Great Man Theory of Leadership: Examples, Pros and Cons (2022) (2023)

Great Man Theory of Leadership: Examples, Pros and Cons (2022) (1)

The Great Man Theory of leadership postulates that great leaders are born, not made. Some people are just born with the personality characteristics that predispose them to have great leadership skills.

According to this theory, it is not possible to teach people how to become great leaders.

Because they are born with a very specific personality profile, they emerge in society at key moments in history. During these times their in-born traits allow them to excel and accomplish greatness.

Examples of leaders in history and modern times that fit the definition of the Great Man Theory include Napoleon Bonaparte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln.

Contents show

Definition of Great Man Theory of Leadership

The study of great leaders in history focused on both physical and personality traits. For instance, physical characteristics such as height and appearance were often included in a descriptive taxonomy of “great man” traits.

Personality factors were also identified as traits of great leaders, which included self-confidence, extraversion, charm, courage, aggressiveness and energy level.

This view was strongly supported by the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which provided an account of history as told through the biographies of great men that held leadership positions during significant times in history.

In that era, few women were allowed in the military or positions of political power, and were therefore excluded from consideration.

Examples of Great Man Theory of Leadership

1. Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military leader who is famous for conquering most of Europe in the early 19th century.

Napoleon’s conquests led to a swift rise in his political status, which he parlayed into a coup, seizing political power in 1799 and crowning himself emperor in 1804.

Napoleon was shrewd and ambitious, and a great military strategist. He successfully waged war against various European nations and expanded his empire.

Although most famous for his military accomplishments, many of his other initiatives are also noteworthy. For instance, he instituted many reforms in banking and education, and was a strong supporter of the sciences and arts.

One of his most meaningful and enduring accomplishments was his role in reshaping the French legal system. An effort that resulted in significant reform and remains the foundation of French civil law today.

(Video) Great Man Theory of Leadership | Thomas Carlyle Theory | Trait Theory - Theories of Leadership

Napoleon Bonaparte fits the profile of a Great Man because of these accomplishments, but is also widely known as an autocratic leader due to his strongman approach.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln appears on the list of “great men” put together by many writers because of several very significant accomplishments. First, he was the 16th president of the United States.

His political rise was mostly due to his moderate views on several core controversies impacting the country at the time. One reason he makes the Great Man list is because he preserved the Union during the Civil War.

This feat alone was remarkable and without it, no one knows how the history of the world would have unfolded. His second most notable accomplishment was the emancipation of slaves in 1863.

Throughout his presidency, he was steadfast in his principles and withstood defiance and opposition from all sides, including his generals, his Cabinet, his party and a majority of the American people.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. played a prominent role in the American civil rights movement in the 1960s.

MLK grew up in a relatively well-off family in the Deep South in an era of strict segregation. However, one summer King worked in the North and was astounded at how well Blacks and Whites got along and ate together freely. It was a summer that had a profound impact on his understanding of race relations.

His most famous moment in history is the “I Have a Dream” speech he delivered in Washington D.C. in 1963. King was a strong proponent of nonviolence and peaceful protest. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was at that time the youngest person to receive the award.

Martin Luther King, Jr. possessed many of the key personality characteristics identified in the Great Man Theory, including being charismatic, persuasive, confident and courageous.

4. Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela fought against racism his entire life. He faced enemies far more powerful than himself as an individual man.

However, his ideals and his determination allowed him to prevail against incredible odds.

He worked tirelessly to end apartheid in South Africa in the 20th century. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with F. W. de Klerk, who was South Africa’s president at the time.

Even though he spent nearly 30 years in jail, he persevered and eventually became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

He demonstrated many of the personality traits identified by the Great Man Theory, including being determined, persuasive, courageous, and self-confident.

See Also: Democratic Leadership Model

5. Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was the driving force behind at least three revolutions. He worked tirelessly to end racism, violence against the oppressed, and colonial rule of India.

Gandhi is an example of an amazing individual that possessed some of the most admirable attributes of a Great Man. He was focused and determined; resilient and strong, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition.


He spoke with a level of wisdom and eloquence that inspired millions of people to take action, even at great personal expense. Even though he endured physical assaults and imprisonment, he refused to accept defeat. He has gone down in history as one of the greatest and most visionary leaders of mankind.

Great Man Theory of Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses

Pro: Described Personality Characteristics

One value of the Great Man theory of leadership is the early attempt to identify key personality characteristics and traits of great leaders.

Although different authors produced slightly different descriptions, there are several common denominators, such as: charisma, persuasiveness, courage, and self-confidence. This psychological perspective on leadership is one that nearly all modern theories of leadership rely on today.

Pro: Considered Physical Characteristics

A lot of criticism of the Great Man Theory actually points to the consideration of physical characteristics of leaders, such as height.

However, this criticism may not be as valid as it once was in light of more recent research. For example, research reviewed by Vugt and Grabo (2015), shows that:

People prefer leaders with dominant, masculine-looking faces in times of war and conflict, yet they prefer leaders with more trustworthy, feminine faces in peacetime. In addition, leaders with older-looking faces are preferred in traditional knowledge domains, whereas younger-looking leaders are preferred for new challenges “ (p. 484).

Pro: Classification of Leadership Domains

The Great Man Theory, as proposed by Thomas Carlye, offered a taxonomy of leadership types. These types were labeled “Hero Classes” and included: Divine, Prophet, Poet, Priest, King, or Man of Letters.

For example, the Divine Hero could be found in Greek or Norse mythology, such as Odin or Thor.

The formal study of leadership was in its infancy and this first step in creating a classification framework for different types of leadership is a strength of the theory which shows an understanding that not all leaders are the same.

Pro: Propelled the Study of Leadership

The Great Man Theory of leadership and the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica helped bring the formal study of the subject into the scholarly domain.

It helped popularize the educated public’s understanding of leadership styles and sparked further interest and debate on the matter. No subject matter can advance without considerable discussion and analysis, and so perhaps the greatest value of the Great Man Theory is that it gave birth to a much more thorough and eventually scientific study of leadership.

Con: Not Supported by Science

One very common criticism of the Great Man Theory is that it was postulated without being supported by any science at all.

This is true, there is no denying that. However, psychological science was practically non-existent in the 1800s. There were no such things as personality inventories or observational study which modern researchers rely on today to study leadership scientifically.

In a way, it is a bit unfair to criticize a theory for not using scientific methodologies that did not exist at the time.

Con: Leadership can’t be Taught

The fundamental premise of the Great Man Theory is that leaders are born. This means there is no way for the common man to become a great leader; quite the discouraging blow to the infinite number of leadership training programs that exist in the world today.

Corporations spend millions of dollars every year trying to develop the leadership potential of their employees, but according to the Great Man Theory, that is all a waste of time and money.

Fortunately, there are many examples of great leaders today that will confess to not possessing great skills early in their careers. Many of them had to evolve into greatness, mostly as a result of professional and personal failures. Therefore, it would seem that great leadership can be acquired by those not gifted with it at birth.

(Video) Leadership Theories

Con: Fails to Consider the Role of the Environment

Many leaders that are considered great today were shaped by significant and sometimes traumatic events in their lives.

Roosevelt became paralyzed from the waist down and married a woman who showed him the unsightly state of the poor in America. This helped open his eyes and heart to their plight. Martin Luther King, Jr. was influenced by his family’s devotion to the church and the summer he spent in the North where he was astonished at the freedom Blacks enjoyed.

There is no room in the Great Man Theory for these environmental factors that helped shape the personalities and personal philosophies of many great leaders.

Con: Gender Exclusivity

The name of the theory itself says it all. The Great Man Theory only accepts one gender as being able to possess leadership skills.

It would seem that in addition to being born with certain personality traits that lead to greatness, it is also necessary to be born of a specific gender as well. Although to be fair, the 1800s was a time in history in which society was not as enlightened as it is in the 21st century.

A modern version of the Great Man Theory could be renamed to reflect the possibility of either gender being capable of great leadership, perhaps: the Great Human Theory.

More Leadership Models

  • Contingency Theory of Leadership
  • Full Range Leadership Model
  • Pacesetting Leadership Model


The Great Man Theory of leadership was one of the first attempts to identify the personality traits of leadership. Great leaders were described as possessing courage, charisma, self-confidence, and aggressiveness.

