • Assessment – Self-knowledge begins with the assessment of strengths, challenges, and abilities and with reflection on assessment feedback.
  • Learning – Learning refers to acquiring new conceptual knowledge about skills and behavioral strategies.
  • Development – Development occurs when leaders apply knowledge and practice new skills to initiate behavioral change.


In leadership development, all three components (assessment, learning, and development) need to work in sync for long-term change to occur.

How do you make an effective leadership development program?

Leadership development programs have a significant and positive impact on organizations—when done right. The benefits of leadership development programs include competitive succession planning, talent attraction, talent retention, networking opportunities for leaders, impact on financial valuations, and more.

Effective leadership development strategies typically involve several of the following methods: formal training programs, personality assessments, mentoring, coaching, on-the-job development, and reflection. But that’s not all there is to it. Want to know how to identify potential flaws within your leadership development program and, most importantly, fix them? We can help!


1.  Hogan, R., Curphy, G., Kaiser, R., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). Leadership in Organizations. In D. S. Ones, N. Anderson, & C. Viswesvaran (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology (pp. 269–286). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473914957.n13

2. Rummel, R. J. (1994). Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. Transaction Publishers. https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

3. Hogan, R., Raskin, R., & Fazzini, D. (1990). The Dark Side of Charisma. In K. E. Clark & M. B. Clark (Eds.), Measures of Leadership (pp. 343–354). Leadership Library of America.

4. Kaiser, R. B., Hogan, R., & Craig, S. B. (2008). Leadership and the Fate of Organizations. American Psychologist, 63(2), 96–110. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.63.2.96

5. Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2005). What We Know About Leadership. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 169–180. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.169

6. Hogan, R., & Warrenfeltz, R. (2003). Educating the Modern Manager. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2(1), 74–84. https://doi.org/10.5465/AMLE.2003.9324043

7. Luthans, F., Hodgetts, R. M., & Rosenkrantz, S. A. (1988). Real Managers. Ballinger.

8. Hogan, R. (1994). Trouble at the Top: Causes and Consequences of Managerial Incompetence. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 46(1), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.1037/1061-4087.46.1.9

9. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth about Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. Wiley.

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