Trait and Transformational Leadership


All institutions run their activities under the direction ofindividuals who ensure that all the activities align with the setobjectives. Leadership is imperative in giving direction to theworkers or other subjects who work towards a given goal. The choosingof a leader is a rigorous process that aims at selecting the mostqualified individual who can deliver and organizations goal. Whilesome people believe that anybody can be groomed into a leader, othersbelieve that there are personal and inherent traits that make somepeople competent leaders than others. Scholars have also developedmodels to portray the different types of leaders in differentinstitutions. The varied characteristics of leadership styles fit indifferent situations. The trait and transformational leadershiptheories are some of the commonly used in different institutions.They have several similarities and differences, and a closecomparison between them can help in placing them in the best contextsto give the best results.

Trait leadership makes the assumption that people are born withcertain traits that predispose them as leaders. While people harbordifferent traits, the theory is particular that not all the traitsare favorable for leadership (Meason, 2015). Those who make goodleaders have the right combination of traits. The conventionknowledge based on the psychological focus put a lot of focus ondiscovering the inherited traits. Cording to the professors of thistheory, leadership is, therefore, a domain of the few who exhibitthese desirable combinations.

Meason (2015) identified various traits that are favorable forleadership. They include adapting to various situations with ease andbeing alert to the social environment. Trait leadership also requiresambitious individuals, assertiveness, and cooperation. Dominance andthe desire to influence coupled with energy and persistent also propsthe trait leadership. Stogdill also asserts that those who are bornwith the willingness to assume responsibility and have inherentself-confidence are fit to be leaders (Meason, 2015).

The transformational approach to leadership involves a leader workingwith employees and others under his authority identify the changesneeded in the workplace and create a vision for the desired change(Vernon, 2015). The transformational leader executes the tandem ofchange with the willing members of a group. Transformation is basedon the need to motivate, create morale and improve the jobperformance by using a different mechanism that applies din specificworkplaces. The workers and the leader working liaison and theleaders act as the role models who raise the interest of the workersand challenge them to take ownership in the activities of theworkplace (Vernon, 2015). The leader identifies their strengths andweaknesses and the collaboration that they strike helps in assigningspecific individuals to various activities. The result is improvedperformance and ownership of the responsibilities.

The two theories show various contrasts and similarities that can bedrawn from their objectives. First, Northouse (2015) recognizestransformational leadership as being objective in influencing othersto see things in a given way. For example in a work environment, aleader influences the employees to understand the objectives of thebusiness and share in the vision. Vernon (2015) also share similarsentiments and articulates that transformational leaders must have asignificant level of control and ability to influence. Therole-modeling embedded in the theory of transformational leadershiprequires a significant level of control, either inherent or acquired.Working under an influential leader may make one learn several traitsthat are instrumental in changing the way people think and behave.

Comparing this to the trait leadership, the inborn characteristicsof a leader that predispose him/her to give directions in a givensituation must include the ability to influence people’s minds.Zaccaro (2007) provides that one of the identified traits of leaderswho apply the trait approach influence their subjects to follow themthrough dominance and control. The two theories, therefore, show asignificant similarity in the way leaders influence followers towardsa given direction. The only difference is the source of thisinfluence. Northouse (2004) details transformational leaders canlearn this form of influence by working with others whose ability toinfluence is well-developed and effective. As they continue executingtheir duties, they understand the strengths and weaknesses of theirfollowers and become easy to forge a process of effectivelyinfluencing them. Conversely, trait leaders are born with the traitof dominance and control. While giving direction to their followers,leaders with these traits use the inborn level of control. Hong &ampKaiser (2005) agree that there is no defined form of achieving goalsin an organization. As long as the ethical considerations are inplace, leaders can be dynamic and use a set of approaches. Thesimilar characteristics observed in both transformational and traitleadership approaches confirms their findings.

Also, the two theories have similarities in the approaches thatleaders influence their followers. For leaders to influence theirworkers positively, they must understand the work at hand, theworkers capabilities and the influence of environmental factors. Organ et al. (2006) articulate that leaders are born with traits thatenable them to understand the environment surrounding the workplaceand their effects on the conceived task. Their inborn trait of beingsensitive to the environment enables them to understand the effectsof different decisions on the workers. Conversely, Organ et al.(2006) agree that transformational leaders involve their followers toforge the best path towards success. They learn together and identifythe barriers in their environment. Although the leader may beoblivious of such factors, at first, they gradually learn and adapttheir group to the environment. The only different in between the twoforms of leadership in adapting to the environment is that traitleader naturally possesses the attribute while transformationalleaders learn. The result of the forms of leadership is a workforcethat is receptive to change. For example, in a military setting, thecommanders look for naturally appearing leaders to head differentunits. Although their codes are absolute, the leader directs hisgroup by exploiting the natural capabilities of understandingdifferent environments. In another more contemporary businesssetting, a leader may involve the workers in understanding thefactors in their environment. Both groups achieve their mandate byunderstanding their environments either through other leaders or bylearning together as a group.