Although it was originally proposed in the 1800s, it is often criticized as lacking a scientific foundation, not being gender inclusive, and not taking in to account environmental factors that often shape the personality and philosophy of those identified as great leaders.

These shortcomings are substantial and are a major reason the theory is less relevant in the 21st century. However, the theory generated much discussion and helped propel the subject of leadership to become a formal object of scientific study.


Antonakis, J., & Eubanks, D. L. (2017). Looking leadership in the face.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(3), 270-275. Doi:

Carlyle T. On Heroes, Hero-worship and the heroic in history. Fredrick A. Stokes & Brother, 1988.

Conger, J. A. & Kanungo, R. N. (1987). Toward a behavioral theory of charismatic leadership in organizational settings. Academy of Management Review, 12, 637-647.

Little, A. C. (2014). Facial appearance and leader choice in different contexts: Evidence for task contingent selection based on implicit and learned face-behaviour/face-ability associations,
The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 865-874. doi:

Vugt, M. V., & Grabo, A. E. (2015). The many faces of leadership: An evolutionary-psychology approach.Current Directions in Psychological Science,24(6), 484-489. Doi:

Great Man Theory of Leadership: Examples, Pros and Cons (2022) (2)

Dave Cornell (PhD)

+ posts

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

Great Man Theory of Leadership: Examples, Pros and Cons (2022) (3)

Chris Drew (PhD)

+ posts

(Video) Theories of Leadership: The Great Man Theory

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

(Video) Leadership and Theories- Part 2 | Great Man Theory & Trait Theory | By AIR Reema Nayyar| UGC NET JRF


What are the advantages and disadvantages of great man theory? ›

Strengths: This theory started the scholarship of which traits and characteristics build great leaders. Weaknesses: This theory lacks scientific validity and only considers men in power. And, as 19th century-sociologist Herbert Spencer argued, great leaders may be shaped by their society, not the other way around.

What is an example of great man theory of leadership? ›

Individuals become leaders when they respond to critical situations. The Great Man Theory examples include the torchbearers of the Indian Independence Movement. From Lala Lajpat Rai to Annie Besant, various leaders championed the nation's cause.

What is the problem with the great man theory? ›

One of the key problems with the Great Man theory of leadership is that not all people who possess the so-called natural leadership qualities actually become great leaders. If leadership was simply an inborn quality, then all people who possess the ​necessary traits would eventually find themselves in leadership roles.

What is an example of great man? ›

What is this? Examples of leaders in history and modern times that fit the definition of the Great Man Theory include Napoleon Bonaparte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln.

What is the great man theory of leadership advantages? ›

What is the Great Man Theory of Leadership? The Great Man Theory of Leadership espouses that great leaders are born, not made. These individuals come into the world possessing certain characteristics and traits not found in all people. These abilities enable them to lead while shaping the very pages of history.

What is the strength of great man theory? ›

Essentially, according to the Great Man Theory, people in positions of power deserve to lead because of characteristics granted to them at birth, which ultimately help them become heroes.

What is the great man theory in the workplace? ›

The great man theory of leadership states that some people are born with the necessary attributes that set them apart from others and that these traits are responsible for their assuming positions of power and authority. A leader is a hero who accomplishes goals against all odds for his followers.

What is an example of a good leader give an example? ›

Good leaders share a level of brilliance that enables them to inspire the masses toward new ideas and innovations. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey, and Martin Luther King Jr. Reading about exceptional leaders is beneficial because it allows you to learn positive traits and behaviors to emulate.

What are some real life examples of leadership? ›

Eight leadership situation examples to showcase
  • Leading a project or task in school. ...
  • Organizing a study group. ...
  • Leading a sports team. ...
  • Volunteering for nonprofit organizations. ...
  • Training or mentoring new team members. ...
  • Leading a meeting or committee. ...
  • Working in student governments and professional organizations.
Nov 24, 2021

Is Great Man Theory relevant today? ›

Most historians focus on broad structural factors. They are not wrong. The Great Man theory is a limited frame through which to view history, not least because it ignores half the human population. But it remains useful — underrated, even — as a way to understand leadership in an era of hyperpartisanship.

