Traits and Functional Leadership Approaches


Leadership is the actual social influence process within an organization or in public, which increases others’ efforts towards attaining a goal. Numerous researches have been conducted to examine the relationships between the trait and functional leadership approaches. Most scholars in the U.S. and the world, in general, have developed an understanding that there is a critical relationship between the two aspects of leadership styles, the traits, and the functional approaches. Following the past research that was conducted, it motivated and prompted the urge to develop this research as it affects the productivity of business organizations and other workplace institutions globally. Leaders must embrace different control methods to ensure that the organization is efficient. There are multiple incidences that poor leadership skills have contributed to the employer-employee relationship deterioration, leading to the specific organization’s failure. Arguably, poor working relationship decreases the employees’ morale exponentially, making them perform their duties inadequately. This prompted the need to research the connection between these two leadership tactics and how they are impacting business organizations. Therefore, this research seeks to outline the critical and most significant traits that each management approach contains, hence presenting their association.

Like other major academic topics and activities, there is minimal understanding about the characteristics that should be possessed by an effective organization manager. Significantly, since the early study times on business, discussions on leadership have emerged. The oldest known book which discusses leadership in business is The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep, a treatise recognized to have been inscribed for Pharaoh Isesi’s lad of the fifth generation of the Egyptian dynasty (Irby, Abdelrahman, Lara‐Alecio, & Allen, 2020). The piece presented a general comprehension denoting how to be a convincing Pharaoh, which meant to become a good leader. Ultimately, the text gave a clear outline and guidance to Pharaoh’s son on how to control and manage multitudes and make them controllable.

Scholars have established ways to elucidate leadership, highlighting how organizations can select the most effective or ‘right’ person to perform different managerial duties. Fesler (2016) mentions that leadership styles have evolved over the centuries, whereby researchers are subsequently finding excellent behaviors and approaches that employers can embrace to enhance workplace effectiveness and organizational success. The methods include the traits approach, situational, functional, relational, and transformational methods. These approaches explain how leaders can embrace given skills to ensure that the employees down the hierarchy develop a sense of belonging; in that, the association and relationship between them and their masters are superb. The different leadership approaches impart leaders with the required knowledge and skills to facilitate employee effectiveness and comfortability in workplaces.

Denotatively, trait leadership is considered the first style of leadership. The approach seeks to present a series of personality, mental, and physical traits that leaders who are influential in different workplaces possess. In other words, it is only the excellent leaders who possess the trait approach to governance, hence differentiating them from ineffective leaders. Historically, the first critical and primary study to comprehend the trait leadership approach was pioneered by Stogdill Ralph in 1948 (Fesler, 2016). Traits and behavioral approaches are the most effective strategies that employers can embrace to enhance productivity. There are people that are born to be leaders naturally even without interaction with the environment and learning different skills. The method helps people comprehend their leadership abilities and subsequently gauge their individual standards. The trait approach gives aspiring leaders or organization management teams to hire competent executives that can thrive on the agenda and mission of the business organization effectively.

Focusing on the trait and functional leadership approaches is to develop a critical comprehension of the best approach and characteristics that organization leaders should demonstrate in the workplace. There are instances that leaders have shown flawed leadership approaches, which subsequently lead to low employees’ working morale, hence increasing the turnover rates. The study aims at imparting company executives and other individuals that intend to own businesses in the future knowledge regarding the best approaches that they can embrace, borrowing ideas from both tactics and illustrating them. Arguably, it is through excellent leadership skills that employees feel part of the organization, hence delivering quality duties. According to Dong, Liao, Chuang, Zhou, and Campbell (2015), outstanding leadership characteristics dictate the customer acceptability levels because they depend on the employees they relate directly. Therefore, leaders should understand and embrace different leadership approaches as a way of enhancing success in their organizations and areas of jurisdiction.

