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Traits Theory in Leadership Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 1st, 2019


Leadership was first used by Greeks to refer to those who were known as first among equals. The term involved operations on the platform of accountability which was used in enhancing equity within the society. Assertiveness, courage, and imitation were some of the traits considered to be responsible for leadership effectiveness amongst individuals (Zaccaro, 1991).

The success of any group is attributed to the kind of leadership it has or operates under. Successful leadership entails delegation of group interests with respect to individuals’ association with specific policies. Thus leadership involves combination of traits that could be incubated and propagated through an organization and includes all members.

Qualities of a leader

Leadership means ability to influence and extend necessary support to others making them work towards achieving specific goals. A leader posses various qualities which include being dynamic, tactful, motivator, orator, futurist, good analyzer, social, supportive and should have job related knowledge. A leader should be the kind of person capable and ready of taking any risk amidst controversial issues.

He should have the ability of putting his juniors on toes for the purposes of achieving important goals. Good communication forms part of leadership since messages and objectives need to be articulated through clear and well understood means. Interractiveness form part of socialization where a leader is required to mingle with his subordinates and even offer them support within different areas of need (Zaccaro, 1991).

Traits of leadership

Hypothesis shows that history has since been shaped by extraordinary leadership; this forms critical starting point for the trait theory of leadership (Zaccaro, 1991). Trait theory argues that leadership fully depends on the personal qualities of the leader.

Some researchers were acknowledged earlier for the manner through which they applied trait theory, one of them being Bowden 1926. Cowley 1931, summarized by indicating that understanding of leadership required the study of traits.

Table 1 below, gives the level of interractiveness involved in traits of leadership. Self confidence appears in all but two of the reviews, whereas other traits including adjustment, sociability and integrity tend to appear in multiple reviews though not consistent (Anderson, 1978).

Dominance emerged as an important leadership trait within some major reviews. An important observation is the exclusive trait of self confidence; none of the traits emerged as related to leadership in the majority of these reviews (Mann, 1959).

Table 1: Review of traits of effective or emergent leaders

Review of traits of effective or emergent leaders.

Leadership Criteria

There is general agreement that a five factor model of personality developed by some personalities in early nineteen sixties could be used to describe the most critical aspects of personality (Goldberg, 1990). Traits studied in the five factor model include; Neuroticism, nature of being open towards experiences, extraversion, agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

However, several ways emerged on how leadership could be assessed explicitly. Two distinctive classes of leadership emerged which were referred to as leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness.

The former refers to the nature of quality as seen by other people concerning leadership’s capability of an individual. This may not be such accurate since the analysis is based on limited knowledge about the leader. Personality traits of an individual leader are deeply explored before making any applicable conclusion.


This could be referred to as the status where an individual posses weak emotions towards events. This leads to stressful emotional reactions and experiences. Reviews done by Bass (1990) showed positive correlation in studies on self confidence that showed low levels of neuroticism to leadership. Self esteem an indicator of low neuroticism is thought to be a factor in both senior and subordinate staff within organizations.

Neurotic individuals as indicated by some authors are less likely to be perceived as leaders. In consideration of these facts, neuroticism is thought to be negatively related to leader emergence and leadership effectiveness.


An extravert person is thought to possess leadership traits which make him/her active, assertive, energetic, restless and not easily withdrawn from circumstances (Gough, 1988). According to Costa 1988, extraversion is strongly related to social leadership whereas other publications agree that extraversion leads to emergence of a leader within groups.

Extraverts are viewed by others to possess unique leadership traits that are of great importance within the field. Leaders are more likely expected to be more energetic as compared to non leaders, they are required to have more stamina and be generally active, lively, and often restless, (Kirkpatrick and Locke 1991).

Major facets among extraverts thought to be leaders comprises of dominance and sociability, (Gough, 1990). There is a general feeling that links extroverts to leadership emergence which is mostly associated with leadership effectiveness.


This represents the status where leaders are expected to be mentally alert and autonomous when conducting events. According to Bass 1990, openness is the most vital trait of leadership. Openness shows a positive correlation to personality based upon behavioural measures of creativity. This trait also correlates with the ability to think widely beyond limitations placed by human will.

Creativity appears to be an important skill to effective leaders. Research indicates that creativity is linked to effective leadership. There is a consensus belief which suggests that open individuals are more likely to emerge as effective leaders at any given place.


This involves the status of being considerate towards situations and events. Zaccaro 1991 discovered that interpersonal sensitivity was related to leadership. Altruism, tact and sensitivity are hallmarks of agreeable personality and would suggest that leaders should be more agreeable.

Agreeable individuals are likely to be modest and they tend not to be excessively modest as well as being affiliated to certain groups (Bass, 1990; Goldberg, 1990). Need for affiliation appears to be negatively related to leadership in some circumstances (Yukl, 1998).

These factors suggest that agreeableness would be negatively related to leadership. In light of these conflicting justifications, the possible relationship between agreeableness and leadership appear little bit ambiguous.


