Trait, Behavior, and Contingent Theories

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Theory Overview Leader Example Similarities/
  • Leaders possess specific inborn qualities.
  • Emergent traits: physical attractiveness and intelligence.
  • Effectiveness traits: self-confidence, persistence, charisma.
  • It does not matter “whether leadership traits were genetic or acquired” (Khan, Nawaz and Khan, 2016, p. 2).
  • The theory is limited because it focuses only on a small part of personal characteristics and ignores such aspects as experience or social skills (Salihu, 2019).
  • It is complicated to find a specific example because, according to this theory, every person, who has become a leader, has specific traits of qualities that makes him or her a leader.
  • For instance, one of the traits of leaders is charisma. Steve Jobsis known for being charismatic, being able to inspire people and make them follow him.
  • From the perspective of the trait theory of leadership, all of the leaders mentioned in this paper, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Mary Kay Ash, have a lot in common.
  • The main reason for this is that they have managed to create corporations and manage them successfully.
  • The difference is that all of them employ different techniques to lead their companies. However, this point is ignored by the trait theory.
Any organization could utilize this theory at all levels because this theory provides insights on the issue of which managers and leaders motivate average employees. For instance, if an executive realizes that he is not charismatic or lacks self-confidence, the theory will show him that the development of these features is necessary.
  • Success of a leader depends on his or her behavior.
  • The leader focuses on the accomplishment of tasks (Hunt and Fedynich, 2019).
  • The leader focuses on the maintenance of group cohesiveness (Hunt and Fedynich, 2019).
  • The leader motivates and controls team-members.
The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is widely believed to be a task-oriented leader who knows how to motivate people and promotes team vision (Chow, 2020; Gradinaru et al., 2020).
  • From the perspective of behavior theory, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have general features. More precisely, both set specific goals that need to be achieved and employed a wide range of rewards and punishments to keep employees productive and motivated.
  • Mary Kay Ash seems to be different from Bezos and Jobs because she put the well-being and comfort of her subordinates before achieving business goals.
Behavior theory could also be utilized at all levels of an organization. A leader could refer to this theory to comprehend how to treat employees, keep them productive, and encourage collaboration.
  • Each specific situation requires appropriate leadership style.
  • Effectiveness of leadership does not heavily depend on psychological traits of a leader.
  • Instead, a leader will be effective, if he or she rationally understands the situation and the personal traits and skills match the current circumstances (Vidal et al., 2017).
  • Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, could be regarded as an illustration of contingency theory of leadership.
  • She understood the primary values of her employees (women who distribute cosmetics) and promoted adherence to family values.
  • Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, as well as Mary Kay Ash, to some extent, were contingent leaders.
  • They based management of their companies considering specific circumstances, market peculiarities, and applicable technologies.
  • Nonetheless, none of them shifted their leadership style depending on the situation.
This theory seems to be the most useful at the level of managers. The central leaders of a company usually follow one leadership style; however, managers are more flexible. Hence, it is easier for them to choose a suitable leadership style depending on the peculiarities of specific projects that they should accomplish.


Trait, behavior, and contingent theories have both weak and strong sides. For example, the strong point of trait theory is that it categorizes the behavior of leaders. Still, the weak side is that it is simplistic and does not explain the causes of such behavior. Instead, the theory posits that a leader is born with all the necessary qualities and skills. Despite the criticism of this theory, it is impossible to claim that it is completely useless and irrelevant in the modern world. Not all people are willing to take responsibility and risks and motivate people to work hard and inspire them. Therefore, the leaders of organizations or even political leaders have some traits that help make people follow their will.

The best feature of the behavior theory of leadership is its assumption that the skills and qualities necessary for a leader could be gained through learning and experience. At the same time, there is a great difference between possessing knowledge of leading people and actually leading them. Still, this theory seems to be relevant for todays organizations. The modern world provides numerous opportunities to hone required skills and personality traits through workshops, online courses, and internships.

The significant advantage of the contingency theory is that, in contrast to the two previously described approaches, this one focuses on investigating a link between situations and the effectiveness of leaders. Therefore, adherence to this theory increases the probability that a person will choose some specific leadership style suitable to a particular case instead of applying the same model in every situation. The weak side of this theory is that it does not provide a clear explanation of whether there is any universal leadership theory that guarantees high results in the majority of situations. Even though this theory has a vast empirical base, it fails to describe all the situations in today’s organizations. For this reason, I suppose that contingency theory is less relevant to modern companies in comparison with the behavioral one.

I support the first two theories mentioned in this paper: trait and behavioral one. From my point of view, it is impossible to become an efficient leader if you do not possess some personal characteristics and skills. The truth is that most of the skills needed for a senior official can be acquired through practice and education. For example, one could learn how to encourage employees, motivate them, and establish efficient organizational communication and structure. Nonetheless, it is hard to acquire persistence, charisma, magnetism, and intelligence to make people want to obey you. My personal experience suggests that my skills and qualities reflect trait and behavioral theories of leadership. More precisely, it is easy for me to organize work in a team, people listen to me, and I am not afraid of responsibilities. However, despite the criticism of the contingency theory, I believe that it is helpful for every leader to know how to adapt to various situations and how to be flexible and switch between leadership styles instead of using one for all cases.


Chow, T. W. (2020). Leader versus manager: Lessons from top business executives. Annals of Management and Organization Research, 2(1), 53-65.

Gradinaru, C., Toma, S. G., Catana, S., & Andrisán, G. (2020). A view on transformational leadership: The case of Jeff Bezos. Manager, (31), 93-100.

Hunt, T., & Fedynich, L. (2019). Leadership: Past, present, and future: An evolution of an idea. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 8(2), 22-26. Web.

Khan, Z. A., Nawaz, A., & Khan, I. (2016). Leadership theories and styles: A literature review. Leadership, 16(1), 1-7.

Salihu, M. J. (2019). Conceptual analysis of the leadership theories and proposed leadership framework in higher education. Asian Journal of Education and Social Studies, 5(4), 1-6.

Vidal, G. G., Campdesuner, R. P., Rodriguez, A. S., & Vivar, R. M. (2017). Contingency theory to study leadership styles of small business owner-managers at Santo Domingo, Ecuador. International Journal of Engineering Business Management, 9, 1-11.

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PsychologyWriting. "Trait, Behavior, and Contingent Theories." January 22, 2023.