Learning Leadership

Learning Leadership

Learning Leadership is a series of posts meant to explore leadership approaches and theories. Some are more popular, others lesser known. The, overall, goal is to help leaders expand their tool kit for 2021.



The trait approach built upon the “Great Men” construct of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This approach attempted to identify innate qualities and characteristics of great leaders and determine how these traits differ from followers. However, the trait approach does not suggest that those who are “great men” come from upper classes and possess inherited leadership qualities (Avery, 2004). Rather, through the identification of their traits a leader gains awareness of their strengths and areas for improvement.


As cited by Northouse (2010), scholarship by authors such as Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991), Lord, DeVader, and Alliger (1986), Mann (1959), Stogdill (1948, 1974) and Zaccaro, Kemp, and Bader (2004) have contributed to the development of this theory. The traits possessed by effective leaders that were consistent across these scholars’ research included: intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability (Northouse, 2010).

Practical Use

The trait approach identified a set of traits that successful leaders possess. Given this, individuals can complete trait assessments to determine their own leadership strengths and areas for improvement. By gaining an understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, “leaders can try to make changes in what they do or where they work to increase their traits’ potential impact” (Northouse, 2010, p. 25). In addition, organizations could use trait assessments to identify leaders in both hiring and promotion processes.


Avery, G. (2004). Understanding leadership. Thousand Oak, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Kirkpatrick, S.A., & Locke, E.A. (1991). Leadership: Do traits matter? The Executive, 5, 48-60.

Lord, R.G., DeVader, C.L., & Alliger, G.M. (1986). A meta-analysis of the relation between personality traits and leadership perceptions: An application of validity generalization procedures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 402-410.

Mann, R.D. (1959). A review of the relationship between personality and performance in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 56, 241-270.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Thousand Oak, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Stogdill, R.M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the literature. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35-71.

Stogdill, R.M. (1974). Handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: Free Press.

Zaccaro, S.J., Kemp, C., & Bader, P. (2004). Leader traits and attributes. In J. Antonakis, A.T. Cianciolo, & R.J. Sternberg (Eds.), The nature of leadership (p. 101-124). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *