Trait Theory

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Trait theory is the successor to what was deemed the Great Man theory of leadership. The Great Man theory surmises that leaders are born with innate abilities that make them great leaders. However, Trait theory follows the belief that leadership traits are in fact not innate, but are learned and developed through experience and learning (Krietner, 2010, p.470). Trait theorists have been studying leadership since the turn of the 20th century. Such theorist as Mann, Stogdill, as well as Kirkpatrick and Locke, had studied leadership and traits and the implications that such traits had on one’s ability as a leader. Kirkpatrick and Locke identified six traits which help to identify leaders. The six traits which “make up the right stuff” which help to differentiate leaders from nonleaders are: drive, motivation, integrity, confidence, cognitive ability, and task knowledge (Northouse, 2010, p.18). According to Kirkpatrick and Locke, “individuals can be born with these traits, they can learn them, or both” (Northouse, 2010, p.18). With more than a centuries worth of study and research behind Trait theory, several theorists have crafted lists of traits believed to define leadership. The problem with these is that they are all different. There is not a single list of traits which are required in order to be a leader. So if an individual does not possess one of the six traits that Kirkpatrick and Locke identified does this mean that they cannot be a leader? I do not think that this is the case. Though all of the traits are important tools for a leader. Even Kirkpatrick and Locke argued that the traits which they identified can be learned. Some of the traits are easier to learn than others.
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