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9.2: Who Is a Leader? Trait Approaches to Leadership

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Learn the position of trait approaches in the history of leadership studies.
    2. Explain the traits that are associated with leadership.
    3. Discuss the limitations of trait approaches to leadership.

    The earliest approach to the study of leadership sought to identify a set of traits that distinguished leaders from nonleaders. What were the personality characteristics and the physical and psychological attributes of people who are viewed as leaders? Because of the problems in measurement of personality traits at the time, different studies used different measures. By 1940, researchers concluded that the search for leadership-defining traits was futile. In recent years, though, after the advances in personality literature such as the development of the Big Five personality framework, researchers have had more success in identifying traits that predict leadership (House & Aditya, 1997). Most importantly, charismatic leadership, which is among the contemporary approaches to leadership, may be viewed as an example of a trait approach.

    The traits that show relatively strong relations with leadership are discussed below (Judge et al., 2002).


    52, 899–926.