Monday, January 2, 2012



At the end of 2011, Tia Carr Williams presented two questions on the ILA board on Linkedin. These two questions included: "What three distinctive traits makes you (or anyone) a good leader? How do you nurture these in those you lead?" On face, these two questions appeared innocuous enough, as they directly relate to the concept of trait theory. However, subsequent challenges have presented, in response to these questions. In his comprehensive overview of leadership in organizations, Yukl (2001) presented the existence of "... methodological and conceptual limitations" (p. 201) when using traits and trait research to accurately predict managerial and leadership effectiveness and advancement. He further suggested that a "... better understanding of leadership in an organization may be gained by examining the pattern of traits for the executive team, rather than focusing on the traits of a single leader, such as the chief executive officer" (p. 202). Additionally, as noted in previous studies, Winston and Patterson (2006) presented a meta-analysis of over 90 trait-type constructs that various scholars had presented as necessary or required for the "successful" employment of leadership. Based on these, the challenges of self-identifying the two or three most important leadership traits would seem to include: (a) that a lack of self-awareness would hinder leaders from accurately assessing their own leadership traits; (b)  a likely lack of awareness on the parts of those same leaders of all of the various traits that could potentially contribute to making people good leaders; and (c) the lack of reliability in applying the resulting answers to others. However, if leadership merely consists of going before and showing the way, as suggested by Greenleaf (1977), then another, arguably more germane question emerges: what traits should people generally expect for leaders to exhibit that those same people would not expect everyone to exhibit?

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.

Winston, B. E., & Patterson, K. (2006). An integrated definition of leadership. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), 6-66.

Yukl, G. (2001). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Printice-Hall.

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