Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait model of leadership is based on the characteristics of many leaders - both successful and unsuccessful - and is used to predict leadership effectiveness. The resulting lists of traits are then compared to those of potential leaders to assess their likelihood of success or failure.

Scholars taking the trait approach attempted to identify physiological (appearance, height, and weight), demographic (age, education and socioeconomic background), personality, self-confidence, and aggressiveness), intellective (intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge), task-related (achievement drive, initiative, and persistence), and social characteristics (sociability and cooperativeness) with leader emergence and leader effectiveness.

Successful leaders definitely have interests, abilities, and personality traits that are different from those of the less effective leaders. Through many researches conducted in the last three decades of the 20th century, a set of core traits of successful leaders have been identified. These traits are not responsible solely to identify whether a person will be a successful leader or not, but they are essentially seen as preconditions that endow people with leadership potential.

Among the core traits identified are:

  • Achievement drive: High level of effort, high levels of ambition, energy and initiative
  • Leadership motivation: an intense desire to lead others to reach shared goals
  • Honesty and integrity: trustworthy, reliable, and open
  • Self-confidence: Belief in one’s self, ideas, and ability
  • Cognitive ability: Capable of exercising good judgment, strong analytical abilities, and conceptually skilled
  • Knowledge of business: Knowledge of industry and other technical matters
  • Emotional Maturity: well adjusted, does not suffer from severe psychological disorders.
  • Others: charisma, creativity and flexibility

Strengths/Advantages of Trait Theory

  • It is naturally pleasing theory.
  • It is valid as lot of research has validated the foundation and basis of the theory.
  • It serves as a yardstick against which the leadership traits of an individual can be assessed.
  • It gives a detailed knowledge and understanding of the leader element in the leadership process.

Limitations of The Trait Theory

  • There is bound to be some subjective judgment in determining who is regarded as a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ leader
  • The list of possible traits tends to be very long. More than 100 different traits of successful leaders in various leadership positions have been identified. These descriptions are simply generalities.
  • There is also a disagreement over which traits are the most important for an effective leader
  • The model attempts to relate physical traits such as, height and weight, to effective leadership. Most of these factors relate to situational factors. For example, a minimum weight and height might be necessary to perform the tasks efficiently in a military leadership position. In business organizations, these are not the requirements to be an effective leader.
  • The theory is very complex

Implications of Trait Theory

The trait theory gives constructive information about leadership. It can be applied by people at all levels in all types of organizations. Managers can utilize the information from the theory to evaluate their position in the organization and to assess how their position can be made stronger in the organization. They can get an in-depth understanding of their identity and the way they will affect others in the organization. This theory makes the manager aware of their strengths and weaknesses and thus they get an understanding of how they can develop their leadership qualities.

Conclusion

The traits approach gives rise to questions: whether leaders are born or made; and whether leadership is an art or science. However, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives. Leadership may be something of an art; it still requires the application of special skills and techniques. Even if there are certain inborn qualities that make one a good leader, these natural talents need encouragement and development. A person is not born with self-confidence. Self-confidence is developed, honesty and integrity are a matter of personal choice, motivation to lead comes from within the individual, and the knowledge of business can be acquired. While cognitive ability has its origin partly in genes, it still needs to be developed. None of these ingredients are acquired overnight.

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