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Trait Approach to Leadership Case Study

Leadership is the ability to socially relate and positively influence others in order to accomplish a specified task. Traits are said to be innate qualities and inborn characteristics which helps to define a person. Therefore, trait approach to leadership assumes that good leaders have common characteristics and innate qualities which are inborn and makes them stand out in terms of leading and influencing others. This makes them political, military and social leaders as well as business managers.

According to this theory, leadership is not learned; rather, it is to be found inside the individual. In this paper the author is going to look at Northouse Case Study 2.1. The case study will be looked into from the perspective of trait leadership model. In the paper, the author is going to select the theoretical model to be used in the case study, provide a description of the model selected and finally develop their own analysis or insights on the case.

Various researchers have come to contradict this universality of leadership trait that distinguishes leaders from non-leaders (Northouse, 2010). Other scholars argue that personality traits greatly influence leadership and thus separate leaders from non-leaders.

Charismatic and visionary leaders have a pattern of traits that makes them actively engage in management. They are motivated to attain self actualization and social power. They are able to exercise self monitoring. These traits make them effective leaders compared to average individuals in a leadership position.

In an attempt to understand the relationship between leadership and personal characteristics, Stogdill (a scholar) carried out two surveys. The findings of these surveys are reported in Northouse (2010). The first survey done between 1904 and 1947 identified eight major characteristics found in an outstanding leader. The survey concluded that a leader is a non-passive person who makes use of his traits to help him lead others and solve problems.

In his second survey in 1974 Stogdill shows that there is a balance between trait and leadership meaning that a leader emerges as a result of both personal characteristics and the situational factors. These traits include taking responsibility for his decisions and actions, task completion, urge to pursue goals and remain on track. Others are self confidence, tolerance, ability to change others behavior and sociability.

A similar study was carried out by Mann (as cited in Northouse, 2010) which came up with a tentative conclusion that traits can be used to differentiate leaders from non-leaders. On reassessing the findings by Mann using a sophisticated procedure (meta-analysis), Lord and his colleagues found that intelligence, dominance and masculinity are very significant to a leader and can be used as a basis of differentiating leaders from non-leaders.

Appreciating this, scholars such as Kirkpatrick and Locke (as cited in Northouse, 2010) stated that “……it is equivocally clear that leaders are not like other people” (Northouse, 2010: p. 23). A qualitative synthesis from their work postulates that confidence, task knowledge, integrity, cognitive ability and motivation are the six traits that make up the “right stuff” for leaders. From the works of other researchers like Marlow and Zaccaro, it is noted that an aspect of social intelligence is associated with leadership traits.

Intelligence is the ability of the leader to positively relate to others. These are verbal, perpetual and reasoning abilities, ability to solve problems and social-judgment skills. This means that the intelligence quotient of leaders should differ widely from that of their subordinates for leadership to be effective. Another trait present in leaders is self-confidence. Such leaders have a high self-esteem, self-assurance and the belief that they can make a difference.

Most of the leaders show determination. It is easier to get a job done by showing characteristics such as initiative, optimism, persistence and drive. Integrity is another common trait in leaders according to the trait approach to leadership. Leaders are trustworthy and honest. Such leaders are also principled and at the same time appear responsible as opposed to their non-leader counterparts. As a result of this, those who are led are confident of their leader’s capabilities.

At the end of the day, those being led become loyal and trustworthy towards the leader. Lastly, the ability to associate with people from different social backgrounds and create a pleasant relationship is the last major trait of a leader. This trait is characterized by interpersonal skills such as tactfulness, friendliness, courteousness and use of diplomacy to solve issues.

To summarize, trait approach to leadership lays emphasis on the crucial traits that a leader should have so as to realize effective leadership. Therefore, the leader and his personality are central to this model. If the assumptions of this model hold, the profile of leaders in an organization will be known ensuring that they are the right persons for managerial positions.

There are several merits associated with trait approach to leadership. One of the merits of using this model is made evident considering the fact that since traits of an individual surface naturally, those who are bold enough take the managerial positions. In spite of leaders being different, they have traits which are viewed as gifts that enable them to carry out extra-ordinary actions. The organization can make use of this to achieve its objectives.

This model benefits from the various studies that it has been subjected to for the past one century. As such it can be said to be credible as compared to other models. Also this model has set standards that leaders are judged against. It also provides invaluable information to managers, supervisors and subordinates which enable them understand their leaders in a deep and intricate fashion and be on the lookout for future leaders.

On the other hand, the lack of a definitive list of traits that can be used to gauge leaders is a great challenge. This has brought about ambiguity and uncertainty at times. Some leaders (as earlier mentioned) emerged due to situations. These situations do rapidly change and this model has not factored in the effects of such changes. Critics of this approach argue that it cannot be used to train and develop leaders since training cannot raise their IQ.

The approach emphasizes on the importance of physical and physiological traits which limits its usefulness in teaching and training leaders. Lastly, this approach has subjectively determined the major traits in a leader. It has as a result conferred meaning on these traits making them lose their original meaning.

The author appreciates these shortcomings but taking into consideration the usefulness of other approaches, trait approach to leadership appears more credible. This is because these traits cannot be forged and history has shown that most leaders are bold and outspoken.

They show integrity, self-confidence, determination and sociability. The frequent interaction with the management in an organization is very useful since it shows that the leader understands and respects the formal hierarchy. In order to fully exploit this approach, a personality test should be administered on all candidates so as to come up with the best overall leader.


Northouse, P. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. 5th ed. London: Sage Publications.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Trait Approach to Leadership'. 16 May.

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