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Great Man Theory

Technical Details

Name: Great Man Theory
Author: Popularized by Thomas Carlyle
Classification:Great Man Theory
Year: 1840's


  • Starting point for the understanding of which human traits make great leaders


  • Leadership is a restricted community
  • No scientific validity


You may have heard people saying, "Great leaders are God-gifted, not man-made"? This quote reflects the results conveyed by a very popular theory known as Great Man Theory of Leadership, which relates to the fact that leadership traits are inbuilt. In other words, there is a binary answer to the question of knowing whether you are a leader or not, meaning that you were either born as a great leader or not! Factors such as your up-bringing, education, experiences are only modeling your leadership abilities; they aren't responsible for making you a leader.

The History of Great Man Leadership Theory

During the 19th century, the Great Man Theory of Leadership became very popular. The theory was formulated mainly by analyzing the behaviors of mainly military figures of the time. In the 1800s, authoritative positions were held solely by men and were typically passed on from father to son. Thus, it's not a coincidence that the theory was named "Great Man Theory" as there weren't any women that were given the opportunity to rise when the occasion presented itself.

The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle was deeply involved with this Great Man Theory of Leadership and had even stated that the history of this world was basically the combined biographies of these great men. Mr. Thomas Carlyle believed that effective leaders were a package of Godly motivation and the right personality.

Some Arguments against Great Man Theory

Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903), famous sociologist said that great leaders were only products of the atmosphere and society they worked and lived in. In other words, society was shaping these great men as oppose to them shaping society!

Great Man Theory: Is it a myth?

The Great Man Theory is so engraved in our souls that we almost instantly connect authoritative figures has having leadership qualities that should be replicated to become successful!

For example: Think of your favorite President or Prime Minister, depending where you live. Now, think of the leadership attributes that you believe makes him or her worthy of the leadership label. Lastly, make sure you seriously consider this before continuing on. Okay, the big realization: are these traits emanating from his being or are they the fruits of all of the great leaders that are guiding him or her behind the scene and who are never or almost never given the appropriate credit!

Yes, this simple exercise really demonstrates the fact that these "Great Man" subscribers aren't alone nor are they the results of their "Godly motivation and personalities", as stated by Mr. Thomas Carlyle. I'm not saying that they aren't great leaders, they certainly can be. However, we need to realize that these "great man" weren't born great leaders, they had the potential of being a great leader just as the rest of us, and their leadership abilities have, just like us, evolved from their education, experiences and personalities combined with the social context in which they lived.

At last

There is no doubt that the Great Man Theory has no real credibility in terms of explaining how we can become a great leader other than being born a leader. However, the writings of Thomas Carlyle were definitely responsible for getting many great people thinking about leadership!

Want to expand on the discussion?

We encourage you to expand on the discussion, add to the critique or even share your vision with regards to the future applications of the theory.

Other Visitors thoughts

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

The Great man theory 
I concur With Herbert great leaders are shaped by the environment that they have been raised in. This prepares them for the journey that is a head of …

I agree in part 
Great leaders do tend to have been affected by eductional, social and enviromental factors. these factors often impact on a wide variety of people, however, …

The Great Man Theory 
I fully agree with Herbert Spencer. The great man theory assumes that the reason these "great man" were famous lies in the "fact" that they must, in comparison …

Amber Fox 
What about great women? Now the theory is irrelevant. Maybe in that century great man theory was relevant but women are leaders now and they do a great …

Great Man Theory Not rated yet
I disagree. To say the theory is not true because environment shaped them is not intellectually honest. I challenge you to locate a person that is …

Doctor of Management Not rated yet
I disagree with Herbert Spencer's notion that history shapes great men rather than great men shaping history. I believe that great men are born and that …

Great Man Theory = Correct Not rated yet
My view on this matter is quite simple. As egalitarianism rose from the feeling of inadequacy and greed that most felt, it made them disregard the idea …

Tapsup Not rated yet
Thomas Carlyle does consider Education, environment and upbringing as factors contributing to molding leaders. Hence Spencer's argument becomes irrelevant. …

Great Man theory  Not rated yet
During the early days, hardly was anybody being ruled be able to even identify amongst them a leader. So in those days the people who acclaimed themselves …

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