The Great Person Theory

The Great Person Theory: How to Be a Great Man 

You cannot.

To state “how to be a great man” implies that in a certain number of steps, you can become a great man. However, in leadership theory, the theory known as the “great man theory” states that leaders are born, not made.

Recently renamed “the great person theory” due to the recognized emergence of great women leaders, the theory hypothesizes that leaders are born with qualities not found equally in all people. The great leaders of the past and in the present have extraordinarily high levels of ambition, the vision to see where he or she wants to be, and the skill set to get them there.  The theory makes the assumption that leaders are born and arise when there is a great need for them.

The theory is dated, with most of the research and publication done in the 19th century. The mostly masculine list of traits includes:

·       Adaptable

·       Ambitious

·       Assertive

·       Cooperative

·       Decisive

·       Dependable

·       Dominant

·       Persistent

·       Self-Confident

Image courtesy of Mr Lightman from freedigitalphotos.net

More contemporary research used this list from the great man theory as a base, leading to leadership trait research that influences most of the leadership theories today.

What the Great Man Theory of leadership can teach us is that while leaders may not just be born, but also can be made through desire, training and practical experience, those without some strength in these traits will not be great leaders. They may be competent or effective, but great leaders have an innate ability to inspire and motivate others to a common goal, seemingly without effort.

Leaders must capitalize on their strengths, address their weaknesses and stay the course regardless of the obstacles in his or her path. Such a calling requires an indomitable spirit, a bit of humility and the ability to empathize with those they lead.

Leaders of both genders are exhibiting these qualities and being accepted simply as leaders, not as great men or great women. Gender becomes an observation, not an obstacle, as society turns to those it needs during times of trouble or unrest. Within a company, those leaders may not be the ones with the highest job title, but those informal leaders to whom co-workers turn for guidance and advice.

Recognizing a great leader is crucial to you and to your company. Many leaders do not look to mentor the one who can replace them one day, subconsciously thinking they are protecting their position. Instead, he or she is pigeonholing themselves into that position, projecting themselves as irreplaceable – or at least that’s the perception they hope to project.

To be promoted, you must have someone else who can what you do, as well as you can do it, otherwise your opportunity to move up the management ladder will be limited. That is what makes a great man, a great woman, a great person leader – finding and developing other great leaders. All of the traits listed above describe a strong character and that is what will make you great.


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