What do we learn from the great man? ›

The great man theory is a 19th-century approach to the study of history according to which history can be largely explained by the impact of great men, or heroes: highly influential and unique individuals who, due to their natural attributes, such as superior intellect, heroic courage, extraordinary leadership ...

Is Great Man Theory true? ›

Biographies of great men continue to pour from the press

But it is certainly not a working theory of history. Great men are out of fashion. Digitised sources are allowing historians to excavate the lives of ordinary men and women – until now forgotten by history – in a way never before possible.

How do you define a great man? ›

Great men are known, envied and admired. Great men often become the measuring stick by which others are evaluated. Greatness is something almost all of us desire for ourselves but it is something very few of us obtain. Goodness is measured in morality and virtue.

Which leadership theory is most effective and why? ›

"Transformational leadership," is the most effective style to use in most business situations. However, you can become a more effective leader by learning about these core leadership theories, and understanding the tools and models associated with each one.

Which leadership theory is known as Great man? ›

The Great Man Theory of Leadership led to the rise of the trait theory of leadership. The great man theory of leadership states that some people are born with the necessary attributes that set them apart from others. These traits are responsible for assuming positions of power and authority.

What is a good leader Short answer? ›

A good leader should have integrity, self-awareness, courage, respect, empathy, and gratitude. They should be learning agile and flex their influence while communicating and delegating effectively. See how these key leadership qualities can be learned and improved at all levels of your organization.

What is good leadership answer? ›

The ability to influence, build healthy relationships, and people management are a few qualities that make a good leader. Additionally, they should be able to delegate effectively, align their team to achieve a common goal towards profiting the company, and solve any conflicts that may arise.

What makes a good leader simple words? ›

Good leaders possess self-awareness, garner credibility, focus on relationship-building, have a bias for action, exhibit humility, empower others, stay authentic, present themselves as constant and consistent, become role models and are fully present.

How do you answer leadership experience questions? ›

How to answer “Describe your leadership experience”
  1. Think about your leadership experiences in the past. ...
  2. Showcase your ability to be an effective team member. ...
  3. Outline the steps you took to achieve your goal. ...
  4. Discuss how you delegated tasks. ...
  5. Quantify your accomplishments.
Jan 3, 2020

What is an example of a leader that is inspiring and well respected? ›

1. Mahatma Gandhi – The Anti-War Activist With A Global Legacy. Mahatma Gandhi left his mark on the world in more ways than one.

Is the Great Man Theory outdated? ›

It is equally important to realize that while the Great Man theory itself is antiquated and questionable, the traits identified by Carlyle have been repeated in other leadership theories as being desirable in leaders and, because of this, both new and seasoned leaders alike would do well to develop them.

What is the critical analysis of Great Man Theory? ›

Critique of the Theory:

The great weakness of the Great Man Theory, apart from the improbability of inherent traits, is the absurd belief that some people become great and successful leaders independent of their environmental situations.

What great lesson did his Great Man teach us? ›

Detailed Solution. The correct answer is 'The way to live and the way to die'.

What is the best people theory? ›

4. The Best People Theory. All such interpretations contain infusions of the prejudice that some elite, the Best Race, the favoured nation, the ruling class alone make history. The Old Testament assumed that the Israelites were God's chosen people.

What is the opposite of great men theory? ›

Behavioural Theory: Completely opposite to Great Man Theory, this take on leadership supports that leaders can in fact be made, rather than are born.

What is good man quality? ›

The characteristics of a high-quality man include reliability, self-confidence, emotional intelligence, and trustworthiness.

What are the signs of a great man? ›

A good man regards and respects his partner even in disputes. He understands that relationships demand love, patience, commitment, and endurance. One of the signs you have a good man is when you see him as your safe place. As such, he isn't just kind to you but also to others.

What are the disadvantages of human relations theory? ›

The human relations approach undermines the role of economic incentives in motivation and gives excessive stress on social and psychological factors. If the wages are too low, the employees will feel dissatisfied despite good interpersonal relations at the work place.

What are the disadvantages of man? ›

Following are the disadvantages of MAN: ➨It is difficult to manage the network once it becomes large. ➨It is difficult to make the system secure from hackers and industrial espionage. ➨Network installation requires skilled technicians and network administrators.

