What Is Traditional Leadership? Characteristics, Examples

Though the modern-day world has evolved different leadership concepts and broadened its scope, traditional leadership is still prevalent in most institutions worldwide.

Traditional leadership is based on the traditional method of appointing leaders from the top-down bureaucracy of the institutions without consulting its members.

The traditional type of leadership believes that leaders are born, not made. Individuals with certain god-gifted qualities take the position and lead the team or an institution.

Traditional leaders possess qualities like influencing a group of people or an institution, setting goals and objectives for their group, and shaping the course of actions to achieve them.

Traditional leaders have the ability and power to make decisions on behalf of their organization. Today, in most fields, political institutions, the corporate sector, religious institutions, and even families follow the traditional method of leadership.

Theories of Traditional Leadership

Traditional leadership theories are classified into three main categories, which contain different ideas of traditional leadership. They are:

  • Trait
  • Behavioral
  • Situational

Trait Leadership

Trait theory is based on the belief that leaders are born, not made. This mostly relies on the leader’s interest rather than that of members. It focuses on the leader’s characteristics, such as intelligence, charisma, and perseverance. This theory further propels five main concepts of traditional leadership. They are

  • Autocratic
  • Democratic
  • Laissez-faire
  • Charismatic
  • Bureaucratic


The idea of autocratic leadership is very rigid in controlling the organization and making decisions. The leaders make the final choices without consulting anybody. They do not consider the opinions of their group members.


In this school of thought, the people have the right to appoint their leader through democratic methods and participate in the decision-making process. But the ultimate power and authority rest in the hands of the leader


This leadership theory is inspired by an economic term called Laissez-faire which refers to a policy of minimal government interference in the economic affairs of individuals and society.

In the context of leadership, it emphasizes the leader’s trust in employees. The leaders do not interfere and involve too much in the group’s activity; rather, they let their employees decide their course of action.


Leaders of a charismatic nature influence their group members through their communication skills, intelligence, perseverance, and expertise in the field. However, traditional leaders possess abilities to connect deeply with their employees.


Bureaucratic leadership is based on the hierarchical nature of leadership where the organizational bureaucracy sets rules and regulations for employees, which everyone must follow. The organization, here, functions solely through the top-down hierarchy.

Behavioral Leadership

The proponents of the theory of behavioral leadership believed that leadership depends on the behavior of the leaders, not on ideas, theories, or certain structures. The leaders have the authority to choose what sort of leadership is best suitable for their organizations and the goals associated with them.

This theory focuses on the leader’s behavior and inspires everybody to follow the same behavior to achieve success. This idea is very helpful in case a sound leader comes and takes control. If the leader is not good, he will take the group in the wrong direction. That’s why assessing the leader’s skills and abilities is important before implementing this type of leadership.

Situational Leadership

This theory brings out the idea that the method of leadership and course of action of the leaders depends on the organization’s situation. The leadership style is different for stable circumstances, and the style of leadership is different for difficult circumstances.

While implementing this approach, the organizations must ensure whether or not the leader can think creatively and take the group out of the crisis when the situation demands it.

Styles of Traditional Leadership

Traditional leadership is based on the leaders’ terms, not on the employees. The leader sets the rules and regulations and makes important decisions for the group. Though the fundamental principle of traditional leadership is based on this idea, it is again divided into four different styles. They are:

  • Autocratic Style
  • Paternalistic Style
  • Consultative Style
  • Delegating Style

Autocratic Leadership Style:

In autocratic leadership, the leaders make important decisions, set short-term goals, and direct their employees according to the interest of their organizations.

The employees do not enjoy the right to make choices and do not play a much role in the decision-making process. They follow the directions coming from the leader and the top-down bureaucracy.

Paternalistic Style of Leadership

The paternalistic leadership style refers to an approach where the leaders act as the protectors of their employees and the vision of their organizations.

People see them as persons who are caring towards their employees as well as controlling them. This develops mutual trust between the leaders and the employees.

The leader is the one who makes the final decision, but everybody’s opinion seems to be entertained and valued. This increases the loyalty among the employees towards their leaders and organizational missions.

Consultative Leadership Style

Consultative leadership is similar to the paternalistic approach, where the leader considers and takes ideas from all members, but it is more focused on gathering different perspectives.

This method is used to make the decision-making process more dynamic and diverse. Leaders make decisions through different dimensions when they listen to their peers.

Delegating Leadership Style

By delegating leadership methods, the employees take ownership of their actions and make choices themselves.

But, as this is a traditional leadership style, the leaders act as the source and guidance for their employees. The employees are free to move forward with their choices in light of certain directions and instructions from their leaders.

How Traditional Leadership Functions?

There are different steps and processes involved in the functioning of an organization in the shade of traditional leadership. Let’s discuss some important steps a leader should not miss.

