In the early 20th century, one of the first methods of studying leadership was through the trait approach (Northouse, 2016). There was a focus on studying leadership traits in order to determine what qualities and characteristics made someone a successful leader (Northouse, 2016). “It was believed that people were born with these traits, and that only the “great” people possessed them” (Northouse, 2016, p. 19). Essentially, if you were not born with a certain set of traits, then you were assumed to not be capable of leading. This concept has been challenged because different people display different traits depending on the type of leadership situation (Northouse, 2016).
Northouse (2016) discusses studies of leadership traits and characteristics from the period of 1948 to 2004. The findings are inconsistent across the studies and highlight various different traits including intelligence, masculinity, self-confidence, dominance, motivation, and cognitive abilities. These studies remain relevant and important because it shows how much society’s ideas have changed about leadership traits over time. Personally, I do not consider masculinity to be an important leadership trait, because there have been numerous female leaders including Mother Theresa, Coco Chanel and Eleanor Roosevelt who were not masculine but were effective leaders. However, in the past there were more male leaders in the spotlight so that could be one reason why masculinity used to be identified as such an important trait.
The Five Factor Model (FFM) of Personality shifted the focus from one particular trait to five broad personality dimensions (PSU WC, 2016, L.2). This was my favorite part of lesson two because I do not believe that individuals are simply born leaders. I think that traits can be learned and developed over time. The FFM includes conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion. Collectively, each dimension includes different traits that individuals may already excel in but also includes traits that individuals have the capability to work on and improve. For example, a former supervisor of mine struggled with extraversion. She would stress herself out over attending company meetings where she was required to speak in front of peers. She felt that her social anxiety was negatively impacting her health as well as job advancement. She decided to enroll in a public speaking course, which required her to regularly speak to a room full of strangers. While she did not become outgoing overnight, the class helped her gain the confidence she needed to speak in public.
History is proof that there are no trait standards to effectively lead in all situations. The concept of trait approach has evolved and will more than likely continue to evolve. Society and leadership situations are constantly changing, which will open new doors for leaders of all types. Advances in technology and the availability of educational resources have made it easier than ever for leaders to improve upon their traits and skills.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2016). PSYCH 281 Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules/items/27074603