Leadership Theories – Trait Theories and Behavioral Theories

Leadership Theories
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 Leadership Theories – Trait Theories and Behavioral Theories


Leadership is a complex and fascinating topic that has intrigued scholars, researchers, and practitioners for centuries. Among the various leadership theories, trait theories, and behavioral theories offer valuable insights into the characteristics and behaviors that contribute to effective leadership. This article explores these two theoretical frameworks, highlighting their key concepts, similarities, differences, and practical implications, ultimately enhancing our understanding of what makes a successful leader.

Trait Theories of Leadership

Trait theories propose that certain individuals are born with specific characteristics or traits that make them naturally inclined towards leadership roles. These theories suggest that leadership is largely influenced by innate personality traits, rather than learned behaviors or environmental factors.

Key Concepts of Trait Theories:

Innate Leadership Traits:

Trait theorists believe that leaders possess certain inherent qualities that set them apart from followers. These traits may include intelligence, charisma, self-confidence, and decisiveness.

Identification of Leadership Traits:

Researchers have identified and studied various traits associated with effective leadership. For example, Stogdill’s (1974) comprehensive review identified traits such as intelligence, alertness, and sociability as common among successful leaders.

Consistency Across Situations:

Trait theories suggest that leadership traits tend to manifest consistently across different contexts and situations. Leaders exhibit similar behavioral patterns regardless of the environment or circumstances.

Predicting Leadership Potential:

Trait theories propose that by identifying and assessing specific traits, it is possible to predict an individual’s leadership potential. This can inform selection processes and leadership development programs.

Example: Trait Theory in Action

Consider a charismatic CEO who possesses innate traits such as strong communication skills, vision, and the ability to inspire others. Their natural charisma and persuasive abilities enable them to rally employees, investors, and stakeholders around a shared vision, driving organizational success.

Behavioral Theories of Leadership

Behavioral theories, in contrast, shift the focus from innate traits to observable behaviors. These theories suggest that leadership is a set of skills and behaviors that can be learned and developed through practice and experience.

Key Concepts of Behavioral Theories:

Learned Behaviors:

Behavioral theorists believe that leadership is not solely dependent on innate traits but can be acquired through learning and development. Individuals can enhance their leadership capabilities by adopting specific behaviors and skills.

Emphasis on Actions:

Behavioral theories emphasize that it is the actions and behaviors of a leader that define their effectiveness. Leaders are evaluated based on what they do rather than who they are.

Situational Adaptability:

Behavioral theories acknowledge the importance of context and suggest that effective leaders adapt their behaviors to suit the situation and the needs of their followers.

Development of Leadership Skills:

These theories provide a framework for leadership development programs, as individuals can be taught and trained to exhibit specific leadership behaviors.

Example: Behavioral Theory in Practice

Consider a manager who, through self-reflection and feedback, identifies a need to improve their communication skills. They actively work on enhancing their communication style, practicing active listening, providing clear instructions, and seeking feedback. As a result, their team experiences improved collaboration and increased productivity.

Similarities and Differences

Both trait and behavioral theories offer insights into the nature of leadership:


Focus on Individual Characteristics:

Both theories recognize the importance of individual characteristics, whether innate or learned, in shaping leadership effectiveness.

Predicting Leadership Success:

Both approaches suggest that certain qualities or behaviors can predict an individual’s potential for leadership success.

Emphasis on Observation:

Trait and behavioral theories rely on the observation and assessment of specific characteristics or behaviors to understand leadership.


Innate vs. Learned:

Trait theories emphasize innate traits, suggesting that leaders are born, not made. Behavioral theories, on the other hand, propose that leadership skills can be acquired through learning and development.

Consistency vs. Adaptability:

Trait theories suggest that leadership traits manifest consistently across situations. Behavioral theories, however, emphasize the importance of adaptability, suggesting that effective leaders adjust their behaviors to fit the context.

Predictability vs. Flexibility:

Trait theories offer a more predictable view of leadership, suggesting that specific traits lead to leadership success. Behavioral theories provide a more flexible perspective, acknowledging that different behaviors may be required in different situations.

Practical Implications

Understanding trait and behavioral theories has practical implications for leadership selection, development, and effectiveness:

Selection and Recruitment:

Trait theories can inform the identification of innate leadership traits during recruitment processes, helping organizations select individuals with high leadership potential.

Leadership Development:

Behavioral theories provide a framework for leadership development programs, enabling individuals to enhance their leadership skills through training, coaching, and experiential learning.

Contextual Adaptability:

Behavioral theories emphasize the importance of adapting leadership behaviors to suit the situation. Leaders can learn to adjust their style based on the needs of their team and the organizational context.


Both theories encourage self-reflection and awareness of one’s strengths and areas for improvement, enabling leaders to leverage their strengths and develop new skills.

Team Dynamics:

Understanding the traits and behaviors associated with effective leadership can enhance team dynamics and collaboration, fostering a shared understanding of leadership expectations.


Trait theories and behavioral theories offer valuable insights into the complex nature of leadership. While trait theories emphasize innate characteristics, behavioral theories focus on observable behaviors and skills. By recognizing the similarities and differences between these theories, individuals, organizations, and leadership development programs can make more informed decisions, ultimately fostering effective leadership that drives organizational success and inspires followers.


Difference between Leadership and Management:

  • Management promotes stability or enables the organization to run smoothly. And it rely on the rules and policies already and use organizational resources to best possible way to maximize output. They manage resources by the rules and regulation.
  • Leadership promotes adaptive or useful changes. They influence subordinates to act when needed. They are innovative and think out of box. They lead team to a desire goal and objective achievement.

Forms of leadership:

  • Formal leadership
  • Informal leadership


Trait Theories


  • These theories believe that all leaders share some specific characteristics which make them leaders and the leadership characteristics are associated to family.
  • Assume that traits play a key role in:
    • Differentiating between leaders and non-leaders.
    • Predicting leader or organizational outcomes.
  • Great-person-trait approach.
    • Earliest approach in studying leadership.
    • Tried to determine the traits that characterized great leaders.


Identifiable Characteristics of Leaders

  • Operate on an even keel.
  • Seek power as a means of achieving a vision or goal.
  • High need for achievement.
  • Recognize their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Oriented toward self-improvement.
  • Not easily discouraged.
  • Deals well with large amounts of information.
  • Above-average intelligence.
  • Good understanding of their social setting.
  • Possess specific knowledge concerning their industry, firm, and job.

Behavioral Theories


  • Assume that leader behaviors are crucial for explaining performance and other organizational outcomes.


Leadership Grid

  • Developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton.
  • Built on dual emphasis of consideration and initiating structure.
  • A 9 x 9 Grid (matrix) reflecting levels of concern for people and concern for task.
    • 1 reflects minimum concern.
    • 9 reflect maximum concern.
  • Five key Grid combinations.
    • 1/1 — low concern for production, low concern for people.
    • 1/9 — low concern for production, high concern for people.
    • 5/5 — moderate concern for production, moderate concern for people.
    • 9/1 — high concern for production, low concern for people.
    • 9/9 — high concern for production, high concern for people.