  • First of all, leaders identify the ultimate goals of their organizations
  • The leaders make short-term goals and targets to achieve their bigger objectives.
  • The leaders decide the course of action and process to accomplish their goals.
  • The leaders give directions and guidance to their subordinates to ensure they are going well in pursuing their goals.
  • The leaders communicate clearly in the organization to recognize people’s problems.
  • The leaders make important decisions and resolutions to solve the problems considering everybody’s opinions among their subordinates.
  • The leaders and employees altogether strive for the sake of achieving the ultimate vision of the organization and give credit to one another.

Examples of Traditional Leadership

Though traditional methods have been adopted by all types of institutions like political institutions, industries, religious institutions, and government institutions, many political leaders have set examples of traditional leadership that are very popular worldwide.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte is a popular political, military, and traditional leader in European politics. He seized power in France in 1977 and laid the foundation stone of the French Empire. He was a traditional leader who brought a positive change in France and handled many crises. We can consider it a major example of traditional leadership.

George Washington

George Washington, the very first president of the United States, is another best example of a traditional leader. He took over charge as the country’s leader right after its formation.

His moral and ethical sense, patience, attention to detail, and sense of responsibility made him a charismatic leader. His persuasive, integral, and persistent nature made him a great traditional leader.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed power during the time of the great depression in the country. Due to so many crises in the country, he had to shoulder many responsibilities.

He introduced brand new plans and strategies to revive the country’s economy. He managed the situation through his confidence and authority, turning the country’s economic scene. This is a good illustration of traditional leadership.

Adolf Hitler

Traditional leaders possess a great quality of influencing people positively or negatively.

Though Adolf Hitler established his authority over people for a wrong cause and intention, it can be said to be an example of traditional leadership, which influenced millions through specific leadership qualities.

Characteristics of Traditional Leadership

The characteristics of a traditional leader are the same as other types of leaders. But they have more power and authority, which is visible in their actions and behavior. Let’s look at some most important characteristics.

List Of Characteristics Of Traditional Leadership

  • Self-confidence
  • Ability to handle pressure
  • Being decisive
  • Having a vision for future
  • Self-awareness
  • Sense of responsibility
  • High expectation
  • Ability to influence
  • Communication
  • Loyalty
  • Will power


Traditional leaders do not share the decision-making process with their subordinates. They make the decisions alone.

Besides, the team depends on the leader to carry out the functions. Therefore, a traditional leader requires a firm confidence built upon the knowledge and experience to handle the affairs.

Ability to Handle Pressure

Leaders are the ones who are calmer, more active, and more vibrant than their subordinates. They should have the ability to handle stress and depression in difficult circumstances.

They should not get angry or frustrated when the stakes are very high. The leaders should pick up the situation quickly and take the team out of the crisis.

Being Decisive

Leaders can make quick decisions in emergencies. The leaders are farsighted and consider the bigger. They realize the problems even before they arise.

They possess excellent problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Having a Vision for the Future

The leaders identify or set up visions and missions for their organizations. When they have goals to follow and believe in those goals, they put effort and struggle for their success on the right path.


The leaders possess the quality of self-awareness. They know their strengths and weaknesses in performing and leading the team. They know what steps to take and when to ask for help from others.

Sense of Responsibility

True leaders have a strong sense of responsibility in leading the team and giving their best to accomplish the company’s goals.

The leaders feel responsible for handling the situation when problems arise. They hold themselves responsible for the outcomes of their activities, be they positive outcomes or negative outcomes.

High Expectations

The leaders believe that less is not enough. They have high expectations from themselves as well as their teams.

This motivates them to work harder and smarter to meet their expectations.

Ability to Influence

Influential leaders can better direct and guide their teams than less influential ones.

That’s why leaders can influence their subordinates and build humble relations.

Communication Skills

Strong leaders possess excellent communication skills, establishing the relationship and trust between them and their employees.

They can express their ideas and instructions clearly. The leaders provide clear guidance through their communication skills and have an inspirational tone in their communication.

Loyalty to the Organization

The leaders have a sense of loyalty and view the organization’s mission as their own. The decisions leaders make are on the organization’s behalf and for the organization’s sake.

That’s why leaders keep their organization’s best interest in their mind while making decisions.

Will Power

Good leaders are also strong-willed leaders. Traditional leaders possess a strong willpower that never lets them down or turns back from the situation.

They work and strive through their willpower until they meet their expectations.

Traits of Traditional Leadership

Authority Over Power

The top-down bureaucracy of the organizations appoints the traditional leaders. Therefore they possess absolute power and authority over their subordinates.

They can legislate, create rules, give orders, and guide their subordinates without consulting anybody else. They are not accountable to their employees or third persons except to ones who are above them in rank. Traditional leaders also enjoy fierce loyalty from their subordinates.

Hereditary Leadership

As the concept of traditional leadership believes that leaders are born with certain leadership qualities, not made, this type of leadership is hereditary.

The leaders are appointed directly to hold the responsibilities, believing they have god-gifted intelligence, leadership, charisma, and perseverance qualities.

Besides this, some traditional leaders assume their offices after the retirement of their ancestors.

Guidance and Direction

Traditional leaders are responsible for showing clear paths for their employees to follow. They create rules and regulations for their subordinates and guide them according to the time so they achieve their objectives.


Traditional leaders take charge and command an audience with their followers. They can motivate and inspire their followers through strong determination.

The leaders show a certain energy and enthusiasm to explain their goals and fulfill them at the cost of loyalty and sweat.

Persuasiveness and Charisma

Traditional leaders have the charm and charisma to build confidence and belief in their followers.

Their charismatic nature and flawless persuasive nature can influence and inspire people.

Loyalty to their Position

In traditional leadership, the followers show fierce loyalty to their leader’s position, power, and what it presents. The followers are inspired by the results and expectations that their leaders can deliver.

They take the results of their evidence as evidence of success and strive to achieve the ordered goals.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Leadership


  • Traditional leaders can manage complex situations and make difficult decisions as they are trained and experienced.
  • People are more likely to trust those who have assumed power through traditional means over leaders from another method.
  • Traditional leaders are highly respected by their followers because of their intelligence and leadership qualities.
  • Traditional leaders are tried and tested over time and proven to be successful in different situations.
  • Traditional leadership structure can provide a sense of order and stability even during difficult circumstances.
  • People look at traditional leaders as role models and true leaders. This instills loyalty and truthfulness in the followers.
  • The clear hierarchy and traditional trend of appointing leaders to avoid conflict and confusion among the people.
  • As traditional leadership represents the continuation of the past, it develops trust and loyalty among the members.
  • The traditional type of organization inspires a sense of community and belonging among the members.


  • Since traditional leaders are more likely to maintain the status quo and may be hesitant to adopt a new course of action, it can lead the organization to stagnation and lack of progress.
  • Traditional leaders are autocratic and have complete control and authority over the team. This can be an obstacle to creativity and innovation.
  • In traditional leadership, there’s a lot of red tape and rules to follow to get things done. This can lead to inefficiency and frustration within the group.
  • The hierarchical nature of traditional leadership can create a feeling of inequality among the members. This is because if someone thinks he/she is not given equal opportunity as others, it lacks productivity in the organization.
  • As traditional leaders are authoritative in nature, they can instill fear and intimidation within the organization.
  • Traditional leaders often focus on individual achievement rather than teamwork or cooperation. This can lead to competition and conflicts among the members instead of cooperation and collaboration.
  • Traditional leadership sometimes functions with narrow-mindedness.
  • Since traditional leadership is inflexible, the leaders do not allow their subordinates to deviate from their rules, even if someone has something beneficial and better than their ideas.
  • If a person with a bad attitude is appointed as a leader, the organization’s environment goes crazy; the employees suffer, and, more importantly, the organization stops progressing.

Difference Between Traditional Leaders and Modern Leaders

  • Modern leaders lead their organizations in a way that provides room for creativity, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking. In contrast, traditional leaders often work on already set up rules, methods, and ways of doing things.
  • Modern leaders are more collaborative compared to traditional leaders. Modern leaders make decisions through the common consent of the group rather than through their personal preferences.
  • Modern leaders typically work to empower their team members and help them identify their potential. Traditional leaders focus much on the company’s goals and self-interest.
  • Traditional leaders are narrow-minded while making decisions and performing activities. At the same time, modern leaders are open-minded and welcome new ideas.
  • Traditional leadership structure depends on a lot of bureaucratic processes to work. But modern leadership is free from the hassle of bureaucratic pressure.


Traditional leadership is based on the hierarchical structure of appointing the leaders and managing the organization.

This method of leadership favors the organization and its leaders’ interests more than their employees. Though it is made to benefit the organization, it also has several benefits that help both the organization and its employees.

Adopting a suitable structure of leadership depends upon various factors. It depends on the nature of the organization, goals of the organization, priorities of the organization, the culture of the people, and maybe more. Executive leaders should study the different leadership structures and choose what is best suitable for them because every method has its own benefits and setbacks.


What are the characteristics of traditional leadership?

The characteristics of traditional leadership include a top-down approach, a focus on control and stability, clear delegation of tasks and responsibilities, and consistent decision-making.

What are the pros and cons of traditional leadership?

Pros of traditional leadership include clear structure and hierarchy, consistent decision-making, and established rules and procedures.

Cons include limited creativity and innovation, little room for flexibility and adaptability, and a lack of empowerment and motivation among employees.

How does traditional leadership differ from other leadership styles?

Traditional leadership differs from other leadership styles, such as transformational leadership or servant leadership, in that it is more focused on control and stability rather than empowering and motivating employees.

Can traditional leadership be effective in today’s dynamic business environment?

While traditional leadership can be effective in certain situations, it may not be the most effective approach in today’s dynamic business environment, which requires flexibility and adaptability.

What are some examples of traditional leaders in history?

Examples of traditional leaders in history include military commanders, monarchs, and autocratic rulers.

How can organizations balance traditional leadership with more modern approaches?

Organizations can balance traditional leadership with more modern approaches by incorporating elements of other leadership styles, such as empowering employees and encouraging innovation.

What are some alternatives to traditional leadership?

Alternative leadership styles include transformational leadership, servant leadership, and democratic leadership, which focus more on empowering and motivating employees rather than controlling them.

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