Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership

Difference Between Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership

A brief introduction to Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership

Trait and behavioral theories on leadership differ significantly in that trait theories assert that leaders are born with certain inherent qualities while behavioral theories stress their teaching ability.

Theory of Leadership refers to schools of thought which provide explanations for why certain individuals become leaders. Theories relating to behavior and trait analysis are two popular schools of thought regarding leadership development.

Definition of leadership

Leadership is the art of motivating and leading individuals or groups toward reaching a common goal. It requires being able to motivate, inspire and lead others while offering guidance and support.

Definition of leadership

Leadership doesn’t depend on position or title alone – anyone at all levels of an organization, or in different situations can demonstrate it. Successful leaders possess specific capabilities, traits, and behaviors which enable them to communicate effectively, take decisions decisively, build trust among followers, and promote collaboration between them and their followers.

Leadership is a multifaceted concept that can be examined from various viewpoints. Each theory offers insight into its core components and practical application.

Importance of understanding leadership theories

Understanding theories of leadership is vitally important for various reasons:

1. Enhancing Leadership Efficiency: Theories about leadership provide valuable insight into the traits, behaviors, and competencies that comprise successful leadership. By comprehending these theories, people can identify areas for strength as well as areas requiring improvement to enhance their own leadership abilities and become more efficient leaders.

2. Informing Leadership Development: Leadership theories provide vital information that serves as the cornerstone for programs designed to foster leadership development. By helping identify essential skills and qualities required of effective leaders, organizations can design training and development programs specifically targeted toward creating future leaders as part of an efficient pipeline system.

3. Adjusting to Different Situations: Leadership theories recognize that leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all; different circumstances call for unique styles of leadership and strategies. By studying various theories, managers can become aware of underlying factors affecting leadership effectiveness as well as acquire the capability of adapting their strategy accordingly.

4. Guiding Decision-Making: Theoretical theories of leadership provide models and frameworks that enable leaders to make informed choices. These theories give leaders insights into inspiring employees, motivating teams, resolving conflicts, allocating resources effectively, and managing problems efficiently – using theories derived from theories of leadership to make more effective and well-informed decisions.

5. Inspiring Others: Theories of leadership emphasize the significance of vision, communication, and motivation as critical components for effective leadership. By understanding these theories leaders can effectively convey a compelling vision to their teams while motivating team members towards common goals. Being able to motivate others is key to creating highly-performing teams as well as reaching organizational success.

6. Influencing Organizational Culture: Leadership theories have an outsized influence on organizational culture. By understanding various concepts related to leadership theories, managers can develop a leadership style that aligns with company values as well as mission and goals; creating an engaging work environment in which employees feel inspired, valued, and appreciated.

Understanding leadership theories provides leaders with a solid basis upon which to increase their effectiveness, adapt to changing circumstances, make informed choices that inspire others, and enhance overall company effectiveness. It serves as a guide for the development of leadership as individuals develop the necessary capabilities and abilities needed to manage with confidence and proficiency.

What exactly is Trait Theory?

Trait Theory or “the Trait Approach”, is a theory of leadership that seeks to identify and understand what characterizes successful leaders. According to this approach, certain characteristics have been linked with leadership effectiveness while other people possess different levels of these characteristics.

Trait theory relies on the idea that individuals possess certain traits or leadership characteristics that enable them to be effective leaders, which remain fairly constant over time and differing circumstances. These could include psychological and physical attributes like confidence, intelligence, charisma determination integrity social sociability.

Trait Theory of Leadership
Figure 01: Trait Theory of Leadership

At the dawn of the 20th century, trait theory first made its debut through studies that attempted to compile a comprehensive list of characteristics separating leaders and non-leaders. Over time, however, researchers came to appreciate that leadership is an intricate process and they encountered difficulty identifying a common set of qualities that ensure effective leadership.

The theory of traits has both strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest advantage is identifying potential leaders, guiding in selecting and growing leaders as well as offering a common language to discuss characteristics of leadership.

Critics have noted the weakness in this theory due to an absence of consistent evidence linking certain traits with effective leadership, while its application fails to properly reflect contextual factors and dynamic leaders who display dynamic behavior.

Even with its flaws, the theory of traits has proven effective at helping us comprehend the nature of leadership by emphasizing its reliance on individual characteristics as foundational characteristics for further investigation and the creation of new theories about it.

What exactly is Behavioral Theory?

Behavioral Theories or the “Behavioral Approach”, is a theory of leadership that centers around actions and behaviors exhibited by leaders who are effective rather than their innate traits or attributes. It asserts that leadership isn’t solely dependent upon one individual; rather it is learned behavior that drives it forward.

Based on behavioral theory, effective leadership is defined by specific actions leaders take rather than by any inherent characteristics they possess. According to this theory, Leadership is a skill that can be learned and refined over time through practice and refinement; its emphasis lies on what leaders do rather than who they are as people.

Behavior theory defines different leadership styles and behaviors. Commonly recognized leadership behaviors include task-oriented actions (setting goals, providing instructions, monitoring progress) as well as relationship-focused ones (building relationships with team members and facilitating communication).