Literature Review

Organizations struggle to develop and compete favorably with others that have already embraced success. Arguably, the main difference between a success and a failing company is primarily the leadership approaches that the executives embrace. The growth of business organizations critically depends on how effectively an entity delivers its services to customers. Dependably, customer satisfaction is directly proportional to the actual level of employee satisfaction (Singh, Saufi, Tasnim & Hussin, 2017). In other words, a happy employee works with a lot of enthusiasm, making the customer happy and satisfied due to the top-notch products and services delivered. Various studies have been conducted under the leadership, presenting a deeper understanding and comparison between the trait and functional management slants. Arguably, understanding both strategies independently plays a paramount role in comparing these two critical approaches. Profit and non-profit organizations are involved in delivering various services to customers. Thus, the leadership method forms a tentative principle for the different organizations globally, making all stakeholders strive and thrive towards ensuring the best outcomes for both workforces and consumers.

As mentioned above, a leader’s main task in a functional leadership model is to ensure that the different group requirements are attained to achieve the overall organizational goal subsequently. The executives use diverse strategies to ensure the attainment of the group goal apart from achieving the larger company mission. According to Carter et al. (2020), the functional leadership style emphasizes the behaviors that can get things right as projected instead of assigning a formal leadership role. Needs prioritization is the first characteristic of the functional approach. The functional strategy comprehends that the three needs are a part of the building blocks in the functional leadership line. Heller (2018) opines that any organizational group has three primary needs: the need for the task, the team, and the necessity for individuals who comprise the team. Employers comprehend that when the needs mentioned above are achieved, it becomes easy for the organization to achieve its goals and equally ensure the organization’s subsequent progress.

Through Stogdill’s literature analysis, six primary characteristics categories are intrinsically associated with the trait leadership approach. Holistically, different researchers have developed different behaviors which they believe make an excellent leader. Stogdill believes that adaptability, assertiveness, adjustment, alertness, originality and creativity, diplomacy, emotional balance, dominance, enthusiasm, independence, extraversion, tough-mindedness, resourcefulness, a conviction of strength, and stress tolerance are the right characteristics that make a competent leader (Joseph, Dhanani, Shen, McHugh & McCord, 2015). The characteristics that leaders must have to ensure effective organization management include the social, task-related, personality, ability, intelligence, and intelligence background to ensure organization success (van der Linden et al., 2017). In addition, dominance, flexibility, emotional intelligence, integrity, high energy, drive, confidence, sustainability, and control locus, sensitivity to other people, and stability are the other traits that differentiate between a good and a depraved leader. In general, an individual with excellent social features can be an excellent leader as per the trait approach.

The functional governance strategy focuses on actions and is always result-oriented. The study depicts that in functional headship, getting tasks done is the main aim of the leader. According to Mendes (2017), the pioneering researchers studied functional leadership after critically analyzing successful leaders and their distinct leadership behaviors globally. Researchers authentically focused on identifying and comprehending the specific issues and the leaders’ actual practices that made them successful. The focus was put primarily on employers’ different actions as opposed to what they are or their inner behaviors. It does not matter what managers are in terms of their inner character; what matters is the external behavior, what they do, and how they relate with employees. A person can study a leader’s characteristics through observation and equally understanding how the individual converses with colleagues and other employees down the hierarchy. As Åkerlund (2016) mentions, the leadership duty is fluid, whereby he must adjust in different ways that are certain of making the group achieve the individual formulated goals. Therefore, what matters is the confidence of the leader that the group will achieve the individual objectives.

Significantly, the physical and outward expression of leaders dictates the effectiveness of the organization. According to Yaslioglu and Erden (2018), communication behaviors and abilities, including argumentativeness, verbal abilities, and communication excellence within diverse workforce groups, describe an outstanding leader, enhancing organization transformation. Argumentativeness is regarded as a stable trait in communication situations that predisposes people to champion opposing or controversial positions. The verbal aggressiveness denotes the interpersonal measure and model that ensures tasks are coordinated effectively (Limon et al., 2005). As Yaslioglu and Erden (2018) mention, excellent communication develops a critical and invisible impact on employee happiness and subsequent commitment. In contrast, other researchers have discovered that verbal aggression and abusive language lowers the morale of employees (Mathieu & Babiak, 2016). Mathieu & Babiak (2016) equally opine that the use of abusive language by the supervisor reduces the excellent relationship, leading to high turnover rates among the workers. Arguably, researchers have developed the same understanding that excellent leadership is equal to communication. Communication in the trait approach enhances knowledge sharing and equally excellent output among employees due to a high commitment level.

