Transformational leadership highlights the importance of trait theory; critically evaluate the trait theory of leadership and how it is s relevant today. There have been a number of leadership styles and leadership theories that have dominated the management scenario from time to time…
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The two earliest approaches that explained leadership were the trait and behavioural theories. The trait theories emphasised on identifying and fostering the personal traits that distinguished a leader whereas behavioural theorists stressed on maintaining various sorts of leader behaviours. No doubt, both these theories are capable of offering fresh insights to current and future managers in leading their organizations or companies. One can trace back the origins of all modern popular leadership styles (such as charismatic, transformational and transactional leadership styles) in the trait theory. This paper deals with the various aspects of trait theory, its advantages and disadvantages and tries to make a probe into the relevance of the theory today. One should have a thorough understanding of the meaning and definition of trait theory to evaluate its relevance. Trait theory, in short, “attempts to specify which personal characteristics (physical, personality, mental) are associated with leadership effectiveness” (Duening & Ivancevich 2003, p. 282). Kinicki and Kreitner in this respect, consider the trait theory as the successor to the “great man” theory of leadership. However, one can find considerable differences between both the theories. While the ‘great man’ theory held that leaders have an inborn talent to lead, “trait theorists believed that leadership traits were not innate but could be developed through experience and learning” (Kinicki & Kreitner 2009, p. 461-462). Thus, the theory emphasises that not all leaders are born leaders and that leadership abilities can be acquired by anyone. The trait theorists also hold that good leaders possess certain physical or personality characteristics known as ‘leader traits’ which distinguish them from their followers. There have been a number of studies during the post war period to identify these leadership traits that differentiated a leader from his/her followers. In this regard, Stogdill and Mann stressed on five leadership traits that differentiated leaders from average followers. They include intelligence, dominance, self-confidence, level of energy and activity, and task-relevant knowledge (Kinicki & Kreitner 2009, p. 462). However, further studies revealed that people with these traits are more likely to be followers than leaders. There have also been studies on the perceived notion of who an ideal leader is and the major leadership prototypes stemmed out of those researches were associated with intelligence, masculinity and dominance. There were also researchers who regarded honesty as the most significant leadership trait whereas some others stressed on emotional intelligence or personality. While there are a lot of debates over the most important leadership traits, it is evident that anyone who does not possess such leadership traits cannot be expected to be at the top of an organization or company. One can clearly observe the relation between the trait theory and transformational leadership. It is essential to know why transformational leadership highlights the importance of trait theory. According to Farrell, Souchon & Durden (2000), a transformational leader is most likely to be “charismatic, inspirational, intellectually stimulating to followers, and individually considerate” whereas a transactional leader is likely to be “short-term and instrumentally focused, in that s/he will lead by providing rewards contingent on performance, and manage by exception”
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