Leadership effectiveness hinges upon the successful application of specific practices tailored to suit both the context and needs of followers.

The theory of behavior emerged as a response to the limitations of trait theory when researchers recognized that not all leaders share similar sets of characteristics. Instead, they noticed that leaders who displayed certain behaviors were more successful at motivating and inspiring followers.

The theory of behavior excels by emphasizing actionable and observable behaviors as an approach to developing leadership and training. It recognizes that effective leadership depends upon cultivating specific behaviors.

Behavioral Theory of Leadership
Figure 02: Behavioral Theory of Leadership


But, the theory of behavioral behavior does have its flaws; as it doesn’t account fully for individuals’ unique personal qualities and characteristics or the influence of environmental aspects on leadership.

Behavioral theory has significantly enhanced our understanding of how leaders function by emphasizing the significance of behavior and actions in determining leadership effectiveness, providing guidelines for training programs on leadership development, and providing guidelines for creating conditional and contingency theories of leadership. Additionally, it supports other theories of leadership as well as subsequent research efforts resulting in conditional theories for leadership being created and tested further.

Comparison Chart of Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership

Here’s a chart that compares the major distinctions between Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership:

Topics Trait Theory of Leadership Behavioral Theories of Leadership
Focus Individual traits and characteristics Leadership behaviors and actions
Assumption Certain traits inherent to people make them naturally leaders. The process of leadership is based on learned behavior
The Key Question What personal characteristics make for leaders effective? What are the behaviors and actions displayed by leaders who are effective?
Examples of Approaches The measurement and identification of certain traits such as intelligence charisma, and confidence Analyzing leadership behaviors such as task-oriented or relationship-oriented styles
Strengths It provides a framework to identify possible leaders Concentrates on actionable and observable actions
Limitations It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of leadership Does not take into account contextual elements and context
Application Trait assessment tools for leadership development Development and leadership training programs
Congruity with Leadership Styles The Trait Theory does not have to correspond to specific leadership styles. The behavioral theory of leadership could be used to different styles of leadership
Criticisms Inconsistency and insufficient evidence to support specific characteristics Doesn’t take into consideration the effect of the environment
Integration They can also influence behavior and therefore both theories can be incorporated Combining behavior and trait strategies to evaluate the effectiveness of leadership
Key Proponents Ralph Stogdill, Warren Bennis Kurt Lewin, John W. Gardner

Relationship Between Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership

Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership tend to work in harmony rather than against each other, providing useful perspectives from both theories for each aspect of leadership they cover.

Here are some key elements of their interaction:

1. Integration and Synthesis of Ideas: Contemporary theories of leadership frequently integrate behavioral and trait perspectives to provide an overall model for understanding this aspect of management. Understanding that both personal characteristics and behavior play a part in effective leadership, researchers and scholars seek to combine all these different points of view into one cohesive model of effective leadership.

2. Interaction Between Traits-Behavior: There is an interactive relationship between traits and behavior; personal traits may influence the actions of leaders while certain leadership styles can foster certain characteristics; for instance, an individual’s empathy could manifest into actions that exhibit active listening, understanding, and respect – ultimately increasing leadership effectiveness.

3. Consistency in Trait-Behavior: Leaders usually show a degree of consistency between their traits and the behavior displayed. While leaders can modify their actions depending on circumstances, certain fundamental traits often link back to what actions are performed by leaders consistently in different circumstances.

Certain characteristics can cause people to demonstrate certain behaviors of leadership over time.

4. Situational Factors: Both trait theory and behavioral theories acknowledge the significance of context in determining leadership effectiveness. Trait theories tend to overlook this fact while behavioral theories emphasize its significance by emphasizing leaders needing to modify their behaviors depending on specific situations.

With both perspectives in place, leaders can better tailor specific behaviors according to each unique circumstance in which they find themselves.

5. Development and Training: The theory of traits proposes that certain individuals possess certain characteristics that make them more likely to become effective leaders, while behavioral theory asserts that leadership skills can be developed and learned through specific actions.

By combining both perspectives, specific leadership programs can be designed that address both inherent characteristics and behavioral abilities.

6. Research and Empirical Findings: Research studies often investigate the interconnections between certain traits and behaviors in leadership, and specific behaviors or characteristics affecting certain behaviors in leaders. By studying such connections, studies gain insight into the intricate nature of leadership; helping us better comprehend its effectiveness.

The relationship between trait theories and theories of behavior in management depends on synergy, integration, and mutual benefit. While trait theory focuses on personal characteristics while behavior theory looks at behaviors and actions taken, combining these theories adds greater depth and clarity about what leadership entails.

Consideration of both characteristics and behavior helps leaders formulate an effective plan, drawing upon their strengths while tailoring it to various circumstances.


Understanding the theories of leadership such as Trait and Behavioral Theories of Leadership is vital to creating effective leadership abilities and methods. Trait theory emphasizes the significance of intrinsic personality traits which set apart successful leaders from their counterparts.

This theory proposes that certain attributes make people more likely to become successful leaders; however, its application has flaws including its lack of an empirical foundation and disregard for environmental influences.