(Carlyle, 1907, p. 18). This “great man” hypothesis—that history is shaped by the forces of extraordinary leadership— gave rise to the trait theory of leadership. Like the great man theory, trait theory assumed that leadership depended on the personal qualities of the leader, but unlike the great man theory, it did not necessarily assume that leadership resided solely within the grasp of a few heroic men. Terman’s (1904) study is perhaps the earliest on trait theory in applied psychology; other discussions of the trait approach appeared in applied psychology in the 1920s (e.g., Bowden,
1926; Kohs & Irle, 1920). Cowley (1931) summarized well the view of trait theorists in commenting that “the approach to the study of leadership has usually been and perhaps must always be through the study of traits” (p. 144).
Despite this venerable tradition, results of investigations relating personality traits to leadership have been inconsistent and often disappointing. Most reviews of the literature have concluded that the trait approach has fallen out of favor among leadership researchers.
As Zaccaro, Foti, and Kenny (1991) noted, “trait explanations of leader emergence are generally regarded with little esteem by leadership theorists” (p. 308). The original source of skepticism with the trait approach is often attributed to Stogdill’s
(1948) influential review. Although Stogdill did find some consistent relations, he concluded, “The findings suggest that leadership is not a matter of passive status or of the mere possession of some combination of traits” (Stogdill, 1948, p. 66). As Bass (1990) noted, after Stogdill’s (1948) review, “situation-specific analyses took over, in fact, dominating the field” (p. 59). Indeed, Hughes,
Ginnett, and Curphy (1996) and Yukl and Van Fleet (1992) commented that any trait’s effect on leadership behavior will depend on the situation. Even today, with