What are the disadvantages of trait theory of leadership? ›

Limitations of The Trait Theory
  • There is bound to be some subjective judgment in determining who is regarded as a 'good' or 'successful' leader.
  • The list of possible traits tends to be very long. ...
  • There is also a disagreement over which traits are the most important for an effective leader.

What are the advantages of trait theory? ›

Advantages of trait theories are:
  • It provide a detail knowledge and understanding of the leaders element in the leadership process.
  • It is a naturally pleasing theory.
  • It serves as a standard against which the leadership traits of an individuals can be assessed.

What are the examples of human relations theory? ›

Human relations skills such as communication and handling conflict can help us create better relationships. For example, assume Julie talks behind people's backs and doesn't follow through on her promises. She exhibits body language that says “get away from me” and rarely smiles or asks people about themselves.

What are the advantages of human relation theory? ›

According to this theory, the productivity and morale of the workers are boosted through the use of positive bonds and interpersonal approaches to appreciating and addressing their social needs. Thus, productivity can be improved through structures such as worker empowerment, participation, and personal appreciation.

What are men pros cons? ›

phrase. The pros and cons of something are its advantages and disadvantages, which you consider carefully so that you can make a sensible decision.

What are examples of disadvantages? ›

44 Examples of a Disadvantage
BullyingCommunity Exclusion
Interpersonal ConflictLack of Cultural Capital
Lack of EducationLack of Family Support
Lack of Financial ResourcesLack of Free Time (e.g. working two jobs)
Lack of InfrastructureLack of Rights and Freedom
17 more rows
Apr 14, 2022

What are are disadvantages? ›

: loss or damage especially to reputation, credit, or finances : detriment. the deal worked to their disadvantage. : an unfavorable, inferior, or prejudicial condition. we were at a disadvantage. : a quality or circumstance that makes achievement unusually difficult : handicap.

What are the negative impacts of leadership? ›

Bad leadership in business leads to toxic working attitudes, staff segregation, loss of high-performing employees, and an unattractive workplace culture that is unlikely to inspire results from your staff while creating a cycle of poor staff retention.

What are some positive and negative traits? ›

Further examples:
  • Nice can be kind (positive) or passive/unassertive (negative)
  • Strong-willed can be persistent (positive) or stubborn (negative)
  • Sensitive can be caring/empathic (positive) or easily upset (negative)
  • Honest can be communicative/trustworthy (positive) or insensitive/brutal (negative)
Apr 11, 2022

What are the advantages and disadvantages of leadership behavior? ›

Advantages: Leader encourages their group towards the target and makes them interactive and more communicative. Disadvantages: Risk taken can leads to bad result. Leaders have to ignore certain protocols of the organisation.

What is your idea about leadership? ›

In simple words, leadership is about taking risks and challenging the status quo. Leaders motivate others to achieve something new and better. Interestingly, leaders do what they do to pursue innovation, not as an obligation. They measure success by looking at the team's achievements and learning.

What is the role of an effective leader? ›

As well as providing direction, inspiration, and guidance, good leaders exhibit courage, passion, confidence, commitment, and ambition. They nurture the strengths and talents of their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals.

What is a good example of a trait? ›

Traits can be qualitative (such as eye color) or quantitative (such as height or blood pressure). A given trait is part of an individual's overall phenotype.


1. Great Man Theory?? (In English 2022)
2. An Introduction to Leadership Theory
(The Right Questions)
3. Why good leaders make you feel safe | Simon Sinek
4. Great Man Theory of Leadership || Trait Theory || Leadership theories|| Leadership and theories
(Pinoy CoffeeRider in TH)
6. Comparison Between Great Man Theory and Trait Theory of Leadership in Urdu/Hindi
(Sherani Academy)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Catherine Tremblay

Last Updated: 09/06/2023

Views: 5573

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Catherine Tremblay

Birthday: 1999-09-23

Address: Suite 461 73643 Sherril Loaf, Dickinsonland, AZ 47941-2379

Phone: +2678139151039

Job: International Administration Supervisor

Hobby: Dowsing, Snowboarding, Rowing, Beekeeping, Calligraphy, Shooting, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Catherine Tremblay, I am a precious, perfect, tasty, enthusiastic, inexpensive, vast, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.