Trait Approach

The Trait-Theory Approach

Understanding the importance of different core personality traits can help organizations select leaders.

Learning Objectives

Explain the relevance of the trait approach in defining and promoting useful leadership development in the workplace

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • According to trait leadership theory, certain integrated patterns of personal characteristics nurture consistent leader effectiveness in a group of people.
  • Trait leadership tries to identify inherent attributes and acquired abilities that differentiate leaders from non-leaders.
  • The traits of effective leaders can be organized into three groups: demographic, task competence, and interpersonal.
  • These leadership traits motivate leaders to perform and achieve goals for the organizations they represent.

Key Terms

  • Trait Leadership: Integrated patterns of personal characteristics that nurture the ability to lead a group of people effectively.

According to trait leadership theory, effective leaders have in common a pattern of personal characteristics that support their ability to mobilize others toward a shared vision. These traits include dimensions of personality and motives, sets of skills and capabilities, and behavior in social relationships. Using traits to explain effective leadership considers both characteristics that are inherited and attributes that are learned. This approach has been used to differentiate leaders from non-leaders. Understanding the importance of these traits can help organizations select, train, and develop leaders.

Leaders' Traits

Following studies of trait leadership, most leader traits can be organized into four groups:

  • Personality: Patterns of behavior, such as adaptability and comfort with ambiguity, and dispositional tendencies, such as motives and values, are associated with effective leadership.
  • Demographic: In this category, gender has received by far the most attention in terms of leadership; however, most scholars have found that gender is not a determining demographic trait, as male and female leaders are equally effective.
  • Task competence: This relates to how individuals approach the execution and performance of tasks. Hoffman groups intelligence, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and emotional stability into this category.
  • Interpersonal attributes:These relate to how a leader approaches social interactions. According to Hoffman and others (2011), traits such as extroversion and agreeableness are included in this category.

Proximal vs. Distal Characteristics

Trait leadership also takes into account the distinction between proximal and distal character traits. Proximal characteristics are traits that are malleable and can be developed over time. These include interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and communication skills. Distal characteristics are more dispositional; that is, people are born with them. These include traits such as self-confidence, creativity, and charisma. Hoffman and others (2011) found that both types of characteristics are correlated with leader effectiveness, implying that while leaders can be born, they can also be made.

Trait Integration in Effective Leaders

Zaccoro and others (2004) introduced a model of leadership that categorized and specified six types of traits that influence leader effectiveness. The model rests on two basic premises about leadership traits. The first premise states that effective leadership derives not from any one trait, but from an integrated set of cognitive abilities, social capabilities, and dispositional tendencies, with each set of traits adding to the influence of the other. The second premise maintains that the traits differ in how directly they influence leadership. The premise suggests that distal attributes (such as dispositional attributes, cognitive abilities, and motives/values) come first and then lead to the development of proximal characteristics. This model contends the following traits are correlated with strong leadership potential: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, honesty, charisma, intelligence, creativity, achievement motivation, need for power, communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, technical knowledge, and management skills.


Zaccaro's trait integration model of effective leadership: This diagram visually represents Zaccaro's theory that distal attributes (e.g., cognitive abilities, personality, values) serve as precursors for the development of proximal personal characteristics (e.g. social skills, problem-solving skills), both of which contribute to leadership.

Honesty in Leadership: Kouzes and Posner

Kouzes and Posner identify five behaviors of effective leadership, with honesty essential to each.

Learning Objectives

Assess the theoretical framework devised by Kouzes and Posner in relating leadership and honesty from a business perspective

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Leadership is a process of motivating people and mobilizing resources to accomplish a common goal.
  • Honesty refers to different aspects of moral character. It indicates positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness.
  • Honesty is essential to a leader 's legitimacy, credibility, and ability to develop trust with followers.
  • Kouzes and Posner identify five behaviors of effective leaders: model the way, inspire vision, enable others, challenge the process, and encourage the heart.
  • Effective leaders set strong behavioral examples while expounding upon the company vision to inspire employees to be fulfilled, and honesty is a necessary component of this behavior.

