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Trait Theory

 

Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership theories > Trait Theory

Assumptions | Description | Discussion | See also

 

Assumptions

People are born with inherited traits.

Some traits are particularly suited to leadership.

People who make good leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits.

Description

Early research on leadership was based on the psychological focus of the day, which was of people having inherited characteristics or traits. Attention was thus put on discovering these traits, often by studying successful leaders, but with the underlying assumption that if other people could also be found with these traits, then they, too, could also become great leaders.

Stogdill (1974) identified the following traits and skills as critical to leaders.

 

Traits Skills
  • Adaptable to situations
  • Alert to social environment
  • Ambitious and achievement-orientated
  • Assertive
  • Cooperative
  • Decisive
  • Dependable
  • Dominant (desire to influence others)
  • Energetic (high activity level)
  • Persistent
  • Self-confident
  • Tolerant of stress
  • Willing to assume responsibility
  • Clever (intelligent)
  • Conceptually skilled
  • Creative
  • Diplomatic and tactful
  • Fluent in speaking
  • Knowledgeable about group task
  • Organised (administrative ability)
  • Persuasive
  • Socially skilled

 

 

McCall and Lombardo (1983) researched both success and failure identified four primary traits by which leaders could succeed or 'derail':

  • Emotional stability and composure: Calm, confident and predictable, particularly when under stress.
  • Admitting error: Owning up to mistakes, rather than putting energy into covering up.
  • Good interpersonal skills: Able to communicate and persuade others without resort to negative or coercive tactics.
  • Intellectual breadth: Able to understand a wide range of areas, rather than having a narrow (and narrow-minded) area of expertise.

Discussion

There have been many different studies of leadership traits and they agree only in the general saintly qualities needed to be a leader.

For a long period, inherited traits were sidelined as learned and situational factors were considered to be far more realistic as reasons for people acquiring leadership positions.

Paradoxically, the research into twins who were separated at birth along with new sciences such as Behavioral Genetics have shown that far more is inherited than was previously supposed. Perhaps one day they will find a 'leadership gene'.

See also

Preferences

Stogdill, R.M. (1974). Handbook of leadership: A survey of the literature, New York: Free Press

McCall, M.W. Jr. and Lombardo, M.M. (1983). Off the track: Why and how successful executives get derailed. Greenboro, NC: Centre for Creative Leadership

 

 

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