Trait Theories

Early theories of leadership, dating from the beginning of this century, concentrated on trying to determine whether leaders are born rather than made, and whether they have common personal characteristics. The search for the personal characteristics that make a good leader has resulted in the trait theory of leadership. Researchers have questioned leaders to determine their intellectual and social skills and their moral qualities.

Such studies have identified the following specific characteristics, as summarized by Ralph Stogdill :

  • strong drive for task completion
  • personability; vigour and persistence in problem solving
  • drive to exercise initiative in social situations
  • selfconfidence and a sense of personal identity
  • willingness to accept consequences of decisions and actions
  • readiness to absorb interpersonal stress
  • willingness to tolerate frustration and delay
  • ability to influence other people's behaviour
  • capacity to structure socialinteraction systems to the purpose at hand

The trait theory provides an easy way for organizations to assess people, and various tests and techniques have been developed to measure desirable characteristics. However, several points can be made for and against the trait theory of leadership:

  1. Certain traits are necessary for leadership success, but not sufficient.
  2. The skills and qualities required of a leader seem to be related to particular conditions.
  3. The effectiveness of a leader is measured by results. Leaders may possess all the necessary traits, but if they cannot attract followers, they will probably not be viewed as successful.
  4. The possession of leadership traits may only marginally increase a managers's chances for success.

The trait theory may not sufficiently explain the variance between the success and failure of various leaders.

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