As I have read about it, a particular interest in my has been raising about the wonderful way many people has utilized their natural abilities as a medium of reunion and leadership. I found a string link between this gifts or skills these men had and their particular behavior in the time they lived. I would like to talk about the special characteristics that had to be present; more specific the building process of a divine individual, a prophet capable of guiding its people and the importance they have represented to humanity, whether realistic or not, since the theory has been around ever since.
In order to get to know more about the theory of the great man, we should not ignore that this is a theory based on leadership. So, what is leadership? Scholars have defined leadership as “ the process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. To my personal beliefs, leadership is: a medium to an end, it is a very particular tool with which gifted individuals in the interpersonal field can either alone or together command, guide, and lead another group of people towards completing an established goal by cheering, supporting and setting a relation with the subordinates based on a strong dose of trustworthiness.
Now, the Great-Man theory of leadership according to Winston & Patterson (2006) refers “to the idea that leaders possess innately superior qualities that distinguish them from other people, including the ability to capture the imagination and loyalty of the masses.” In other few words, that leaders are born, not made. Winston & Patterson (2006) also quote that “a leader achieves influence by humbly conveying a prophetic vision of the future” meaning that he resonates with the follower beliefs and values in such a way that the follower can understand and interpret the future into present-time action steps.
According to Leadership Central (2012) Dr. Thomas Carlyle a true believer of this theory would say that “effective leaders were a package of Godly motivation and the right personality.” Under this definition, the same Dr. Thomas Carlyle, this time quoted by Lapham’s Quarterly (2012) included as great-man leaders historical characters such as “Muhammad, Shakespeare, Luther, Rousseau, and Napoleon” undoubtedly amazing leaders that shaped their time. But, other many scholars – and I think I am going to take their side – refute this theory.
Although Cherry (2012) gives a different definition, and I quote “the great man theory is a conjecture aimed at explaining the history of the effect of the great born men or heroes: people of great authority, thanks to their charisma, intelligence and wisdom have used their power in such a way as to leave a decisive historical impact” there is a powerful contradictory hypothesis quoted by Leadership Central (2012) in which they say “Herbert Spencer one the most forceful critics of the theory explains that the great-man theory is a nativist hypothesis of leadership” and in this approach, leaders cannot be made, but just born. Of course, the leader nativism is highly refutable, cultural skills are by definition highly refutable and acquirable only through human interaction and an environment conducive to the transmission of knowledge.
Leadership Central (2012) focuses in that “many factors in life shape the individual’s skills to lead” and I believe their in the right position, since leaders are a product of society, which means leaders are shaped by the time they live in and not the way around. Let’s take another example of a another so called “great-man’ leader. This time we have John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a famous character not only in his home country, but around the globe. His incredible abilities as a leader are not put in doubt, though the fact that he was this good just because he was born that way for sure are.
Although factors such as “your up-bringing, education, experiences are only modeling your leadership abilities” says Lapham’s Quarterly (2012), a person’s background and circumstances may have influenced what they are, it is only in their hands the responsibility of what they want to be. Other examples to refute this nativism theory are Stephen R. Covey’s paradigms shifts and rescripting. Since a paradigm is the way an individual perceives, understands, and interprets the surrounding world, “a paradigm shift is a change in thinking when we gain additional insight and understandings” (Covey, 1989). Anything could influence the way a individual thinks, and this individual could perform a rescripting process, proving that a person does not have to be born with superior skills to acquire a leader scheme, but he can obtain them throughout lived experiences.
Cherry (2012) explains that the term “Great Man” was used “because, at the time, leadership was thought of primarily as a male quality, especially in terms of military leadership”. To make it clear, this leadership theory leaves behind women despite they could have innate abilities (I’m not saying this is the only ability they have) which is the basis of the “great-man” theory. For example, we have had great women capable of leading people, on the one hand the ex-prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher also known as the “Iron Lady” which is the longest-serving British prime minister of the last century. We also find Oprah Winfrey, who not only is one of the most richest women in the world, but named also as the most influential women in it. So, was Dr. Carlyle in the right position, or is it the time he lived that did not allow women to arise as great leaders?
Earlier when I gave my own definition of leadership and said that leadership is a matter of persons who can either alone or together exercise their leadership skills, I knew it was not only me, it results that Winston & Patterson (2006) think similar to me, since they say that “leadership may be provided by a group of persons”. Having said that, we can now refute another focus of this great-man theory concentrated in that leadership “can only be exercised by one person, the great man” (Cawthon, 1996). While some might say this is true, because most of companies, countries, or firms have one person as it’s head leader, well this is true. But, let’s face it there can not be more than one president in a nation, there can not be more than one president in a firm o company.
Although there is the board of directors, which is the group in charge of every decision the company should take. All in all, yes, according to Cherry (2012) “you can find more individuals as leaders than groups as leaders”, but that does not mean, groups don’t exist, to the contrary, they exist more than ever, and a good example of that is the music group “The Beatles” which you can say was the most influential band of the last century leading into a simple cause millions of people. You can find also groups leading millions of people to manifest against the violation of human rights, more recently the group called Invisible Children Inc. who “only employs 43 people but with its movement has encouraged thousands more” to spread the word about Joseph Kony’s crimes (ICU, 2012). “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has” (Mead, 1970).
I completely agree with Cawthon (1996) when he says that many people, of course “scoff at the theory, because it is anecdotal and unscientific”. At the end, the great-man theory does not have any credibility, because even though the ability to lead is directly linked to one’s personality, the belief that leaders are born and not made finds no veracity.
In our times, it is meaningless to think of it as a viable explanation for a person’s skills in guiding, since it’s been proved that the this theory popularized in the 1840’s but suggested much earlier, only took into consideration men born in a social status that would allow them to lead regardless of their abilities, from there the hypothesis of the innate leader. Nowadays that particular matter has been changed, since a person’s background is not judged but instead their ability to be a leader is highly paid. As Cawthon (1996) says “Individuals in every society posses different degrees of energy, moral force and intelligence, and in whatever direction the masses might be influenced to go, they are always led by the superior few”.
In the managerial world, Winston & Patterson (2006) say “a growing number of leaders from different parts of the world are being formed” so do not let people fool you when they say someone was born to be a leader, because given today’s uncertainty many so called traditional leaders are being superseded by those with best abilities to manage people.
So, you better base your leadership skills in what you have learned, most importantly in what you truly are and let other people influence you before you can exercise a bigger influence on them, because leadership is doing the right things. Do not ever live upon other’s expectations, you are what you choose to be, for that, being a leader is not being born a leader living what others have scripted, but rescripting your life and forging yourself through stimulating yourself from experiences and knowledge acquired in life. After all If your actions inspire others to learn more, dream more, become more and do more, you are a leader.
Cawthon, D.L (1996). Leadership: The great man theory revisited. Business Horizons, 39(3), 1-4. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from Academic Search Premiere.
Cherry, K. (2012). The great man theory of leadership. Journal of Effective Management, 3(2), 10-17. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from Academic Search Premiere.
Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. Provo: Free Press.
Invisible Children (2012). More about us. Retrieved April 14, 2012, from www.invisiblechildren.com
Lapham’s Quarterly. (2012). Great man theory. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/voices-in-time/great-man-theory.php
Leadership Central. (2012). Great man theory. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from www.leadership-central.com
Mead, M. (1970). Culture and commitment. San Francisco: Natural History Press.
Winston, B. & Patterson, K. (2006). An integrative definition of leadership. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), 7-14. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from Academic Search Premiere.