Trait leadership is a flawed system.
Northouse (2016) discussed the fact that there is no list of traits that are consistent in determining successful leadership qualities. However, there are certain traits that someone can possess that predisposes them to be a great leader. When looking at the many studies presented in the Northouse (2016) text on trait leadership, there are certain traits that are central to many of those studies; confidence, determination, and intelligence. “Self-confidence allows the leader to feel assured that his or her attempts to influence others are appropriate and right” (Northouse, 2016, p. 24). It seems to also go hand-in-hand that when a leader is confident, they exuded determination, which is described as someone “willing to assert themselves, are proactive, and have the capacity to persevere in the face of obstacle” (Northouse, 2016, p. 25).
These two traits, sprinkled with a few others, have elevated individuals to do tremendous things, such as become a presidential nominee, or lead an army of Nazi’s. An important part of trait leadership to understand is “some people may have the traits that help them emerge as leaders but not the traits that allow them to maintain their leadership over time” (Northouse, 2016, p.31). The situation has a direct influence on the leadership effectiveness. While Hitler might have succeeded in building an army to slaughter millions of people about 75 years ago, it would be much more difficult for him to accomplish such a thing in the situation of today’s world.
There also is a lack in consistency on what traits, and how many, are needed to be a great leader. While Zaccaro, Kemp, and Bader (2004) list eleven key traits, Lord, DeVader, and Alliger (1986) list three (Northouse, 2016). THREE!! My five-year-old daughter can give me more than three characteristics that she would consider key traits for a good friend to possess. You can view this as either the 2004 study greatly exaggerated the traits needed, or the 1986 study grossly underestimated the traits needed, to be a great leader. This lack of consistency from one study to the next doesn’t give trait leadership much of a leg to stand on when comparing it to other leadership theories and their effectiveness.
While admittedly some traits do play a key role in leadership, they don’t tell the whole story. I personally like to lean towards transformational or situational leadership as a stronger base to measure a successful leader. As described by Northouse (2016), transformational leadership is “concerned with improving the performance of followers and developing followers to their fullest potential” (p.167), while situational leadership “requires that a person adapt his or her style to the demands of different situations” (p.93). The key point to both of these leadership theories is that it looks at leadership from more than the leader perspective. These theories take into account the followers and situations being worked with when determining what type of leadership to pursue.
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Publications.