What Is the Trait Theory of Leadership? (With Definition)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

You may be thinking of improving your leadership skills to help you perform well in your career. Leaders use a variety of leadership styles in the workplace, depending on what suits them best and who they work with. Learning more about the various leadership styles and theories, such as the trait theory of leadership, can help you execute your role more successfully. In this article, we explain what the trait theory of leadership is, including what leadership traits are.

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What is the trait theory of leadership?

The trait theory of leadership is a theory that suggests that you lead based on your traits. A leader is an individual with the power to influence a group of people by making decisions that impact others. The trait theory of leadership says that certain traits produce distinct behavioural patterns. These patterns tend to remain the same across various situations, and people have certain innate leadership traits.

There are alternative ideas that a leader can acquire a trait over time depending on their experiences and who they interact with. It's important to understand what some of the traits of good leaders are.

Related: What is Leadership? (With Key Elements of Leadership)

What are some traits of leadership?

The crucial traits that define you as a leader may vary depending on the situation and the person who's creating the list. To help you understand what some leadership traits are, here's a list of common traits leaders may have:


Being adaptable means you're able to change your attitude and plans depending on the external circumstances. You're flexible and can choose the best path within a short time frame. A good leader is adaptable because they can quickly recognise when a change in conditions requires a corresponding adjustment to decisions and actions. By not insisting on following the original plan, they're able to utilise their resources in the best way to lead their team to the final goal.

Related: What Is Transformational Leadership and Why Is It Effective?


A motivational leader is able to inspire others to do their best regardless of the situation. You may lead by example through adversity, verbally encourage staff members or share experiences and anecdotes to motivate team members. Being a motivational person during times of need can help you become a leader since people look to you for direction and inspiration when they're lost. You can guide them to make the right choices by gently encouraging them. Remember that there are many ways to motivate people, and you may customise your methods to suit the target audience.

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A good leader is usually creative, as they're able to identify solutions that others may not have considered. By being creative, you have a higher chance of gaining first-mover advantages by innovatively recognising or resolving an issue. Effective leaders can also inspire team members to be creative and think laterally to find effective solutions.

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Having courage is being brave enough to take action in situations where others might fear repercussions or backlash. An outstanding leader is courageous, as they're willing to do what others are unwilling to do. For example, a good leader may take the blame for a junior staff member's mistake and provide them with advice to avoid the issue in the future. Also, an effective leader may disagree with a senior colleague to protect their team member in times of need.


Leaders tend to possess high levels of perseverance and tolerance. The group may have a higher chance of succeeding in the future by persisting with a particular course of action, even when it's difficult. Maintaining high levels of enthusiasm for a task that you've been working on for a long time may be challenging, so having a leader who can model perseverance can help improve the team's morale. You may also want to persevere in your journey to becoming a leader even if you find that others are currently more suited for the job or don't view you as a leader yet.


Being confident about your professional capabilities can help you become a good leader. If you're confident and behave in an honourable way, your staff members and followers may also find that you're a good leader. When other staff members become familiar with the idea that you're a leader, they may introduce you as such to newer staff members or interns. This can help you build your reputation as a leader. Take advantage of this positive reinforcement to create a name for yourself as a great leader.


An understanding leader may be popular, as they're able to relate to what their team members are going through at each stage of their lives. If you're an understanding leader, you may offer to give a pregnant team member some time off to prepare for the arrival of their new child and take on greater responsibilities in the meantime. By paying attention to the concerns and needs of your team members, you're more able to support them to achieve success, which reflects well on the entire team.

Related: What's Empathy in Leadership? (Plus Importance and Steps)


A good leader may be ambitious or eager to achieve great accomplishments. Leaders tend to be ambitious as they feel good about themselves and their role when their team members achieve their individual goals. Many leaders are genuinely passionate about supporting their colleagues to reach the objectives they envision. By committing to assisting your team members, you can build rapport and trust within the team. These, in turn, result in synergies within the team that can bring them greater success. With the group's accomplishments, your abilities to lead a team may receive greater recognition.


Being a decisive individual may mean that you make a good leader. As leaders often make decisions, having an excellent ability to consider various factors and come to a decision quickly can help your leadership career. For example, making quick decisions helps you keep the project moving and on schedule. If you delay the decision-making, other team members may require more time to complete their tasks later on, which then slows down the project as a whole. Also, being decisive and not fluctuating between decisions helps others within the team have the certainty they require to meet project deliverables.


Being an emotionally stable person increases your chances of being a good leader since you're dependable and rational. You can control your emotions well regardless of the situation and make decisions logically after reviewing the facts and circumstances. Making rational decisions may mean better outcomes and, consequently, greater success for the team as a whole.


Having intelligence is a common trait in many great leaders. If you're intelligent, you may consider areas that others overlook and resolve issues that arise. This can allow the project to have a higher chance of progressing without any obstacles in the future. You can also share your knowledge and expertise with other team members to help them improve themselves. With a more skilled team, you can achieve more than your competitors may be able to.


A good leader is also a responsible person, and they deliver on what they promise. This enhances trust between the leader and the other staff members. Being responsible means keeping to deadlines, consistently delivering good quality work, providing your honest opinions and sharing your knowledge with others. You can learn to be more responsible by watching other great leaders take on responsibility when necessary.

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