Trait Theories vs. Behavioral Theories of Leadership

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  • 0:07 Different Leadership Theories
  • 0:47 Trait Theory
  • 1:56 Behavioral Theory
  • 3:35 Comparing the Theories
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

There are many different theories on leadership. In this lesson, we will explore the trait and behavioral theories and explain how they apply to leadership.

Different Leadership Theories

One might think that there is a specific ideology or theory behind what it takes to be a leader. The truth is there are several different theories that can be applied to leadership, thus there really are no right or wrong theories, simply different perspectives. This is much like how someone might look at a painting or listen to music and have one opinion of it, but another person might view it differently. While there are many different theories of leadership, two of the most common are trait theory and behavior theory.

Trait theory of leadership believes that leaders have certain traits that make them a good leader. On the other hand, the behavioral theory of leadership believes that leaders behave in one of several different ways.

Trait Theory

Many people believe that leaders are born, not made. They believe that somehow they have some innate qualities that make them a good leader. You may even agree with this perspective, as it's not incorrect. In many ways, these traits have to be a part of the leader because many believe they are critical to becoming a good, or even great, leader. These traits cover areas such as communication, decision making, integrity or even empathy.

Therefore, as you can see, if you have these traits in you and you develop them as you mature, you can potentially mature into a good leader (based on the trait theory of leadership). If they are already in you and they have matured, then you can use them as you lead your team.

Many of these traits are facets of an individual that we look for when we define a leader. It is open to interpretation, but many of us want a leader that is a good communicator or one that makes good decisions. Hence, the trait theory of leadership believes there are specific traits that a leader must have to be a leader.

Having these traits does not mean you are or will be an effective leader - just that the trait theory of leadership believes you have to have these traits in order to even be a leader.

Behavioral Theory

It is easy to be confused when we talk about behavioral theory of leadership, as some people may think it is how a leader behaves. To some extent, that's true, but there are specific areas or categories of behavior that are focused on when discussing the behavioral theory of leadership. Those areas are:

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