This involves leadership with the end result in mind; the leader proves dependable in times of need and ensures tasks are appropriately completed. Effectiveness for the group and reinforcement of the tendencies all depends on the leadership positioning (Bass, 1990). According to Barrick 1991, conscientiousness is related to job performance which in turn depends on leader effectiveness.

Kirkpatrick and Locke 1991 noted that leaders should be tirelessly persistent in their activities and follow through with their programs. Conscientious individuals should have more tenacity and persistence therefore expected to make excellently effective leaders that conscientious individuals will be more effective leaders (Goldberg, 1990).

Trait theories have been used for the purposes of differentiating between leaders and non leaders. Qualities such as ambition, energy, eagerness to lead, honesty, integrity, self confidence, intelligence, and job relevant knowledge are those which differentiates leaders from non-leaders. Those who find pleasure in shepherding others are considered to make good leaders. Several theories were developed in the process of describing traits.

Path goal theory

This theory was discovered by Robert House. It involves the extraction of key elements on structure initiation and consideration from Ohio state leadership structure. Also the theory incorporates expectancy theory of motivation. The theory argues that it is upon leaders to help their followers and ensure that they achieve the necessary goals in life and within particular organizations.

Four types of leaders’ behaviours are described within this theory; directive behaviours which enable followers easily imitate what is expected of them. Supportive behaviours which shows lots of concern to members, then there is participative behaviour which makes a leader be more consultative with those he/she leads.

Finally, there is an achievement behaviour which makes the leader to challenge members through setting of higher goals.

Leader Participation Model

This is the kind of model which relates leadership behaviour and the level of his/her participation in decision making. This model provides rules which are helpful in the process of analysing leader’s contributions. The levels of participation are drawn against personality traits of the leader under review.

Qualities such as ability to communicate effectively, ability to relate freely with members and other employees and also training qualities are considered within this model.


Barrick and Mount (1991), investigated the relationship of the Big Five traits to leadership pooling across the leadership criteria. Conceptually leadership effectiveness and emergence are distinct constructs. Effectiveness and emergence in leadership are analyzed through measures and observations by other people’s perception of leadership.

There exists a strong link to ascertain that Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness are related to multiple leadership criteria and that these traits display significant relationships with leadership in combined analysis.

Emphasis should be given on the importance of teamwork within the various individuals within any group. Leadership requires proper attention to team members through various means which includes providing appropriate advices on ways of improving the overall performances.

Leaders should ensure that all the programs used appropriately towards strengthening of group members making them ready for any challenging task. At the same time leadership roles should be reinforced through delegation of some duties to individual members; this ensures that all employees and members are actively involved in the running of the team.

Leaders should learn to engage the staff in open conversations and record every crucial matter that arises from the conversations. They should also be involved in teaching and guiding the team through various processes and showing them various ways of solving specific problems.

Leaders should learn the importance of prioritizing events both on short term and long term basis. In this way it is easy to provide leadership towards utilization of available resources on areas which require immediate attention in the quest for providing quality services. They should be capable of selecting competent members having the capability of working towards achieving the laid down long term objectives.

Leaders chosen in every department should have the capability of playing supervisory roles ensuring provision of quality services. Trait theories have been effectively applied for the purposes of differentiating leaders. It makes it easier to identify and associate highly flexible people with leadership, this is since they have dynamic capabilities which enables them to adequately monitor others.


Anderson, G. & Viswesvaran, C., 1998. An Update of the Validity of Personality

Scales in Personnel Selection. Paper presented at the 13th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, TX; Dallas. Print.

Barrick, M. R. & Mount, M. K., 1991. The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, (44), pp.1–26.

Bass, B. M., 1990. Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership. New York: Free Press.

Bowden, A. O., 1926. A study of the Personality of Student Leaders in the United States. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, (21), pp. 149–160.

Costa, P. T. & McCrae, R. R., 1988. Personality in Adulthood: A six-year Longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (54), pp.853–863.

Cowley, W. H., 1931. Three Distinctions in the Study of Leaders. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, (26), pp. 304–313.

Goldberg, L. R., 1990. An alternative “description of personality”: The Big-Five Factor Structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (59), pp.1216–1229.

Gough, H. G., 1988. Manual for the California Psychological Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Hughes, R. L. & Curphy, G. J., 1996. Leadership. Boston: Irwin McGraw Hill.

Kirkpatrick, S. A. & Locke, E. A., 1991. Leadership: Do traits matter? Academy of Management Executive, (5), pp. 48–60.

Mann, R. D., 1959. A review of the relationships between personality and Performance in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, (56), pp. 241–270.

Stogdill, R. M., 1974. Handbook of Leadership. New York: Free Press.

Yukl, G. & Van Fleet, D. D., 1992. Theory and research on leadership in Organizations. Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, (3), pp. 147–197

Zaccaro, S. J. & Kenny, D. A., 1991. Self Monitoring and Trait based Variance in leadership: An investigation of leader flexibility across multiple group situations. Journal of Applied Psychology, (76), pp. 308–315.

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