However, there is a difference in the two approaches exhibited by theconsistency of leader’s success under different conditions. According to Bennis and Nannus (2007) leaders perceived to haveinborn characteristics may be very effective in one setting by showdevastating results when subjected to another situation. The authorsgive an example of leaders in the history of politics includingAbraham Lincoln, Barrack Obama, and Mahatma Gandhi among other. Theauthors point out that it is not certain that these leaders couldrecord definite success when exposed to a different leadershipposition that does not involve any politics. Zaccaro (2007) alsoshare similar sentiments with Bennis and Nannus (2007) that whiletrait-based leadership has been a favorite for in the last onedecade, it has shed light on the nature of leaders. They aredifferent from the non-leaders. The stable personality variables andcharacteristics as enshrined in the trait theory are often inflexibleand unchangeable. The authors also indicate if the traits wereapplicable in any situation, it could therefore easy to recognize anappoint leaders from the masses without subjecting them to a rigorousselection process. It would be easy to predict their leadershipeffectiveness.

On the other hand, transformational leaders enter the scene aslearners. Although they may have some inborn characteristics thatmake them stand out from the rest, these traits are not dominant.Learning together with their followers polishes their understandingof the different environments, and they find it easy to adopt andgive direction. Also, transformational leadership aims at influencingothers positively by making them leaders, leadership in this approachis more likely to exhibit success in most of their engagements.However, the time taken to adjust lengthens the time that elapsesbefore they can show desirable fruits. Bass &amp Riggio (2006)conclude that the inspirational motivation the transformationalleaders pass to their follower`s shifts the burden to those undertheir authority, and they can trigger the ownership of responsibilityin any given situation.

Finally, another primary difference in trait and transformationalleadership lies in the process of influence. Leadership withperceived traits enters the scene knowing exactly what to do. A goodexample is the military unit leader. When recruits are placed underthe leadership of a born leader, he gives ultimate directions. Thefollowers adjust to this form of leadership gradually beforeachieving optimal performance (Daft, 2014). Conversely,transformational leaders start by creating trust and commitment ofthe followers to their course. The leader introduces not only theobjectives of an organization but also the influences them to own andimplement them. This sharp contrast antagonizes the two approaches.While followers in a born-leader struggle to adjust to the goals andresponsibilities, those being led by a transformational leadershipunderstands them before implementing them.

In conclusion, leadership is imperative in any organization, andthere are different approaches that leaders use to achieve theenvisioned goals of their institutions. Transformational traitleadership approaches are some o the commonly used. Although theyhave differences, they also have similar characteristics. Bothtransformational and born leaders possess a significant level ofcontrol to give direction to their followers (Daft, 2014). Also, theyboth involve understanding the work environment before makingimportant decisions. However, while the trait approach perceivesleads to having an inherent characteristic of understanding theirenvironment, transformational leaders learn together with theirfollowers. They also differ in the process whereby transformationalleaders trigger ownership first before achieving the goals whiletrait leadership gives direction the followers adjust gradually to anew setting. However, it is notable that leaders may exploit morethan the approach in any given situation depending on the prevailingfactors.


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Bennis, W. G., &ampNanus, B. (2003). Leaders: Strategies for taking charge. NewYork, NY: Harper Business Essentials.

Harms, P. D., &ampCredé, M. (2010). Emotional intelligence and transformational andtransactional leadership: A meta-analysis. Journal of Leadership &ampOrganizational Studies, 17(1), 5-17.

Hogan, R., &ampKaiser, R. B. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review ofgeneral psychology, 9(2), 169.

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Northouse,P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice. New York. N.Y.:Sage publications.

Podsakoff, P. M.,MacKenzie, S. B., &amp Organ, D. W. (2006). Organizationalcitizenship behavior: Its nature, antecedents, and consequences.

Vernon, A. (2015, 27Aug). Developing the 3 habits of transformational leaders. The Forbesmagazine. Retrieved on 11 April 2016 from

Zaccaro, S. J.(2007). Trait-based perspectives of leadership. AmericanPsychologist, 62(1), 6-21.