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MONNIG, B. L. (2005). What is a Leader? the Characteristics Contributed to Leadership. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 8. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

What is a Leader? the Characteristics Contributed to Leadership

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
This study measured what characteristics the participants contributed to a leader and to themselves. The participants took a Bem Sex Role Inventory on what characteristics they believed a leader should possess, as well as, a survey that reviewed their own characteristics. This study allowed us to see how similar the self-image is to the belief of what a leader’s characteristics were. Names were not collected with the data so that confidentiality remained controlled. The results of this study did not show significance in the characteristics of the self and that of a leader. Future research may include a larger sample size and a description of a leader that may assist in developing an image for a more specific leader.

A leader is defined as one who guides or is in command or one in a position of influence or importance according to the Webster Dictionary (2001). Yet the question that we should ask is what characteristics do these leaders have? Leaders are known to have their own leadership style and can be said to be unlike any other leader. Although this is thought to be true, studies have shown that people in leadership positions are thought to be or characterized more as men over women.Men are generally stereotyped to be objective, competitive, logical, independent, aggressive, responsible, rational, and ambitious, whereas stereotypes of women often include characteristics such as being gentle, emotional, intuitive, dependent, sensitive, passive, illogical, nurturant, warm, and accommodating (Dubno, 1985; Eagly & Wood, 1991; Haslett et al., as cited in Dennis & Kunkel 2004). These stereotypes help to illustrate why many think of leaders to be more masculine. A woman leader who is perceived as tough and focused (Janet Reno, Margaret Thatcher) in thought to be unfeminine; one who shows emotion or is perceived as compassionate (Pat Schroeder) is criticized for being too soft (Lips, 2001). Is this a fair characteristic to make? The stereotypes of the female role still seem to place women with little to no power and below the stature and capabilities of men.In the study by Dennis and Kunkel (2004) on the Perceptions of Men, Women, and CEOs the participants were given a Power and Leadership Questionnaire that included general background information, Descriptive Index (SDI, Schein, 1973) and the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974). The female participants rated targets as more competent, active/potent, emotionally stable, rational, and independent, and less hostile that did the male participants. Whereas the male targets were rated as higher than females in work competence, activity/potency, emotional stability, independence, hostility, and rationality, while the females were rated to have more concern for others. We then look to how the participants ranked CEOs and we find that nearly all of the characteristics for males are listed. This study helps to demonstrate the stereotypes commonly associated with male and female leaders.Cramer and Jantz-Sell (2003) performed a study that unlike the Dennis and Kunkel study was focused on identifying college-level leaders in order to aid programs to help cultivate young leaders. The results supported that there are certain characteristics that strong leaders tend to possess and the leading characteristic was conscientiousness. This study seems to pinpoint a specific characteristic that seemly is important for being a leader.Conscientiousness is a characteristic that some may associate with themselves but will they pair their own characteristics with others? A similar idea was put to the test in 2001 by McElwee, O’Brien, Dunning, Tan, and Hollman when they tested the evaluation principle to see if participants judged leaders in the same way they judged themselves. When the participants were asked to define an effective leader, the intelligent person, or the good parent, they tended to provide definitions that resembled their own characteristics (McElwee, O’Brien, Dunning, Tan, Hollman 2001). The purpose of this study will be to discover what characteristics the participants link to the idea of a leader. Will the “leader” be more masculine or feminine? This study will also evaluate if the participants view the “leader” as having the same or similar characteristics that they find in themselves. My hypothesis is that we will find that the “leader” will be ranked higher in masculinity. I also expect to see significance between the scores of the self and leader characteristics.


The participants for this study consisted of thirty students from introductory level psychology classes at a medium-sized public college in Northwest Missouri. The students were given extra credit in their class for their participation in this study.

The data collection was taken from Bem Sex Role Inventory surveys that were given out at the being of the scheduled class period.

The participants were given the Bem Sex Role Inventory and explanation of the directions. This inventory was used to evaluate the characteristics of a leader and then themselves to complete. The experiment took place at the regularly scheduled class period and allowed the students to earn extra credit for the participation. The experiment looked at two variables. The first was the characteristics the participants gave themselves which is used at a dependent variable and the second were the characteristics the participants gave the “leader” which acts as the independent variables. These variables were used to calculate the similarities between the two Inventories. The scores for the students were then tabulated, and assigned to either the masculine, feminine, or neutral group, according to the Bem Sex Role Inventory directions. Next, the score for the leader characteristics were calculated for each group but were not assigned.

For this experiment a one-way ANOVA was used to compare how the subjects ranked their characteristics and the characteristics of a leader. The subject’s scores were tabulated and then were assigned in groups as masculine, feminine, or neutrally sexed. No significance was found any of the following tests: test of the masculine group (F (2,27)= .026, p>.05), the feminine group (F (2,27)= 2.73, p>.05), and lastly the neutral group (F (2, 27)= 1.701, p>.05). There was no similarity in the participants’ view of their own characteristics and the view of characteristics of a leader. Although in the feminine group test it appeared that the neutral group did rank higher than the masculine and feminine groups.

We see that the hypothesis is not supported by the data collected to compare the participants self and leader characteristics. As expected the participants did rank the characteristics of the leader as being more masculine than feminine or neutral. The study results did not support the hypothesis that characteristics between the self and the leader would be similar. Unexpectedly the study did show similarities for the top ranked characteristics. We see that the overall top ten characteristics of the self and leader do share 5 characteristics, although no hypothesis was formed for this situation.The 5 similar characteristics were reliability, truthfulness, defending own beliefs, loyalty, and helpfulness. Three of these characteristics fell under the category of the neutral group and the other two characteristics consisted of one masculine and one feminine characteristic. These results encourage a possible study that would test the top ranked scores ranked on two different groups. The results of this study are not supported by the study conducted in 2001 by McElwee, O’Brien, Dunning, Tan, and Hollman. This study found significance between how individuals ranked themselves and a leader. A possible limitation this study had was not having an example of a leader that they were to rank. In further studies providing a leader description may assist in collecting data. Any such description needs to be non-bias to the study and not lead the participants into ranking certain characteristics.This study may have shown more statistics to support my hypothesis had a wider participant group been used. Another possible limitation may have been giving the inventory at the beginning of the participant’s class period. Many of the participants completed the survey during class where their attention was divided. Inviting the participants to attend an outside experiment time may encourage concentration and a more effective testing atmosphere.

Cramer, R. J., Jantz-Sell, T. R. (2003). An examination of personality traits among student leaders and nonleaders. Psi Chi Journal, 8, 175-178.Dennis, M. R., Kunkel, A. D. (2004). Perceptions of men, women, and CEOs: The effects of gender identity. Social Behavior & Personality, 32, 155-172.Lips, H. M. (2001). Envisioning positions of leadership: The expectations of university students in Virginia and Puerto Rico. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 799-813.McElwee, R.O., Dunning, D., Tan, P. L., Hollmann, S. (2001). Evaluating others: The role of who we are versus what we think traits mean. [Electronic version]. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 23, 123-136. Retrieved September 18, 2005 from https://www.erlbaum.com/shop/tek9.asp?pg=products&specific=0197-3533.The new international Webster’s dictionary of the English language. (2001). Australia: Trident Press International.


Submitted 12/8/2005 12:44:05 PM
Last Edited 12/8/2005 12:58:02 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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