Great man theory of leadership

From CEOpedia | Management online

The great man theory of leadership is the hypothesis that suggests that history and development in the world are driven by the influence of so-called heroes, great people, or influencers, and not by the fact that the generations and times "simply change" [1]. According to this theory, it is highly influential individuals with unique personality traits, manners of communication, heroic behavior, a superior intellect, supernatural courage, or extraordinary leadership abilities that have decisive historical significance. This theory concerning the great people's impact on the world processes, ideas, and actions, first arose in the 19th century due to the contributions of the Scottish essayist, historian, and philosopher Thomas Carlyle [2]. He highlighted the main ideas regarding to the great man theory in own book called On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History [3].

The history of creation

The great man theory was born from a concept that was popular in the 19th century. According to it, history and everything serious that has ever happened in the world can be explained in terms of the influence that great people or heroes had on historical events [4]. It is believed that the founder of this theory was the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle. The main idea of this theory is that great leaders are born as such by nature, and they are not formed by the influence of the environment or upbringing. It is the set of innate characteristics in true leaders that is very different from the innate set of other people. Moreover, these specific features enable them to lead the masses and write history [5]. The representatives of such leaders were Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler [6].

The famous philosopher and political scientist Herbert Spencer refuted the theory of the great man, calling it "childish, primitive and simply unscientific" [7]. He suggested that great leaders have always been shaped by their environment, and he argued that such people are generated by society itself. Moreover, he wanted most people to believe it. It is also worth noting that any theory will always have those who will criticize it. Despite Spencer's thoughts, the great man theory remains very popular in the study of the phenomenon of leadership. There is another striking counterargument to this concept, namely that history knows many great leaders who certainly did not possess the above innate qualities. However, scientific studies prove that leadership is a complex term and many other factors besides natural inclinations really affect the level of success that a person will achieve.

The great man in 2020

The world does not standstill. In this regard, new areas and new professions have appeared, in which a great man can be distinguished. These new representatives of the great man in the 21st century do not hesitate to call themselves icons, legends, or simply influencers. The ones can be male, female, or transgender. They can be of completely different ages, religions, and nationalities. According to the rankings and the polls on the Internet, such individuals are the great men in 2020 [8]:

  • Bill Gates (business magnate, software developer, and philanthropist)
  • Donald John Trump (businessman, 45th president of the United States)
  • Anthony Fauci (American physician, immunologist)
  • Angela Merkel (German politician)
  • Elon Reeve Musk (business magnate, industrial designer, engineer)
  • Tsai Ing-wen (Taiwanese politician)
  • Joe Biden (American politician, the president of the United States)
  • John Roberts (American lawyer and jurist)
  • Kamala Devi Harris (American politician)
  • Xi Jinping (Chinese politician)

This list can be very long. However, at any time, the best people will be born that way or create great leaders in themselves without shouting that they are the best. The best is determined by work and achievements, not by loud words.



Author: Anna Sobolieva