The Trait Approach
The trait approach to leadership remains one of the earliest theories ever conceived. Primarily, the trait approach to leadership focuses on personal attributes, also known as traits born by leaders (Benmira & Agboola, 2021). These traits can be personality, physical characteristics, or qualities.
Values and competencies remain considered as personal attributes associated with trait theory. Moreover, the trait approach views leadership from an individual leader’s perspective and is based on the assumption that these leadership traits produce behaviors consistent across various settings and situations. Therefore, leadership traits remain considered as consistent characteristics that an individual is born with and remain stable over time.
A leader’s traits are essential for an organization’s or an individual’s leadership success. In this regard, successful leaders rely on certain intrinsic qualities and characteristics different from other less effective leaders. Furthermore, this essay analyses the trait approach to leadership based on a case involving Elon Musk, an investor and business magnate, the founder and CEO of Space X. Consequently, Elon Musk holds various leadership positions at many other successful corporations in the United States, including Tesla, the Boring Company, Twitter, Neuralink, and OpenAI (The Trait Approach).
Elon Musk shows cognitive ability as the most overt leadership trait. Although cognitive ability is not the ultimate predictor of leadership success, studies have shown that higher cognitive ability is associated with leadership accomplishments among leaders (Bergner, 2020). The positive relationship between cognitive ability and leadership success suggests that innovative leaders in a given line of business will likely do better than others (The Trait Approach).
For instance, higher cognition is associated with essential leadership skills and competencies such as problem-solving, creative thinking, wisdom, and forecasting, which are vital to leadership success (Mumford et al., 2017). Musk had shown higher cognitive ability, venturing into technology at only 12 years, when he created and sold his first product, a video game known as Blaster.
Moreover, Musk remains involved in the engineering and design of electric cars, founded X.com, Zip2, and Space X, and started the boring company. Furthermore, these involvements are no mean achievement, considering the cognitive ability required to be involved. Consequently, His innovations have seen him design and engineer space rockets that successfully launched into space and landed back on Earth (The Trait Approach).
With these feats, it is easy to say that cognitive ability has been crucial in propelling Musk to greater heights and consequent achievements. Musk also founded X.com, which provided financial services and sold for a whopping $1.5 billion. Consequently, having attained the billion stature, Musk did not stop as he founded Space X. More so, for commercial space travel intention and Tesla to produce electronic cars and business niches. Moreover, that have attracted investors, and various contracts worth billions of dollars from NASA and other satellite companies.
One of the critical traits of a leader is the desire to achieve. The increased effort, ambitions, and imitativeness characterize the desire to succeed. Moreover, achievement drive reflects inherent professional and personal standards. Furthermore, and a determination to meet or improve excellence standards or even higher relating to a leader’s position. Consequently, Renko (2017) argues that a leader’s role is to drive or influence subordinates to achieve specific goals in business settings. Other studies have also shown that intrinsic achievement drive is central to motivating subordinates by supporting them, cultivating perseverance, and facilitating their creativity (Campos et al., 2020) (The Trait Approach).
Through his leadership, Elon Musk has shown an achievement drive, moving to Canada for university studies at only 17 years of age and moving to the United States to pursue a further university education, eventually graduating with physics and economics degrees. Furthermore, Elon desired to achieve this by dropping out of his Ph.D. program to launch his first company, known as Zip2, with his brother, Kambal.
Musk’s early developments remain clear indications of an individual determined to achieve. Consequently, remains proven by his involvement in various other companies and projects in which he remained ambitious and put more effort into achieving (The Trait Approach).
Honesty and Integrity
Irrespective of the kind of leadership, honesty, and integrity are central to leadership success. Moreover, Integrity and honesty are indispensable leadership qualities (Karthikeyan et al., 2017). Honesty and integrity demonstrate uprightness, moral principles, truthfulness, and exactitude of a leader’s actions. Every stakeholder would want to be associated with an honest leader considering the benefits they stand to gain from such a leader (The Trait Approach).
For instance, investors are assured of a better investment return, while employees are assured of a positive work environment or remunerations based on their input. While the present occurrences would depict Musk as having no integrity, his previous actions indicate a man who is not afraid to speak the truth about his companies and beyond. His stance has seen more investors stick to his companies despite the controversies. The success of Musk’s companies is credited to the unified philosophy associated with the flat organizational structure.
Honesty and integrity are equally associated with positive relationships in an organization. A meta-analytical study by Karthikeyan et al. (2017) showed that trust in a leader and integrity are closely related and define positive organizational relationships. Integrity is considered a top attribute that great leaders embody and represents consistency in their actions, leadership values and principles, expectations for their subordinates, leadership methods, and outcomes (The Trait Approach).
Significantly, integrity as a trait allows leaders to develop a deep commitment to doing everything right and for the right reasons. Musk exemplifies honesty and integrity in most of his actions, as demonstrated by one of his engineers who acknowledged Tesla’s working environment’s incredible status and connectedness (Northouse, 2021). With inherent honesty and integrity, inborn leaders allow every stakeholder to be vested in an organization which explains the ongoing support and positive image companies related to Musk have.
