Learn the traits approach to leadership. Some people are born with certain traits that make them suited for leadership. This approach is one of the oldest. Learn whether these traits really qualify or disqualify you from leadership.
- Think of some great leaders like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Teresa, were they born great, or, did they achieve greatness? If there's such a thing as a natural-born leader, what does that mean for the rest of us? Our answer to this question can shape our entire approach to leadership. Let's look at a classic leadership model, the traits approach, that provides one answer to this question. We'll discuss its characteristics, what people like about it, and its common criticisms. The traits approach has several key characteristics. The underlying belief to this model is that certain individuals rise to leadership positions because they are innately special and uniquely gifted. They possess the traits of a born leader. This model is not about how individuals develop into leaders over time, it's about the way certain people become leaders because they fit a profile. In his book, Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse did a meta analysis on decades worth of studies. He saw five traits that leaders possess, intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociabiity. Employers who follow the traits approach often use a personality test, or a leadership inventory, to get a picture of whether or not you possess traits like these. Your supervisor might then use your results to match you to a role that fits. This leadership philosophy has support for a few reasons. One reason is that it's the most studied leadership philosophy, ever. It's been around for over 100 years, and this gives people confidence in the approach. It's also easy to grasp. Some individuals really seem like born leaders, Abraham Lincoln, or Nelson Mandela, more recently Jack Welch and Steve Jobs come to mind. Next, the traits approach is practical. You figure out what your organization needs, and then you find the individuals who fit those needs. Critics however also have valid points. Perhaps the most damaging critique is that this model only identifies traits leaders possess. The model does not look at how well these leaders actually perform, or, how these traits influence on-the-job success. A related criticism is that it's a superficial way to measure leadership potential. Should we really use questionnaires to promote people? I can think of many effective leaders, right around me, who don't fit the typical leadership profile. Also, despite decades of research, no one agreed upon list of traits exists. We discuss five common traits, but, in fact, the full list now, counts dozens of traits, and gets longer with every study. This makes it hard to know which traits really matter. Despite that, if this approach is right, maybe you are a natural-born leader. Surely we'd all be better off with more leaders like JFK, Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa, but if you don't fit the profile, don't be too concerned. Our traits only tell part of the story.
- Identifying the traits of good leaders
- Developing as a leader
- Styles of leadership
- Styles of action
- Styles of responsibility
- Leadership priorities