Clear comprehension of individual responsibilities makes the group achieve its goals in the functional approach. According to Bagdadli and Gianecchini (2019), every participant or member of the group understands the individual responsibilities they need to perform despite being within a cluster. Every worker understands how he can contribute to the attainment and efficacy of the set and goal attainment. Joseph et al. (2015) equally allude that individual group members have their unique role assigned by the leader or divided the task among themselves. Critically, having an understanding of the specific role that a team member plays aids in ensuring that despite the employees working as a group, they can not only achieve the goal but also embrace quality. Bagdadli and Gianecchini (2019) mention that when individuals work within a group, sometimes chances of recklessness are high, whereby employees are not committed since they know that the other will accomplish the duty. Finally, the work becomes shoddy, having low quality because of non-commitment, and not assigning individual roles. Therefore, the functional strategy advocates that the employees work effectively towards attaining the group’s goal through practical role assignments.

Discussion and Evaluation of the Approaches


As mentioned earlier, presenting an understanding of the relationship between the functional and trait approach. There are critical similarities and differences between these two leadership strategies. Throughout history, leadership theories have been debated regarding the composition or qualities of an excellent leader. Over decades now, different thought schools have developed diverse explanations about leaders’ origin and how they can equally be identified. Notably, trait and functional approaches are two essential strategies that answer this question of good leaders’ specific characteristics. These two approaches see leadership as a critical, objective set of actions and qualities that should be mastered. Arguably, it is worth noting that the ultimate difference between the trait and functional leadership approach is whether the behaviors are learned or innate.

Notably, the trait theory mentions that leader’s behaviors are inborn. According to Hartnell, Kinicki, Lambert, Fugate, and Corner (2016), leaders are born with excellent leadership skills. Leaders who embrace trait function are often born with the knowledge and skills to perform and conduct themselves differently. Hartnell et al. (2016) add that skills are in-born, hence qualifying the trait approach. For instance, aspects of diplomacy, tough-mindedness, and sociability skills, including extroversion, are skills that an individual is born with. It is inaccurate and unheard of to change an introvert to become an extrovert because the character is in the person’s genes. If an individual is talkative, they can integrate and interact with employees swiftly and efficiently, considering that they can embrace satisfaction among the employees. Every worker likes working in an environment where the employer talks, challenges, and engages them positively. The trait approach champions the idea that specific and unique personality differentiates leaders from followers.

The functional leadership characteristic mentions that leader traits are learned. In the functional approach, people have to learn how to coordinate groups and ensure significant goal achievement (Hartnell et al., 2016). In other words, the behavioral approach talks and sentiments about the inborn potential for leadership. Everything about good leadership is learned from other leaders that have embraced success and productivity in their respective fields. The theory stands with the opinion that there are no individuals born as natural leaders, but it is that they learn. Influential leaders are trained, and the essential traits of leaders must be taught and eventually nurtured. In the functional approach, anyone can become a great leader by having proper and adequate training and a learning environment to develop the necessary significant qualities. The behavioral strategy outlines diverse leadership styles, including the task-oriented leaders who chose to gather tea together and subsequently brainstorm ideas (Hartnell et al., 2016). Also, task-oriented leaders select the best employee to get a specific job done efficiently and quickly. Understandably, the functional approach is equal to dictatorship, whereby it is the boss who knows it all.

