Essential Differences and Similarities Between Trait and Skill Approaches to Leadership

by Diana Wicks; Updated September 26, 2017
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The traits approach determines leaders by defining key personality traits and connecting the traits with successful leaders. These attributes include self confidence, intelligence, sociability and determination. It has three assumptions: leaders are born not made; some traits are suited to leadership and people who make leaders have the right combination of traits. Skill approach believes leadership is learnt and a leader can acquire skills of leadership through continuous learning. It identifies three skills crucial in leaders that can be learnt which include technical, relational and conceptual skills.

Subjectivity

Judging who is to be regarded as good or successful leaders is subjective, in that what one group considers as successful might not be same as to the views of another group. In skills approach, however, greater attention is given to the successful training of leaders and to the means of improving the leader’s performance by concentrating on the functions that will lead to effective performance.

Inconsistency

Personality traits of successful leaders that have been identified in traits theory of leadership show no consistent pattern; for example, successful sales managers have been found to be optimistic, enthusiastic and dominant, while production managers are progressive, introverted, cooperative and respectful of others. Skills approach, on the other hand, believes that skills of leadership can be learned, developed and perfected; therefore, any manager can learn skills that are needed in his field of operation.

Physical Characteristics

Traits model relates physical characteristics, such as weight, height, appearance, physique and health to effective leadership. While these traits may correlate in some situational factors, they do not relate in any way with performance. Skills approach model does not regard physical attributes as a prerequisite for effective leaders.

Influence

There is a common component involving the skill to influence others. In essence, an effective leader is able to influence other people to do those things that the leader desires. A person exerts leadership within an organizational framework consisting of a structure, cultures and subcultures, individuals and groups. A leader influences others to perform a set of tasks in support of organizational goals, measures performance, and facilitates or inhibits various behaviors.

Leader Centered

Both approaches center on the leader and give no consideration to the followers or their relationship to the leader or the organization as a whole. They tend to agree that personal attributes contribute much towards effective leadership. Although continuous learning is regarded as a necessity in skills approach, to be an effective leader, innate abilities play a great role.

References

About the Author

Diana Wicks is a Canadian residing in Vancouver. She began writing in 2004 while still a student at Lincoln School of Journalism, in the city of London. She has worked as Chief Editor of Business Chronicle, an online magazine based in London. Wicks holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in journalism and a Master of Business Administration from the London School of Economics.

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