Key Terms

  • micromanaging: The act of over-supervising or employing too much detail in delegating a task.
  • Honesty: A facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness, along with the absence of lying, cheating, or theft.

Leadership is the ability to motivate people and mobilize resources to accomplish a common goal. In leadership, honesty is an important virtue, as leaders serve as role models for their subordinates. Honesty refers to different aspects of moral character. It indicates positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness. These characteristics create trust, which is critical to leaders in all positions. Honesty also implies the absence of lying, cheating, or theft.

Subordinates have faith in the leaders they follow. A leader who is not honest will lose legitimacy in the eyes of followers. Integrity and openness are essential to developing trust, and without honesty a leader cannot gain and maintain the trust needed to build commitment to a shared vision.

Leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner find honesty to be the most important trait of effective leaders. In its absence, leaders lack credibility, and their ability to influence others is diminished. Honesty also brings a degree of transparency to a leader's interaction with others.

For Kouzes and Posner, honesty is a critical element of the five behaviors of effective leaders.


Five behaviors of effective leaders: This model was created by Kouzes and Posner to emphasize vital leadership practices.

  • Model the way: Leaders must clarify their values and set an example for their employees to imitate, underscoring the importance of modeling positive characteristics such as honesty.
  • Inspire vision: The vision is the emotional element of a company's mission statement, and this vision must be communicated honestly and with passion. Promoting the company's vision allows leaders to inspire employees.
  • Enable others to act: Leaders often make the critical mistake of micromanaging, as opposed to trusting others to do their job. Trust stems from honesty, and creating an honest environment allows other employees more personal autonomy.
  • Challenge the process: Leaders need to be attentive to how things are done, not just what gets done, and they must be willing to address areas that require change. These practices are essential for continuous improvement, progress toward goals, and innovation.
  • Encourage the heart: Leaders must nurture the emotional dimension of their relationships with followers. Showing appreciation, creating a supportive environment, and fostering community sentiment helps build commitment to the leader's vision.

In summary, leaders are tasked with balancing the organizational strategies of management with the social elements of leading. This requires leaders to be in tune with their employees' emotions and concerns in a meaningful and honest way. Effective leaders set strong behavioral examples while communicating their vision to inspire employees. The need for honesty is woven throughout the primary activities of effective leaders.

Leadership and Gender

Studies on the role of gender in leadership success show mixed results.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the relationship between gender and leadership behavior

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Research on leadership differences between men and women shows conflicting results. Some research states that women have a different style of leadership than men, while other studies reveal no major differences in leadership behaviors between the genders.
  • Areas of study have included perceptions of leadership, leadership styles, leadership practices, and leadership effectiveness.
  • Some studies have found women leaders tend to demonstrate more communication, cooperation, affiliation, and nurturing than men in leadership.
  • Male leaders have been shown to be be more goal- and task-oriented and less relationship- and process-focused than women.

Key Terms

  • gender: The sociocultural phenomenon of the division of people into categories of male and female, each having associated clothing, roles, stereotypes, etc.
  • leadership: The capacity of someone to lead.

In many areas of society, men have long dominated leadership positions. This dominance was especially apparent in business, where female members of boards of directors and corporate executives had been scarce. Over the past three decades, however, women have entered more leadership positions throughout industry. The trend has provided an opportunity to examine differences in how men and women perform in the role of leaders.


Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM: As CEO of one of the largest companies in the U.S., Virginia Rometty is in a highly influential and visible leadership role.

Gender Differences in Leadership

Research reveals small but significant differences in the way men and women are perceived in leadership roles, their effectiveness in such positions, and their leadership styles. Studies conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s found that women adopt participative styles of leadership and were more often transformational leaders than men, who more commonly adopted directive, transactional styles. Women in management positions tend to demonstrate the importance of communication, cooperation, affiliation, and nurturing more than do men in the same positions. The studies also showed men as more goal- and task-oriented and less relationship- and process-focused than women.

