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Personality and political skill as distal and proximal predictors of leadership evaluations

William A. Gentry (Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA)
Jean B. Leslie (Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA)
David C. Gilmore (University of North Carolina - Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)
B. Parker Ellen III (The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Gerald R. Ferris (The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Darren C. Treadway (State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 25 November 2013




Although individual difference variables are important in the prediction of leadership effectiveness, comparatively little empirical research has examined distal and proximal traits/characteristics that help managers lead effectively in organizations. The aim of this paper is to extend previous research by examining whether and how specific distal, narrow personality traits and the more proximal characteristic of political skill are related to decisiveness, a specific competency of leadership effectiveness, as rated from direct reports and peers.


Self-report data on political skill and personality traits (i.e. perceptiveness and affability) from 225 practicing managers from the US, together with other-report (i.e. peer and subordinate) ratings of their leadership effectiveness (i.e. decisiveness) were used to test the mediating effects of political skill.


Results show that political skill (i.e. the social astuteness dimension) mediated the relationships between narrow personality traits and evaluations of leadership effectiveness as rated by some, but not other rater sources. Specifically, the social astuteness dimension of political skill mediated the relationship between perceptiveness and decisiveness ratings from direct reports but not for ratings from peers, and the full political skill composite measure mediated the relationship between affability and decisiveness ratings from peers but not for ratings from direct reports.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations include the availability of only two narrow personality traits, which constrained the scope of the possible mediation tests of all individual dimensions of political skill.

Practical implications

Political skill is shown to be a more proximal predictor of leadership effectiveness than personality dimensions. Thus, political skill should be considered over personality for emerging leaders. Further, differences in ratings due to source (i.e. peer and subordinate) indicate the need for organizational leaders to consider the source when evaluating effectiveness reports.


This study is one of the first to integrate the Ferris et al. model of political skill and the Zaccaro et al. distal-proximal trait model of leadership effectiveness.



A. Gentry, W., B. Leslie, J., C. Gilmore, D., Parker Ellen III, B., R. Ferris, G. and C. Treadway, D. (2013), "Personality and political skill as distal and proximal predictors of leadership evaluations", Career Development International, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 569-588.



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