The Trait Approach is an interesting and common sense approach to the question of what makes a good leader. Throughout life we come across many leaders, parents, friends, teachers, role models, and the list goes on. Our definition of what makes a good leader varies from one person to another. While we may agree on the components of leadership as mentioned in Lesson 1 commentary of this course: Leadership is a process, involves influence, occurs within a group context and involves goal attainment (Penn State, Lesson 1). Even coming up with a definition of leadership as presented by Northouse “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2013, pp. 5). Knowing the definition of Leadership and understanding the components that make up the Leadership-Followership environment is only part of the dynamic of the relationship between leaders and followers.
Having a theory that can help put together the puzzle that makes up leadership is very important. This is where trait approach steps in. Even though people have different opinions and experiences that shape the way they view the world, most people can agree on the qualities that they look for in leaders, generally speaking. The Major Leadership Traits covered by Northouse are Intelligence, Self-Confidence, Determination, Integrity and Sociability (Northouse, 2013, pp. 23). While these characteristics are important and seem like the right ingredients, they do not always provide the right product.
People will often describe characteristics that they wish they would see in a leader, supervisor, manager etc., yet be unsatisfied when their requests are fulfilled. What I am attempting to say is that a person might want a leader to have intelligence yet may not want to get corrected when they make a mistake. A person may want the leader to be self-confident and have determination but may feel that the leader is over confident and too stubborn when accomplishing goals. Even integrity may be viewed negatively when a subordinate, follower or employee does something that they should be reprimanded for, yet want to be “let off” or given a warning instead of the reprimand.
I have personally witnessed this in my life when working for a company whose leadership had little interaction with employees. People would discuss quite frequently how they hoped there would be better leadership that would be more involved and committed to the company and its employees. Well, ask and eventually you will receive. The company brought in new leadership that was more involved but in doing so raised the standards. The employees were initially happy but then some became disgruntled again due to the new leadership.
It is important to remember that understanding leadership and creating ways of studying leadership such as the Trait Approach is only half of the puzzle. Steve Jobs who is viewed by many as a great leader once said “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (Mui, 2011). While people may think they want leaders to possess certain traits, it is not always the case. It is important to understand the Leader-Follower dynamic, it is through this that the best leaders may be selected for each situation.
Mui, C. (2011, October 17). Five Dangerous Lessons to Learn From Steve Jobs. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2011/10/17/five-dangerous-lessons-to-learn-from-steve-jobs/
Penn State World Campus (2013). PSYCH 485 Lesson 1: Introduction to
Leadership. Retrieved on June 19, 2013, from
Penn State World Campus (2013). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved
on June 19, 2013, from
Northouse, P. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice. (6 ed.). Thousand Oaks,
California: Sage Publishing.