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, demographic, personality, self-confidence, and aggressiveness, intellectual, task-oriented and social characteristics with leader emergence and leader effectiveness.

Successful leaders have interests, abilities, and personality traits that are different from those of the less effective leaders.

Through many types of research 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.

6 traits that differentiate leaders from non-leaders

6 traits in trait theory of leadership are;

  1. Drive.
  2. The desire to Lead.
  3. Honesty and Integrity.
  4. Self-confidence.
  5. Intelligence.
  6. Job-Relevant Knowledge.

6 traits are explained below;

  1. Drive

Leaders exhibit a higher effort level. They have a relatively high desire for achievement, they are ambitious, they have a lot of energy, and they are tirelessly persistent in their activities and they show initiative.

  1. The desire to Lead

Leaders have a strong desire to influence and lead others. They demonstrate the willingness to take responsibility.

  1. Honesty and Integrity

Leaders built a trusting relationship between themselves and followers by being truthful or no deceitful and by showing high consistency between word and deed.

  1. Self-confidence

Followers look to leaders for an absence of self-doubt. Leaders, therefore, need to show self-confidence to convince followers of goals and decisions.

  1. Intelligence

Leaders need to be intelligent enough to gather, synthesize and interpret large amounts of information and to be able to create visions solve problems and make correct decisions.

  1. Job-Relevant Knowledge

Effective leaders have a high degree of knowledge about company, industry and technical matters. In-depth knowledge allows leaders to make well-informed decisions and to understand the implications of those decisions.

Advantages of Trait Theory

  • This is a naturally pleasing theory.
  • It is valid a lot of research has validated the foundation and basis of the theory.
  • It gives a detailed, knowledge and understanding of the leader element in the leadership process.

Limitations of 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.
    This theory is very complex.

Related: Transformational Leadership

This theory, focusing on the leader, attempts to identify leaders from non-leaders based on certain traits.

It mentions that leaders are born, not made.

Finally, this theory, also called Greatman Theory, gave way to a more realistic trait approach which views that traits are not completely inborn, but can also be acquired through learning and experience.

There is no agreement, in research findings, on which traits are generally found in leaders and which traits are more important than others.

This approach, at best, is descriptive, but not analytical or predictive.

It is still alive, though now the focus has shifted from personal traits to job-related skills. As identified by Katz, to be an effective manager requires technical, conceptual and interpersonal skills.

One important limitation, of this theory, is that it overlooks the needs of the followers and ignores situational factors.

The theory also fails to mention the traits which are necessary to maintain leadership.

Measurement of a trait usually occurs after a person becomes a leader and it is difficult to suggest the traits which are pre-requisites of a successful leader.

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