Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait theory of leadership is the basis of the phrase “leaders are born, not made”. They point to character and personality traits that research shows exist in leaders that are inherent – ones that cannot be taught. Yet other traits can only be acquired over time. So in truth, it is a mix of both.

Core Traits for Leadership Potential

Many studies have been done on the characteristics of leaders, successful and unsuccessful ones, in an effort to pinpoint the qualities that make a good leader. These studies have examined such physiological features such as height and weight, personality, social characteristics, self-confidence, risk taking and many more. Out of their research, they have identified core traits that appear to indicate an individual may have leadership potential.

1.     A drive to achieve. Successful leaders put forth a high level of effort and are very ambitious. They approach tasks with high energy and take initiative to do and improve their assigned tasks and area of responsibility.

2.     A desire to lead. These individuals are “take charge” without even knowing it; they want to be in charge of the task and be sure their group reaches shared goals.

3.     Honesty and integrity. They want to get the job done, but they want to get it done right. They are honest with their boss and teammates and about what they can and cannot do. Above all, they hold themselves to a higher standard and want to the right and fair thing in completion of their assigned tasks.

4.     Self-confident. Successful leaders believe in themselves. They believe they can achieve any goal, any task, at anytime and are not daunted by obstacles or difficulties.  They know they have the ability to do it and help others along the way.

5.     Can think it through.  Good leaders exercise good judgment. They can think of the pros and cons before making a decision. They analyze the factors of the situations, and use their knowledge, combined with that of their team, to problem solve.

6.     Know the business. Good leaders still have to have the technical knowledge in which to contextualize their decisions.  A retail manager may not make a good manufacturing manager, if for no other reason than not understanding the industry.

7.     Mature. Good leaders are not overcome by emotion. They are well-adjusted, and objective in their decision making.

8.     Creative charisma. Good leaders have dynamic personalities that draw people to them and elicit the expected responses to their questions or taskings. They are creative with ideas, have open minds and encourage risk taking in pursuit of improvement.

9.     An ability to be flexible. Rigid supervisors are rarely good leaders. Sometimes circumstances demand compromise or a change in process. Successful leaders know when to change for a situation and when to drive on with the plan.

Trait Theory of Leading

Developing Success with Trait Theory

If you think about successful leaders you know, they probably have most if not all of these traits. Maybe you can see yourself in this description. Would you consider yourself a born leader, or a made leader? After all, the trait theory of leadership is naturally pleasing. It is based on a solid foundation of research and experience. If you use it to measure a good supervisor or successful manager, it remains consistent.  It answers what seems to be an unanswerable question.

Until you consider that no one is born with knowledge of an industry – that is accumulated through experience.  As is emotional maturity – everyone must learn over time to deal with their emotions. Some take longer than others in that regard. Self-confidence comes from a history of doing things well, positive decision making experiences and learning from mistakes. So those traits are not inherent.

The full study of the trait theory of leadership has more than one hundred different traits commonly found in strong leadership. Inclusion of factors like height and weight make sense when a particular job requires a particular physical stature, but that is not in many cases.

What it comes down to is this – if you want to be a leader - and a good one - take what you are born with and make it better. Acquire the skills and knowledge you do not have. Put the two together and you can achieve all of your professional goals and exceed the expectations of your organization along the way.


A lot can be learnt through the trait theory of leadership and if you'd like to return to our theories hub to discover more about the trait theory of leadership then please take another step and click the link to learn more.

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