Theorizing Vaynerchuk & Learning From Trait Approach

You know who Gary Vaynerchuk (aka @GaryVee) is, don’t you? He’s the guy that is being predicted to become “bigger than Oprah” [source], and mostly due to his passion, drive, and authenticity. To me Gary is living proof of the fact that the trait approach has the right to live (in a slightly modified form, but still).

The trait approach, which dominated the scene up to late 1940’s, was one of the earlier approaches to leadership which attempted to study various leadership traits in order to determine what made certain people great leaders. A number of scholars assumed that the Y-chromosome was indispensable for ‘born leaders’, and that it was through this chromosome that leadership qualities were inherited. Several scholars that worked separately from one another arrived at sets of traits and characteristics, some of which echoed one another. Among the common characteristics, there were intelligence and cognitive ability, initiative, persistence, (self-)confidence, integrity and responsibility. Most of these can be found both in the great historical leaders, as a well as in prominent business leaders of our times. However, the trait approach “suffers from the difficulties (a) of specifying the traits that constitute effective leadership and (b) of explaining how much of each trait one needs in order to cope best in different situations” (source: Leadership in Times of Change by W.G. Christ).

So, the approach was abandoned for several decades to be resurrected in 1991 by Kirkpatrick and Locke who, believing that individual characteristics can predict leadership behavior, developed a variation of the trait approach in their assessment center technique. Their technique is based on a belief that there are 6 core traits on which leaders differ from non-leaders. These are: (i) drive, (ii) desire to lead, (iii) honesty/integrity, (iv) self-confidence, (v) cognitive ability, and (vi) knowledge of the business. It is also important to mention that the developers of the assessment center technique went away from the deterministic undertone of the trait approach, and used the 6 traits as positive pre-conditions of becoming a successful leader, leaving room for personal initiative to condition the rest.

Back to Gary. Jason Keath summarized the essence of Vaynerchuk’s success in the following 6 (very actionable) principles:

  • Be Genuine — Be true to yourself
  • Hustle — Put in more work than the other guy
  • Pursue Your Passion — If you are not working on what you love, you won’t make it
  • Delegate — Learn how to partner and connect with others to get it done
  • Watch the Tools — “always pay attention to the nerds, when the nerds talk I listen – the tech scene is the future”
  • Be the Expert — Learn everything you can about your industry, know more than the other guy

Do they correspond to the six positive pre-conditions that Kirkpatrick and Locke talked about? Not word for word, but the essence is definitely there! Gary is all about the drive, desire to lead, integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability and knowledge of the business. His personal initiative has turned these into the right direction, shaping him into the man that he is now. To me it’s a good modern-day example of how, while not necessarily being deterministic, certain personal characteristics do help an individual become an excellent leader and influencer.

5 thoughts on “Theorizing Vaynerchuk & Learning From Trait Approach”

  1. Pretty cool take Geno. Had never heard these historical takes on leadership before. I enjoyed it. I think you captured some cool thoughts here. Thanks for including me.


  2. Is this technique always used in assessment centers? In the past, I have taken assessment tests that was issued by a PEO, and the personality questions related to some of the concepts in this post. It’s interesting, but do you think searching for leaders would cause people to butt heads? I have had re-training exercises at my company with leads and supervisors and in some of the exercises given, there were some complications because everyone had a different idea and thought that being a leader meant their idea was best. My question is, is it a bad idea to hire people into companies that are all leader quality or is it better to mix it up and hire individuals who do not have leader quality? In those cases, sometimes those hires turn out to be bad choices. Just something to think about.

  3. Sam,

    Yes, the assessment center technique is widely used by HR departments throughout the world.

    Is searching for innate leaders (or those that possess the above quoted positive pre-conditions of becoming a successful leader) right or wrong? I don’t believe there is a simple answer. I personally think that knowing the candidate as thoroughly as possible does help, but whether they are a “born leader” or not is really irrelevant due to the very way leadership works. Good leadership seeks to foster a culture of collaborative thought, joint decision-making, shared responsibility and accountability. Unlike it frequently is the case with management where the manager is the thinker, and his followers are doers only, leadership contexts allow for everyone in the group to be both thinkers, and doers (depending on expertise, experience, passion, etc).

    It sounds like the “re-training exercises” in your company were sometimes hitting the wall, because of the improper understanding (both by those that were being re-trained, and possibly even by those that were appointed to supervise) of what a leader really is. My summary of the differences between managers and leaders may be a good place to start + I highly recommend you to pick up the books listed in that post too.

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