Trait theory is a traditional approach to the theory of leadership. According to these theories, it is thought that a leader has specific traits of mind and intelligence. These special qualities of the head and heart generally include mental abilities and moral qualities. The trait theory holds the view that successful leaders possess these fundamental qualities and these are inherited rather than acquired. Out of this approach, came the popular assumption that “Leaders are Born and not Made”.
The trait theory of leadership is based on the assumption that people are born with inherited traits and some of their traits are particularly suited to leadership. People who make effective leaders have the right (or sufficient) combination of traits and great leaders have some common personality features. Trait theories help in identifying dispositions and traits that are helpful when leading others.
There have been many different studies of leadership traits and attention was put on discovering these traits, usually by studying successful leaders, but with the underlying assumption that if other people could also be found with these traits then they too could also become eminent leaders.
Some of the most popular trait theories are as follows:
- Stogdill’s trait factors, and
- Ghiselli’s traits.
Stogdill’s Trait Factors
In the late 1940s, Ralph Stogdill reported based on at least fifteen studies that leaders possess intelligence, scholarship, dependability in exercising responsibilities, activity and social participation and socio-economic status. He also found traits such as sociability, initiative, persistence, knowing how to get things done, self-confidence, alertness, insight, cooperativeness, popularity, adaptability and verbal facility in ten leadership studies. Persons who are leaders are presumed to make better decisions and engage themselves in social activities. The study of the lives of successful leaders indicates that they possessed many of these traits.
Some of the necessary traits of an effective leader are discussed below:
This trait appears to hold up better than any other. Leaders generally have a somewhat higher level of intelligence than the average of their followers. They possess the ability to analyse accurately, think scientifically, and interpret clearly and precisely the problems before them in terms of different aspects and perspectives.
2) Physical Features
Physical characteristics and level of maturity determine the personality of a person which is an important factor in determining the success of leadership. The height, weight, health, physique, and appearance of an individual are important for leadership to some extent.
3) Inner Motivation Drive
Leaders have relatively intense achievement-type motivational drives. They have the inner desire to keep accomplishing something. To initiate suitable activities at the proper time is the habit of a leader. He works harder for the satisfaction of inner drives than for extrinsic material rewards.
Leaders generally have wide interests and activities. They are emotionally mature and have balanced temperaments avoiding menacing so that they may not become thoughtless victims of the circumstances. They also have a high frustration tolerance.
5) Vision and Foresight
A leader cannot maintain his influence unless he exhibits his trait of looking forward well in advice and imagination for handling his followers. So he should imaginatively visualise trends and devise his programmes and policies with foresight based on logical programmes.
6) Acceptance of Responsibility
A reliable leader is prepared to shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of any steps he contemplates or takes. He is always aware of the obligations and duties associated with the position he holds.
7) Open-Mind and Adaptability
A leader is ready to adopt new ideas and opinions of others as may be demanded by the situation. He is not critical of others. He is prepared to accommodate others’ viewpoints and modify his decision if need be. Flexibility is another name for open-mindedness, which makes the leader more recognised by the group.
A good leader has conceptual clarity about the things that he is going to do. He has confidence in himself whenever he begins any course of action. Self-confidence is important to motivate followers and boost their morale.
9) Human Relations Attitude
A good leader is thoughtful of the followers as his success as a leader largely depends on the cooperation of the people. Thus, a successful leader possesses a human relations perspective. He always tries to develop a social understanding with others. A good leader approaches various problems in terms of the people involved more than in terms of the technical aspects involved. He is constantly busy achieving the voluntary cooperation of the followers.
10) Fairness of Objectivity
A good leader is fair and accurate in dealing with subordinates. He must be free from bias and prejudice while becoming emotionally involved with the followers, Honesty, fair play, justice and integrity of character are expected of any good leader.
Ghiselli’s Personal Traits
Edwin Ghiselli has conducted extensive research on the relationship between personality, motivational traits and leadership effectiveness. He has identified the following six traits, in order of importance, as being significant traits for effective leadership:
1) Supervisory Ability: Getting the job done through other people.
2) Need for Occupational Achievement: Seeking responsibility and having the motivation to work hard to succeed.
3) Intelligence: The ability to use good judgement and clear reasoning.
4) Decisiveness: The ability to solve problems and make decisions skillfully.
5) Self-Assurance: Viewing oneself as capable of coping with problems and behaving in a manner that shows others that one has self-esteem.
6) Initiative: Self-starting or being able to get the work done with a minimum of supervision from one’s boss.
The problem with Ghiselli’s research is that several of the traits are interdependent and there is no indication of how much of any trait a person should have to be an effective leader.