Trait theory of leadership

Trait theory of leadership

Leadership is an effective and important position held in societies to foster decision making, progress and development. This brings about the decision of choosing a leader with the right traits or leadership qualities for effectiveness. The challenge has been realising who has the right leadership traits and for which problem, situation or task. Knowing about the trait theory of leadership gives an insight of trait leadership examples one should possess before taking leadership positions. In this article, we will take a critical look at leadership trait theories.

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Scholars have different views and assertions of who a great leader is and how to discover good leadership. They are a number of theories or models classifying effective leadership and whether they are born or made. The focus here will be the on leadership trait theory.

The trait leadership theory focuses on the idea that people are born, possessing certain qualities that distinguish them from those with no leadership qualities. The theory emerging from the great man theory in the 1840s that categorically states that leaders are born and not made.

Thomas Carlyle believes that leadership traits come with birth, with significant qualities of such traits invested in the individual through history or sometimes inherited. Successful leaders have interests and personality traits that identify as good qualities and traits of leadership.

READ ALSO: What are the qualities of a good leader?

These traits possessed by an individual do not necessarily make them a great leader but they provide the platform of being a potential successful leader.

Leadership trait qualities

Some leadership qualities of the trait theory of leadership associated with a good leader comprise of the following.


One quality of a great leader is confidence and a very high self-esteem. Followers will like to be led by individuals with self-confidence, in achieving targeted goals and making the right decision. Leaders should have less-doubt of a decision and always be confident about decisions they take.


Intelligence is a leadership quality every great leader should possess. This trait of leadership enables the leader to come out with possible solutions to issues and make the right decisions. Leaders should be able to reach out for information, put a great interpretation to it and provide the necessary way out of every situation.


A trait of quality leadership is to keep pushing and hoping for the best during difficult times. This approach to leadership includes persisting for the right ideas and being optimistic about achieving that benchmark. One of the qualities of a good leader is the ability to encourage the followers not to give up when faced with challenging obstacles.

Desire and skills

One quality trait of good leadership is, interpersonal skills for efficient work done. Leaders should have the edge of bargaining power and interact well with other bodies as well as their members. An example of great leadership quality is the desire to lead and make decisions. Leaders should have the willingness to take responsibility and put things in place.

Knowing your followers

An example of quality leadership is the ability to understand the needs of the people you are leading. Every leader’s leadership traits should help him to know the problem facing the people and should have a listening ear to help solve any situation. A great leader should know the problem, understand the problem and help solve it.

Competence and trust

One example of trait leadership is trustworthiness and competence to do the work. Quality leadership should be up to the task and must be trusted by the followers to do the job. Followers should be able to take an example from the leader and depend on the words and action of the leader.


An important trait of good leadership is decisiveness. It is very important for a leader to be decisive in making and taking decisions. No one likes to follow an indecisive leader.


A leader should be creative on issues and come out with laudable ideas to make an impact. Great leaders should always bring out the good from their followers, through creative means. A creative leader is never without ideas and does not lose focus. He also inspires creativity among his followers.


A great and good leader should always adapt to situations easily. A good leader should not be left out of a situation. They should be able to adapt to situations and apply critical thinking to every issue at hand.

Emotional control

An example of a good leader is one who is able to control their emotions and knows how to react to situations. The followers may always criticize the leader, but that should not be allowed to upset his emotions and cause him to act rashly.

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Shortcomings of the leadership trait theory

The leadership trait theory is silent on how to measure the effectiveness of great leadership when a leader is in position. Large concentration was also not given to followers and the state of affairs concerning them. The theory made emphasis on leaders being inborn, but leadership can also be learned through experience and practice.

There has also not been any scientific findings that suggest that some trait based leadership styles are superior to others. This goes on to state that they are no findings stating which traits are found in great leaders. The traits of good leadership are an exhaustive list which would take a lot of time to break down.

The trait approach to leadership gives more emphasis on leaders being born and having a long list of traits suggesting great leadership. On the other hand, leadership comes in many forms and does not only rely on the traits mentioned. There are great leaders who acquired their abilities through practice and experience, most leaders learn from colleagues. The best possible way to harness great leadership is through one's perspective, interactions with subordinates, understanding the issue on ground and being familiar with the best ways to deal with them.

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Source: Yen

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