Leadership Trait Theory …
…is an idea that stems from the thought that we are born with certain qualities that define our potential to become leaders. There are many traits that we as a society have come to associate with strong leadership. The leadership trait theory operates on the assumption that we can identify people who possess these traits and thus identify people who have the potential to be great leaders.
Of course the whole theory is based on the idea that people are born with these traits so basically you either have them or you don’t. If one subscribes to this line of reasoning, there are some obvious points of contention. Leadership trait theory proposes that people are born to be effective leaders or born without those abilities. While this could be quite true to some degree, there are many who would vehemently beg to prove otherwise. After all, we know that much of what makes up human behavior is learned rather than inherited.
Nevertheless, there is undeniable value in understanding those qualities that seem to make stronger leaders so that we can better identify those who are good leaders and in turn strive to improve in areas of weakness. Whats more is the obvious benefit that we could gain by trying to understand what people look for in a leader since it is the followers who must eventually decide to follow your lead. Poor leadership qualities like micromanagement, lack of tact and weak interpersonal skills are unlikely to inspire anyone to follow. So we want to determine what does inspire people to follow. These characteristics would be the most prominent and effective of all the leadership skills especially in any natural situation where people are not forced to follow others based on situation, stress or control.
Under scrutiny of course, the leadership trait theory does not hold up. It is obvious that people are not born into great leadership or on the other hand into lives of servitude as followers. We have free will that shapes our lives and our growth. We have developed the ability to become who we want to become to some extent. It is true that some of the traits that describe or define our behavior may be more or less influenced by qualities that we inherit. However, most of us make thousands of decisions that shape our lives and affect our personalities in both positive and negative ways. We learn through the process of life and through those experiences we change our points of view and our understanding of the world around us consciously and unconsciously. People who are generally regarded as being quite honorable can easily learn to act in ways that we would consider dishonorable if he or she was strongly motivated by his or her environment. Likewise, “bad” people can learn to be good. Timid people can learn to be bold. Negative people can become more positive and so on…
At any rate, whether you follow the ideas laid out in the leadership trait theory or you believe that these traits are learn through the process of life or other more proactive pursuits, we have identified some of the more prominent traits associated with leadership. The top five most commonly accepted leadership traits are:
- Honesty (or at least perceived honesty, think politicians)
- Inspiring (ability to motivate and stir emotion)
- Forward-Looking (positive, productive, effective or proactive)
- Competent (it is important to actually know what you are talking about)
- Intelligent (being correct helps)
In spite of the ideas promoted by the original leadership trait theory, these are all traits that can be learned and developed. Though challenging to master all of these concepts, it is quite possible to become more than proficient for many through practice, continued learning and sustained effort.
What makes it even easier than it might seem is that these are the qualities that followers look for in a leader. After all, true leaders occur naturally as people tend to want to learn from them and benefit from their leadership. Unfortunately with the structure of modern corporate economies, many of us are forced to follow leaders who never actually earned the right or developed the ability to lead. Their followers are a result of force or control. That may sound a bit harsh but next time your boss says something that makes you angry, ask yourself if you would really ever follow that person especially if there were no paycheck involved. He gives orders but it is likely that he does not lead. It is the characters that followers recognize as good leadership traits that will always matter much more than anything defined by the leadership trait theory itself. leadership speaks for itself and needs no one nothing to define it. It is a natural process. So don’t worry too much about being born a great leader, being called a follower or about what anyone tells you about true leadership qualities. Your common sense will probably tell you more about your leaders than anything else.
By working on developing the traits that you associate with good leadership, you too will be able to improve your leadership abilities whether you were born with them or not.
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