The question of whether leadership is a behavior, trait, or skill persists because leaders typically differ from followers in those three aspects. They practice certain behaviors that are significantly supported by their distinct traits and skills. It can become more intricate because there is a clear relationship between the three. However, if I should rank the significance, I think leadership is more of a behavior, and closely followed by trait and skill.

Based on various research, Beeler (2010) summarized broad categories of behaviors: consideration, initiating structure, participation, and change-oriented behaviors. Consideration involves how a leader shows care and concern for the well-being of subordinates. Initiating structure involves how a leader initiates the planning and organizing of a group or an organization. Participation refers to how a leader involves subordinates in decision-making and delegating managerial tasks, while change-oriented behaviors involve how a leader encourages and facilitates change in the organization.

The trait theory did not use any assumptions about whether leadership traits were inherited or acquired, instead, it simply asserted that the characteristics of the leaders are different from those of the followers (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991). However, later on, trait theorists also suggested that leadership traits can be developed and trained through experience and learning (Kinicki & Fugate, 2017). This is how behavior, trait, and skill are closely intercorrelated.

In the article, Germain (2008) asserted that personality traits are associated with being an effective leader. I can say that, at least empirically, this is true. Kirkpatrick & Locke (1991) analyzed that leaders have distinct traits compared to followers: drive, the desire to lead, honesty and integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and knowledge. Drive and desire to lead greatly support the leaders’ behavior of initiating structure, while honesty, integrity, and self-confidence will greatly assist the leaders’ when they show consideration behavior. Cognitive ability and knowledge are closely related to skill, but both also facilitate leaders when they show initiating-structure behavior and change-oriented behavior.

Weiss and Shanteau (2003) further asserted that it is the behavior that is or is not expert. So, aside from the traits, behavior is also deeply connected with skill. Effective leaders connect the three aspects to enhance their leadership practices, such as influencing and inspiring others. This is how transformational leadership gained popularity in the past few decades.

I think the research development from the past fifty years that best explains my evaluation is the transformational leadership theory from Bernard M. Bass (1985), stating that transformational leaders practice four aspects: individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence. The theory connects the behavior, traits, and skill into the combinations that depict contemporary leaders.


Beeler, C. K. (2010). Leader traits, skills, and behaviors. In M. D. Mumford (Ed.), Leadership 101 (pp. 87–114). Springer Publishing Co.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Germain, M-L. (2008, February 20 - 24). Traits and skills theories as the Nexus between leadership and expertise: Reality or fallacy?  [Paper presentation]. Academy of Human Resource Development International Research Conference in the Americas (Panama City, FL, Feb 20-24, 2008).

Kinicki, A., & Fugate, M. (2017). Loose Leaf for Organizational Behavior: A Practical, Problem-Solving Approach (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Kirkpatick, S. A., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Leadership: do traits matter? Academy of Management Perspectives, 5(2), 48–60.

Weiss, D. J., & Shanteau, J. (2003). Empirical Assessment of Expertise. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 45(1), 104–116.

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