I came across an article on facebook that talked about leader traits and leader behavior. How are these different and how are they similar?
We know that there are many factors that influence leaders in their role. In any circumstance, we understand the importance of leaders, but often overlook the components that encompass a leader. Two major elements that are often discussed are leader traits and leader behaviors. Both traits and behaviors give us foundational understanding of leaders and their role, however, it is important to understand the distinction between the two components.
Leader traits can be thought of as fixed attributes a person has. When thinking about traits, we can draw from many different fields in order to build a better understanding. When thinking about traits, we often draw from a biological perspective. We know that many of our physical features are the result of traits. Using this understanding from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, Judge, Piccolo, and Kosalka (2009) reference the role of leader traits. They go on to extend this idea by defining certain traits, such as intelligence and those described in Five Factor Model (Big Five Personality Test). Their efforts not only helped to categorize traits associated with leaders, but also further demonstrated that traits are innate and persist over time. Perhaps a more inclusive definition of traits in relation to leaders was given by Zaccaro (2007), he suggested that leader traits were consistent and cohesive characteristics that help to facilitate effective leadership in given situations. This definition asserts that while traits persist, they also exist collectively.
In contrast, leader behavior is often viewed with regard to observable responses or actions. Behaviors can be thought of as responses to the environment and are a function of a person’s traits. Given the understanding of the role that traits have in relation to leaders, we can say that traits influence behaviors. Leader behaviors are categorized. Derue (2011) describes four common categories of behaviors including: task-oriented, relational-oriented, change-oriented, and passive leadership. He goes on to acknowledge that behaviors are more related to leadership. Like in leader traits, classification of behaviors bring better understanding of enduring factors that pertain to leaders. Understanding leader behavior is important since we know that behaviors are closely tied to effectiveness which produce desired outcomes.
While leader traits and leader behavior can be thought of individually, they share commonalties and should be thought of correspondingly. Much research on leaders begins by describing traits of leaders, then moves on to examine behaviors. When examining traits, aspects such as intelligence, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness are most prominent (Judge et al., 2009). When looking at behavior, planning, support, communication, problem solving, and decision making are commonly described leader behaviors (Fleishman et al., 1992). When we begin to evaluate traits and behaviors, it becomes more clear that they are a function of one another. Derue (2011) suggests that traits influence behaviors which lead to outcomes. While outcome is usually the main focus when viewing leadership, especially from an organizational perspective, it is important to understand the relationship between traits and behaviors.
Traits are often thought of as stable, while behaviors can be thought of as fluid. Although they have significant distinctions, it is important to understand that they exist functionally. While there is some debate as to which better explains leaders within research, one cannot dispute the value in both traits and behaviors. Without traits it would be hard to understand behaviors, which could make it difficult to assess desired outcomes. We know that looking at both traits and behaviors in leaders is important, but taking a more holistic approach that considers various traits and differing behaviors may provide a better way to understand leaders.
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