Conflicting Studies

Nonetheless, studies demonstrating distinct leadership styles between men and woman do not represent the final word. Other research has found limited evidence for significant differences between the behaviors of male and female leaders. In 2011, Anderson and Hanson found differences in decision-making styles, but none linked directly to differences in leadership effectiveness. They found no distinction in types or degree of motivation or in leadership styles overall. Other studies show similar results, challenging the notion that leaders' sex shapes their performance as a leader. Management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter studied men and women in a large corporation and found that differences in their behavior resulted not from gender but from organizational factors. In Kanter's study, men and women, given the same degree of power and opportunity, behaved in similar ways.

The GLOBE Project

The GLOBE Research Project is an international group of social scientists and management scholars who study cross-cultural leadership.

Learning Objectives

Outline the nine cultural competences found by the GLOBE project using the six GLOBE dimensions and describe how the project pertains to leadership

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness Research Project) is an international group of social scientists and management scholars who study cross- cultural leadership.
  • This international team collected data from 17,300 middle managers in 951 organizations and grouped 62 countries into ten geographic clusters.
  • The research identified nine cultural competencies that distinguish approaches to leadership.
  • The research also identified six global dimensions by which to compare and contrast leadership behaviors.

Key Terms

  • GLOBE project: Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness study; refers to research into aspects of cross-cultural leadership behavior.

Under the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Project, an international group of social scientists and management scholars studied cross-cultural leadership. In 1993, Robert J. House founded the project at the University of Pennsylvania. The project looked at 62 societies with different cultures, which were studied by researchers working in their home countries. This international team collected data from 17,300 middle managers in 951 organizations. They used qualitative methods to assist their development of quantitative instruments. The research identified nine cultural competencies and grouped the 62 countries into ten geographic clusters, including Latin American, Nordic European, Sub-Saharan, and Confucian Asian.


The Globe Project: Logo for the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Project.

Bases for Leadership Comparisons

The GLOBE project identified nine cultural dimensions, called competencies, with which the leadership approaches within geographic clusters can be compared and contrasted:

  1. Performance orientation refers to the extent to which an organization or society encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement and excellence.
  2. Assertiveness orientation is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies are assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships.
  3. Future orientation is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification.
  4. Human orientation is the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies encourage and reward individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and kind to others.
  5. Collectivism I (institutional collectivism) is the degree to which organizational and societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action.
  6. Collectivism II (in-group collectivism) is the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness in their organizations or families.
  7. Gender egalitarianism is the extent to which an organization or a society minimizes gender role differences and gender discrimination.
  8. Power distance is the degree to which members of an organization or society expect and agree that power should be unequally shared.
  9. Uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which members of an organization or society strive to avoid uncertainty by reliance on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic practices to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.

GLOBE Leadership Dimensions

Following extensive review of the research, GLOBE participants grouped leadership characteristics into six dimensions. Researchers then made recommendations about how dimensions of culture and leadership could distinguish behavior in one country or culture from another.

Known as the six GLOBE dimensions of culturally endorsed implicit leadership, these leadership dimensions include:

  1. Charismatic or value-based: Characterized by integrity and decisiveness; performance-oriented by appearing visionary, inspirational, and self-sacrificing; can also be toxic and allow for autocratic commanding.
  2. Team-oriented: Characterized by diplomacy, administrative competence, team collaboration, and integration.
  3. Self-protective: Characterized by self-centeredness, face-saving, and procedural behavior capable of inducing conflict when necessary, while being conscious of status.
  4. Participative: Characterized by non-autocratic behavior that encourages involvement and engagement and that is supportive of those who are being led.
  5. Human orientation: Characterized by modesty and compassion for others in an altruistic fashion.
  6. Autonomous: Characterized by ability to function without constant consultation.

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