The trait approach to leadership theorizes that certain qualities and traits are essential to the effectiveness of a leader (Northouse, 2016, p.29). Many researchers over the last century have conducted studies that point to a difference in personal traits between effective leaders and non-leaders. Nevertheless, these studies have produced varying and extensive lists of actual traits that are related to effective leadership. These lists are often subjective to individual opinions and beliefs. To add to the unreliability of this list of effective leadership traits, the situation can often be a contributing factor to the researcher’s observations. In other words, the effectiveness of a leader’s characteristics are influenced by the situation in which they are evaluated.
As noted by Northouse (2016), identifying a specific set of traits that make a leader effective in one situation will not equate to effectiveness in another situation (p.19). A good example can be observed when an analysis is made between college football coaches and their transfer to the NFL. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, like many others, I was excited to have Chip Kelly come from the college level and take the head coaching position with the Eagles. He had proven himself as an effective head coach and leader at the University of Oregon. During his duration there, Kelly had guided their football team to an impressive win record and numerous wins in the college bowl system.
While serving as head coach at the University of Oregon, Kelly was noted as being a creative leader. He was often admired for providing new ways to teach and develop football players. These athletes viewed him as a powerful person and Kelly used this perception of power to influence them. With so many young players seeking guidance, his rigid determination to be in control proved to be effective, Outside of normal required coaching communication, Kelly was considered anti-social with the college players. This allowed him to establish an unobtrusive position within their social lives. Many peers also respected him for his strategic football intelligence. Quite often his leadership traits worked well for him as a college football coach.
When Kelly transitioned to a head coach position in the NFL, he brought many of the same leadership traits that he exhibited at the college level. Unfortunately, at the professional football level, many of these traits were not well received. He was not able to influence his new followers in the same way. Many of his new players, being experienced adults, viewed his controlling nature as overbearing and disrespectful. His anti-social nature did very little to establish a trusting relationship with his players. Using reports from previous Eagles football players, Schwartz (2015) of CSNPhilly.com noted that Kelly was unable to relate to his players and was considered socially awkward by them. Furthermore, his inventive methods of training stirred up some initial excitement and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, his creativity produced more change then the players were able to adapt to. His strategic football intelligence, which brought him much success in his prior position, was no longer as useful within a different system and with different types of players.
Kelly was overconfident and inflexible. Many of his faults, including the turbulent relationships he had with his players and the rest of the organization, were publically visible thanks to the many observations provided by the media. After three years with the Eagles, Kelly was fired. After leaving Philadelphia, Kelly tried out another head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers.Only two wins over his entire first year with the 49ers lead to his subsequent firing. Yarow (2015) of Business Insider provides a good article on the ineffective traits that lead to Chip Kelly’s ultimate firing from his head coaching position with the Philadelphia Eagles. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-the-eagles-fired-chip-kelly-2015-12
If we applied the leadership trait theory to Chip Kelly during his time as a college football coach, we might observe certain traits that made him successful. However, if we compare these observations to his position as head coach in the NFL, we might view the same traits as being ineffective. The leadership trait theory provides us with some ideas of what makes leaders effective in certain situations and this can help individuals prepare for similar positions. However, the trait theory fails to provide us with a universal list of traits that can be applied to all situations.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Schwartz, A. (2015, December 30). The 3 Main Ways Chip Kelly Failed the Eagles. CSN Philly. Retrieved from http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-eagles/3-main-ways-chip-kelly-failed-eagles
Yarow, J. (2015, December 30). Why the Eagles Fired Chip Kelly. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-the-eagles-fired-chip-kelly-2015-12