Critics towards Trait Approaches

In the post-World War II period, criticism of the trait approach to leadership began mounting. While not denying that leaders often displayed certain predictable traits, critics claimed that this approach failed to take into account environmental or situational factors affecting leadership.

Critics asked:

  • Why do people with leadership traits become leaders in some situations but not others?
  • Why is it that some people embodying leadership qualities never become leaders?

One approach to leadership theory that attempts to answer these questions is the style approach (Knes, 2009).

Northouse (2007, p.25) lists the weaknesses of the traits approach as follows:

1) The approach has not fixed a definitive list of leadership traits and the list that has emerged seems endless.

2) The approach has failed to take situations into account.

3) There has much subjective interpretation of the meaning of the data and data is not always based on reliable research.

4) The trait approach is weak in describing how leaders' traits affect the outcomes of groups and teams in organizations.

5) Traits are largely fixed psychological structures and this limits the value of teaching and leadership training.










Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009