The Trait Theory of Leadership: This approach represents the earliest notions of leadership and until up to three decades ago this approach was very popular. According to this theory, there are certain personal qualities and traits which are essential to be a successful leader. The advocates of this theory are of the opinion that persons who are leaders are psychologically better adjusted to display better judgement and to engage themselves in social activities.



Ordway Tead has given a list of ten qualities.

  1. physical and nervous energy
  2. a sense of purpose and direction
  3. enthusiasm
  4. friendliness and affection
  5. integrity
  6. technical mastery
  7. decisiveness
  8. intelligence
  9. teaching skill
  10. faith


According to Hill, “Courage, self-confidence, morale qualities, self sacrifice, paternalism, fairness, initiative, decisiveness, dignity and knowledge of man are all essential qualities of a leader.”

Stogdill classified the leadership qualities under six heads: capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, status and situation.


But the trait theory has many shortcomings, and has been generally criticized on the following grounds.

  1. Various studies prove that the trait theory cannot hold good for all sets of circumstances.
  2. The list of trait is not uniform and different authors have give lists of different traits.
  3. It fails to take into account the influence of other factors on leadership.
  4. The theory fails to indicate the comparative importance of different traits.
  5. There are many persons who have been outstanding leaders in business although they have been humourless, narrow-minded, unjust and authoritarian. In the same manner, there have been many persons who were not good leaders although they had traits as specified for leaders.
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