Trait Theory of Leadership: Definition, Traits, Advantages, and Disadvantages

What is Trait Theory of Leadership?

The trait theory of leadership is a leadership theory that states great leaders are born with some inherent leadership qualities. At the core of this leadership theory, great leaders are born, not made.

The trait theory of leadership is also called, the trait approach of leadership. This theory aims to differentiate between leaders and non-leaders as well as effective leaders and ineffective leaders. It offers us different leadership traits or qualities that differentiate who is a leader and who is not a leader.

This theory is associated with The Great Man Theory of Leadership by Thomas Carlyle, who proposed it in the mid-1800s. He originated the idea that leadership is something in which people are born with some inborn characteristics or traits. He believed that such characteristics can not be acquired.

Assumptions of Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait approach of leadership is based on the following assumptions.

  • Leaders get leadership qualities or traits by birth.
  • Leadership is the function of personality. The success of a leader depends upon the personality function of the leader.
  • Leadership traits remain unchanged over time.
  • Leaders differ from their followers because of their leadership traits.

Related: Contingency Theory of Leadership

Stogdill Leadership Traits

Later on, many researchers did their research to identify leadership qualities and traits to determine effective and non-effective leaders. One researcher Ralph Melvin Stogdill modified the idea of Carlyle and developed the trait theory of leadership.

Stogdill stated as greater leaders are born not made as stated by Carlyle but he also added the idea that some leadership qualities can be acquired. He argued that leadership is not just the consequence of a predetermined set of characteristics but rather the interaction between the individual and the social context.

Stogdill conducted the research and identified the traits that are characteristics of effective leaders. They are:

  • Strong drive for responsibility.
  • Task orientation.
  • Originality.
  • Problem-solving skill.
  • Drive to exercise initiative in social situations.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Ability to influence others and their behavior.

Also Read: Autocratic Leadership

Advantages and Disadvantages of Trait Theory of Leadership

  • Advantages:
    • It is a natural theory of leadership as such it is naturally pleasing.
    • It helps to easily identify who is a leader and who is not as it provides the necessary knowledge and traits of leaders.
  • Disadvantages:
    • It is not always true that great leaders are always born with some inborn leadership traits.
    • It is a static leadership approach that states leadership qualities remain unchanged but in reality, it is found that these qualities are different in different situations.

What Traits Differentiate Leaders From Non-Leaders?

After discussing the trait leadership theory it helps us to differentiate between leaders from non-leaders. Let’s discuss the most common leadership traits that differentiate between them.

  • Drive – Leaders have a high level of effort. They show a great desire for the achievement of the desired goals.
  • Desire To Lead – Leaders have a willingness and a strong desire to influence and lead others.
  • Honesty and Indignity – Leaders stay consistent with their words and deeds, and they tend to build trustworthy relationships with their followers.
  • Self-Confidence – Great leaders are confident in their actions, judgments, and behavior. They should be able to clear the self-doubt of followers and build their self-confidence.
  • Intelligence – Leaders are intelligent enough to gather data, analyze it, and generate different solutions from it.
  • Job Relevant Knowledge – Effective leaders have a high degree of knowledge about the organization, industry, and technical matters.

Read Next: 12 Styles of Leadership

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