The capacity to lead: Major psychological differences between leaders and nonleaders

Micha Popper, Karin Amit, Reuven Gal, Moran Mishkal-Sinai, Alon Lisak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study returns to the question that occupied "trait approach" scholars in the early days of leadership research: identification of the major capacities required for leadership. The conceptual and methodological progress that has been made in psychology since the trait approach enables us to formulate models and deal with variables that did not exist in the early days of leadership research. We argue that three types of psychological capacities are essential for leadership: (a) self confidence, expressed and measured by three variables - internal locus of control, low level of trait anxiety, and self-efficacy; (b) proactive orientation, expressed by optimism; and (c) capacities required for prosocial relationships, expressed by secure attachment styles. A series of questionnaires was administered to 402 soldiers from Infantry and Armored corps who were nearing the end of 3 months' basic training. A sociometric questionnaire examining the peers' and commanders' evaluations of the soldiers' leadership capacities was used to evaluate each soldier and to classify the soldiers dichotomously as leaders and nonleaders. The findings reveal significant differences between leaders and nonleaders in all the variables that were defined as psychological capacities to lead. Leaders have more internal locus of control, a lower level of anxiety, higher self-efficacy, and more optimism, and they rank higher in the measure of secure attachment style. Anxiety, locus of control, and attachment style were found to be significant in the regression equation, but trait anxiety was found to be the most discriminant variable. The implications of the findings in the light of relevant psychological models are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-263
Number of pages19
JournalMilitary Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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