Trait Theory of Leadership

Leader and non-leaders are different because of certain traits. The trait approach or theory seeks to determine 'what makes a successful leader' for the leader's own personal characteristics. From the very beginning, people have emphasized that a particular individual was successful leader because of his certain qualities or characteristics. This leadership approach was so popular between 1930s and 1950s. In other words, different leaders contain different traits at the different level i.e. there are no universal traits which are applicable to all the leaders. According to this theory, leadership is largely a function of certain traits or qualities. This states that there are certain unique traits or qualities essential for a successful leader. Any person who wants to be a successful leader must possess those traits. 

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A successful leader should possess following traits: 

a) Social Qualities 

A successful leader has social skills. He/she understands people and knows their strength and weakness. A leader should have self-confidence, ability to inspire, initiative, knowledge of human nature, human relation and human attitude. 

b) Intellectual Qualities 

Higher level of intellectual qualities is required for the quality leadership. Leaders generally have high level of intelligence. Intelligence means ability to think scientifically, analyze accurately and interpret clearly and precisely the situation. 

c) Emotional Stability 

A leader should have high level of emotional stability. He should be free from different biases. In other words, a successful leader is always emotionally stable. He should not be bias and have full control on his anger and fears (i.e. too soft at heart) as both these extremes are bad. 

d) Moral Qualities 

Leader should be fair at work. He should have strong will power, normal courage, sense of purpose, objectivity, achievement drive and integrity. 

e) Physical Traits 

Physical traits of a man are determined by heredity factors. In other words, physical traits and rate of maturation determine the personality formation which is an important factor in determining leadership success. Physical traits include height, weight, physique, health, appearance, vitality, endurance, enthusiasm, forcefulness etc. 

f) Some Other Traits 

This theory also emphasizes that these traits need not necessarily be inborn but may be acquired through education, training and practice. Some other important traits of leadership are:

 Major Traits of a Leadership

Personal drive

Generally high level

Personal integrity

Honest in dealing with followers

Cognitive ability

Ability to make decisions


Capability to adapt in changing environment


Confidence in ownself

Business Knowledge

Job-relevant knowledge

Personal warmth

Warmth in relationship

Desire to lead

Intense desire to lead


Implications of the Theory 

  • The theory emphasizes that a leader requires some traits and qualities to be effective.
  • Many of these qualities may be developed in individuals through training and development programs.

Limitation of Trait Theory 
  • It fails to take into account influence of other factors on leadership. 
  • There are no definite tests for the measurement of these traits. It is not clear how high score a person must achieve to achieve an effective trait.
  • Various studies prove that the trait theory cannot be used in all situations.
  • There is no universal list of traits of successful leaders. Different authors have different lists of traits. 
  • This theory does not offer any guidance for developing these qualities.

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