Leadership is a Trait
Dr. Peter G. Northouse, a noted authority on leadership, states the following about "Leadership is a Trait":
"Defining leadership as a trait means that each individual brings to the table certain inherent qualities that influence the way he or she leads. Some leaders are confident, some are decisive, and still others are outgoing and sociable. Saying that leadership is a trait places a great deal of emphasis on the leader and on the leader’s special gifts. It follows the often-expressed belief 'leaders are born, not made.'
Some argue that focusing on traits makes leadership an elitist enterprise because it implies that only a few people with special talents will lead. Although there may be some truth to this argument, it can also be argued that all of us are born with a wide array of unique traits and that many of these traits can have a positive impact on our leadership. It also may be possible to modify or change some traits."
The concept of leadership as a trait has its roots in the “Great Man Theory” that was proposed by Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) in the 19th century.
In his book, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & The Heroic in History, Carlyle argued that great leaders are born possessing certain characteristics and traits and not all people have them.
Trait theory proposes that people have innate traits and that some of these traits are ideally suited for leadership.
Some scholars argue that a strength of trait theory is that it provides benchmarks for identifying leaders.
A criticism of trait theory is that it doesn’t take the situational context of leadership into account. In other words, a person with certain traits may be a strong leader in one context (e.g., on the football field) but not in another (e.g., student government).
Peter G. Northouse, Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2009).
Stephen Zacarro, “Trait-based Perspectives of Leadership,” The American Psychologist, Vol. 62, No. 1, Jan. 2007, 6–16.