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What is the Personality Trait Approach To Leadership?

Personality Traits Essential To Leadership?

Leadership can be approached in several ways. One approach is that leaders are effective or ineffective due to their personality traits, or to stretch it a bit, are effective or lack effectiveness because of their beliefs, values and ethics. That’s the personality trait approach. For example, some people make the case that high moral values are essential to success, while others take about charisma, or extroversion.

In contrast, another way of looking at leaders and their effectiveness is not to look at WHO they are, but what they DO — their behavior and their skills. In this approach one considers what effective and ineffective leaders DO differently.

It’s likely that both ways are of value and complement each other, to help us understand leaders, but it’s important to understand one important implication. Personality traits, (and values, beliefs) are understood within Psychology as relatively unchanging in the adult population. If, then, a leader lacks the “required traits”, it’s unlikely that he or she will ever “get” them. It’s possible but unlikely, and that means that the development of effective leaders must rely on SELECTING the right people, since it’s not easy to change traits.

The focus on skills and behaviors, however, implies that many people can become better leaders, not by changing relatively change resistant personality traits, but by learning new skills and behaviors that will make them better leaders.

As with most things, the truth lies within both “camps”. It is true that some people are simply not cut out for leadership roles because of their personalities, beliefs and values, and that no amount of training will make it otherwise. It’s also the case that leaders can improve over time by learning new skills and leadership behaviors. So, SELECTION AND LEADERSHIP SKILL DEVELOPMENT are both important.



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