Trait theory of leadership

Successful leaders definitely have interests, abilities, and personality traits that are different from those of the less effective leaders, though the theory says that the traits are innate, this is controversial and allows testing as to whether or not the traits can be developed. And this is the criterion of differentiation between it and the great man theory, where the trait theory looks at the traits such as physiological (appearance, height, and weight), that a person born with and demographic (age, education, and socioeconomic background), that may a person could change, intellective (intelligence, decisiveness, judgment, and knowledge) that may a person could improve, task-related (achievement drive, initiative, and persistence), that may a person acquire through the experiences and social characteristics (sociability and cooperativeness) which vary depending on a person’s mentality. traditionally, the most ardent versions of trait theory see these “leadership characteristics” as innate, and as such, some people are seen to be ‘born leaders’, due to their psychological makeup. In tandem with modern-day thinking, leadership is seen as a skill to be mastered and therefore, the above characteristics can all be honed. As a result, it is prudent to first understand these ‘traits’ and then develop areas of weakness, in order to become a great leader yourself.

This is a list of the elements that Ralph stogdill (1974), the originator of the trait theory, determined.

Adaptable to situationsClever (intelligent)
Alert to social environmentConceptually skilled
Ambitious and achievement-orientatedCreative
AssertiveDiplomatic and tactful
CooperativeFluent in speaking
DecisiveKnowledgeable about group task
DependableOrganized (administrative ability)
Dominant (desire to influence others)Persuasive
Energetic (high activity level)Socially skilled
Tolerant of stress 
Willing to assume responsibility 


– There is a lot of research that 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.


-The theory is very complex

-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, 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.

-More than 100 different traits of successful leaders in various leadership positions have been identified. These descriptions are simply generalities.

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