Trait Leadership Definitions / Descriptions Essay

Pages: 7 (2386 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Leadership


On page 4 of his Mother Jones article Dowie points out that of all of Iacocca's objectives (price, fuel consumption, performance, comfort, appearance… et al.); safety was not one of them. "Safety doesn't sell," Iacocca was heard saying in many contexts, according to Dowie.

From this description of Iacocca's intensity and drive, one can certainly say that he had determination. His office in fact lobbied against federal safety guidelines for eight years, guidelines that would have forced the Pinto to be fixed, Dowie explains. Determination is the desire "to get the job done," according to Northouse on page 25. People with determination are "willing to assert themselves" and they have "…the capacity to persevere in the face of obstacles," Northouse writes, and there is no doubt that determination to get the Pinto into showrooms and on American roads was an obsession of Iacocca.

Incidentally, Northouse uses Lance Armstrong as an example of personalities that have determination; Armstrong battled through cancer and won 7 times at the Tour de France. However, it turns out that Armstrong also lacked integrity because all signs point to the fact that he has been discredited by revelations that he used performance-enhancing substances to win.

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The concept of integrity entails "honesty and trustworthiness," Northouse explains. A leader with integrity is "loyal, dependable, and not deceptive… and worthy of our trust." In hindsight, Iacocca was not worthy of our trust. Mother Jones writer Dowie claims that "By conservative estimates Pinto crashes have caused 500 burn deaths to people who would not have been seriously injured if the car had not burst into flames" (p. 2). If the families of those 500 people who burned to death were asked if they thought Iacocca had integrity, it is doubtful any of them would say that he was an example of integrity.

Essay on Trait Leadership Definitions / Descriptions Assignment

Next on Northouse's list of qualities that reflect trait leadership is sociability. The author writes that social leaders have good "interpersonal skills and create cooperative relationships with their followers" (26). Iacocca certainly had social skills -- it would be hard to imagine a business leader rising up as high as he did without those kinds of skills. But according to the investigative pieces on the Pinto issue, Iacocca was ruthless in his demands that everything be done on schedule without debate and with all due haste. So there is a question as to his real social skills and how that played out at the Ford Motor Company.

Meanwhile an article in the Harvard Business Review points out that many times a company will make unethical decisions but top executives in that company do not see their decisions as unethical. In the Ford Pinto matter, engineers had discovered the danger of ruptured fuel tanks "…but the assembly line was ready to go, and the company's leaders decided to proceed" (Bazerman, et al., 2011). "Many saw the decision as evidence of the callousness, greed, and mendacity of Ford's leaders -- in short, their deep unethicality" (Bazerman, p. 1).

But if seen through the prism -- in terms of how "cognitive biases distort ethical decision making" -- a different conclusion might be reached, Bazerman continues. In this case Ford's executives (who presumably were pushed by Iacocca) "…thought of [their decision] as purely a business decision rather than an ethical one" (Bazerman, p. 1). The very fact that they made a "formal cost-benefit analysis -- putting dollar amounts on a redesign, potential lawsuits, and even lives" -- brought the issue down from a potential ethical one to merely a business issue.

"A host of psychological and organizational factors diverted the Ford executives' attention from the ethical dimensions of the problem," Bazerman asserts.

In conclusion, Northouse lists the advantages of seeing leadership from the trait approach. It is "intuitively appealing," he writes, because it "fits clearly into the popular idea that leaders are special people who are out front, leading the way in society" (40). Also, the trait approach has provided some "benchmarks against which individuals can evaluate their own personal leadership attributes." But there is a negative side, Northouse continues; the trait approach has "failed to provide a definitive list of leadership traits"; it has not "taken into account the impact of situations." And the impact of Iacocca's unethical situation is an example of the potential flaw in giving a great leader credit for following the trait leader theory. Ethics must come into play, whether it is Iacocca getting his Pinto out in time to compete with Volkswagen or Lance Armstrong using illegal substances to push him over the top in the Tour de France.


Bazerman, Max H., and Tenbrunsel, Ann E. 2011. 'Ethical Breakdowns,' Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from

Dowie, Mark. 1977. 'Pinto Madness,' Mother Jones. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from

Gioia, Dennis A. 1994. 'Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics: A Script Analysis of Missed Opportunities', in The Ford Pinto Case: A Study in Applied Ethics, Business, and Technology, D. Birch and J. Fielder, Eds. State University of New York: Albany, NY.

Leggett, Christopher. 1999. 'The Ford Pinto Case: The Valuation of Life As It Applies To The Negligence-Efficiency Argument,' Retrieved January 10, 2013,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Trait Leadership Definitions / Descriptions.  (2013, January 10).  Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

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"Trait Leadership Definitions / Descriptions."  10 January 2013.  Web.  28 February 2021. <>.

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"Trait Leadership Definitions / Descriptions."  January 10, 2013.  Accessed February 28, 2021.