Furthermore, the other difference between the trait and functional leadership is that on the one hand, supervisors dictate what they want to be done in the trait model. On the other hand, leaders relax, learning from experience in the functional management technique. According to Hartnell et al. (2016), leaders in the attribute continuum believe that they know everything; hence their perspectives and opinions are the ones that can lead to effective goal attainment and subsequent effectiveness of the organization. Despite leaders in the trait approach having excellent skills that enhance effective human resource management, it does not allow employees to apply their unique skills since they follow what the manager tells them. Contrary, in the functional leadership style, leaders have the spirit of encouraging employees to work towards achieving a given objective. One should keep in mind that employers that exemplify the functional leadership style have benchmarked or even personally experienced how one can embrace success in an organization. Thus, the individuals tend to express that specific behavior that can lead to a projected outcome. Therefore, the trait and functional approaches are different in terms of the leader’s thinking and perspectives.


There are common grounds that both the trait and functional approaches meet. The ultimate commonality between these two strategies is that they both identify the actual actions that any leader must do in different given situations. According to Hartnell et al. (2016), behaviorism is regarded as a trait theory. It holds that leaders must exemplify and illustrate the different given habits of mind or personality markers. In both cases, leaders can have a random seat and agree on the same issue or give similar opinions. Both theories agree on the exact behaviors that a good leader can possess and others that are unethical, hence cannot possess. For instance, different leaders who reflect on the trait and functional approaches are brought to discuss a common theme; they can speak from the same perspective, considering that they have common experiences and knowledge. Moreover, there are unique characteristics that leaders must have in both cases, including honesty, cognitive abilities, and intelligence, to ensure success.

Additionally, in both the trait and behavioral approaches, individuals must learn how to act in different situations. As Hartnell et al. (2016) reiterate, it is impossible to develop desirable behaviors or leadership traits. Thus, considering both theories’ various weaknesses and strengths, leaders need to learn discerning how to conduct themselves in diverse situations to develop the best outcome. In other words, there are other issues that an individual who is considered to be an excellent leader cannot be born with them. For instance, a leader cannot be born with the skills and qualities of embracing technology. Presently, leaders live in a technological world whereby embracing technology, including computers, is essential in the workplace. Understandably, the trait approach signifies that leaders are instinctive with the aptitude to lead. Hitherto, one cannot be born with the ability to navigate through different organization websites and other internet platforms related to the organization. Thus, it is at this point that the traits approach rhymes with the behavioral strategy that advocates for an enabling environment for individuals to learn and become influential leaders in the future.

Besides, leaders in both the traits and functional approach make to be excellent and equal servants. According to Joseph et al. (2015), these nature and nurture leadership styles orient crucial society leaders. In the functional strategy, an individual learns different leadership aspects through, for example, bench-marking and imitation. As depicted earlier, leaders in the functional continuum learn from the surrounding environment and successful leaders” history in their specific profession, hence following the footprints. The development of cognitive skills acquisition commences within the environment whereby an individual stays. A person can also acquire these leadership skills by reading other literature regarding globally recognized leaders and embracing their lifestyle. Functional style leaders are not born with any idea regarding leadership, but they undergo many training sessions to sharpen their skills and become reputable leaders. As a result of the training or environmental learning, individuals become top-notch leaders, just like those in the traits approach with inborn talent and natural capabilities. Despite one individual being outgoing while the other being shy and quiet-spoken, they can make great leaders. Therefore, leaders in the traits and behavioral continuum can develop tremendous skills and knowledge, hence becoming perfect organizational leaders.


In summation, it is paramount to note that there are critical differences and similarities between the functional and trait approaches. Several researchers within the country and even globally have researched leadership strategies even now. Researchers and organization managers comprehend that a company cannot embrace success and future prosperity without excellent skills. The trait approach pledges that individuals are born with leadership skills. The behavioral strategy leans to the idea that individuals are born with an empty slate and learn everything through interaction with the environment. However, despite individuals being born with different leadership knowledge, they must learn different techniques, including the use of technology and other things evolving in the present world that are not genetic. Above all, leaders need to learn and develop paramount leadership approaches, that is, for those that do not have the traits strategy, which is in-born.


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