Leadership motivation is crucial for achieving specific impacts as a leader. According to Campos et al. (2020), motivating subordinates is related to attaining organizational impact through common objectives, perseverance, and problem-solving. Conversely, leadership inspires others to achieve joint function and accomplish great things. In this regard, motivation lead is a significant trait and a construct that determines a leader’s decision-making related to training, roles, responsibilities, and consequent efforts that leaders put in to lead others and remain persistent in their actions (The Trait Approach).
Musk demonstrates an intense desire to lead others to achieve shared organizational goals. For instance, having faced challenges with Tesla Motors and about four years behind its Model 3 production, Musk had to get involved, restructure the organization, and take over as the engineering lead. This followed public scrutiny from industry analysts and investors. Musk’s actions demonstrated his motivation to lead from the front, following the failure of the company to meet deadlines and lead his team in overseeing the engineering division.
Terming his move as divide and conquer, Musk was successful in leading Tesla from the front and consequently meeting the company goals and rolling additional goals, including the production of Model X SUVs and Model S sedans. These actions demonstrate Musk’s innate desire to lead others to achieve collective goals (The Trait Approach).
According to Vilkinas et al. (2020), motivation to lead others influences leadership efficacy, and leaders display their behaviors, allowing subordinates to learn from them. Significantly, motivation to lead enables leaders to identify whether they enjoy leading others, increase their selfless obligation, and personal benefits associated with the desire to lead. Therefore, leadership motivation as a leadership train has been critical in Musk’s entrepreneurial success (The Trait Approach).
Self-confidence is a significant leadership trait associated with successful leadership outcomes. Axelrod (2017) argues that self-confidence is vital in risk-taking behavior and the accomplishment of high goals among leaders. Self-confident leaders are usually proactive and deal with issues and conflicts directly and immediately. Must have demonstrated self-confidence in most situations, particularly when Space X and Tesla faced considerable challenges, leading to the loss of investor confidence (The Trait Approach).
Although the prolific Twitter CEO nearly ran out of capital following failed space launches, he exuded self-confidence and persistently pursued the possibility of a successful launch. Equally, Musk pursued the development of Tesla despite losing a lot of money and investor confidence. These challenges mimicked those he faced as a kid; being bullied made him learn karate to defend himself. Equally, Musk pursued innovation with Tesla and Space X, accomplishing various achievements in the end. A high level of self-confidence was vital in shaping Musk’s leadership, allowing him to influence his collaborators and subordinates even when things were not going right (The Trait Approach).
Knowledge of Business
Lastly, business knowledge is a key leadership trait crucial in propelling leaders to success, particularly in the entrepreneurial field. Besides his cognitive ability, Musk has demonstrated acumen in business knowledge throughout his career. In all his interventions, Musk’s target is financial return, which is evident, having developed and sold Zip2 to provide website content for the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, which was later sold for about $300 million. According to Sonmez & and Adiguzel (2020), knowledge is crucial for a firm’s success as knowledge is crucial in determining solutions. Sharing this knowledge enhances farm competitiveness (The Trait Approach).
Leadership traits are crucial for leadership success. Musk has shown most of the leadership traits which has seen him rise as a prolific business leader in technological advancements. These traits include leadership motivation, business knowledge, self-confidence, cognitive capacity, achievement drive, and honesty and integrity. These traits are inborn and have been shown to propel leaders to success (The Trait Approach).
Axelrod, R. H. (2017). Leadership and self-confidence. In Leadership Today (pp. 297-313). Springer, Cham. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31036-7_17
Benmira, S., & Agboola, M. (2021). Evolution of leadership theory. BMJ Leader, leader-2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/leader-2020-000296
Bergner, S. (2020). Being smart is not enough: personality traits and vocational interests incrementally predict leaders’ and entrepreneurs’ intentions, status, and success beyond cognitive ability. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 204. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00204
Campos, J. A., Aubert, A., Guo, M., & Joanpere, M. (2020). Improved leadership skills and aptitudes in an excellence EMBA program: creating synergies with dialogic leadership to achieve social impact. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 17. https://doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2020.00017
Karthikeyan, C. (2017). A meta-analytical study on leadership integrity: a leadership ethics perspective. International Journal of Management, IT & Engineering, 7(4). http://www.ijmra.us
Mumford, M. D., Todd, E. M., Higgs, C., & McIntosh, T. (2017). Cognitive skills and leadership performance: The nine critical skills. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(1), 24-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2016.10.012
Northouse, P. G. (2021). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage publications.
Renko, M. (2017). Entrepreneurial leadership. Forthcoming in” Nature of Leadership,” 3rd edition. Edited by David V. Day and John Antonakis. SAGE Publications. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2977744
Sonmez Cakir, F., & Adiguzel, Z. (2020). Analysis of leader effectiveness in organization and knowledge sharing behavior on employees and organization. Sage Open, 10(1), 2158244020914634. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244020914634
Vilkinas, T., Murray, D. W., & Chua, S. M. Y. (2020). Effective leadership: Considering the confluence of the leader’s motivations, behaviors, and their reflective ability. Leadership & Organization Development Journal. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-12-2018-0435