The Great Man Theory
Understanding the Emergence of Leaders Based on the Great Man Theory
- What makes an individual rise above others to assume the mantle of leadership?
- Why are some more drawn to the burdens of the job than others?
- What set history’s great leaders apart from their contemporaries and enabled them to navigate often tumultuous waters, defying the odds to achieve their goals on behalf of themselves and their people?
Some theorists have argued that these questions are answered by the great man theory.
The great man theory emerged around the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to explain leadership in the organizational context.
Even though no one was able to identify with any scientific certainty which human characteristic or combination of characteristics were responsible for identifying great leaders, the great man theory recognized, just as the names suggests, that only a man could have the characteristic(s) of a great leader.
According to the great man theory leaders are not made, but are born with just the right traits, attributes, and abilities necessary for leading.
These individuals come into the world possessing certain characteristics and traits not found in all people. And these traits enable them to lead while shaping the very pages of history.
The great man theory assumed that the traits of leadership are innate. It asserted that great leaders are born and they are not made.
The theory further asserted that great leaders were destined by birth to become a leader and that great leaders will rise when confronted with the appropriate situation. Under this theory, prominent leaders throughout the course of history were born to lead and deserved to do so as a result of their natural abilities and talents.
These leaders have the traits, attributes, and abilities (e.g., charisma, intellect, confidence, communication skills, and social skills) necessary to set them apart from those around them and enable them to assume roles of authority and powerOpens in new window.
Great leaders are heroes who are valiant, mythic, and ordained to rise to leadership when the situation arises, and they accomplish great feats against the odds on behalf of followers.
Again, because the ability to lead is inherent — that the best leaders are born, not mated—those in power deserve to lead because of the traits they have been endowed with. The term great man was adopted at the time because leadership was reserved for males, particularly in military leadership.