Leadership Theories: Great Man Theory

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Chapter 1: Leadership theories Leadership theories are attempts to answer some of the question people have about leadership. These theories range from simple “armchair philosophies” about the personal characteristics and effect relationship between leaders and followers and situations. Great man theory Thomas Carleyle, an influential Scottish historian, is given credit for the dictum: “the history of the world is but the biography of great men”. We can easily relate to Carleyle’s view since specific examples of men who seem to have changed the course of history come readily to mind de Gaulle, Hitler, Jesus Christ, Lincoln, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Lenin, and Martin Luther King. Winston Churchill, a man who for many personifies the great man, is the main subject of a recent book, the great man. On a less grand scale, there have been great man leaders in business and industry Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, Mellon, Gould, Sloan and Harriman. In great man theory the emphasis is on the person, who he is and what makes him the way he is. Presumably, through studying the personality, behavior and characteristics of these great men, we can acquire greater awareness of leadership. This view implies that we can learn from how to become effective leaders by studying these men and emulating those characteristics that seem to account for their successful leadership. Very often, when people lament the critical shortage of leadership in American society, they are referring to the great man type of leader. What often is overlooked is that the demands on today’s leaders have become incredibly complex broad in scope. Contemporary society is less responsive to the appeal of great man leaders and is less willing to play a docile follower role,... ... middle of paper ... ...l in cases of intergroup competition. The point is that, even though universal traits cannot be found, it may be possible to find personality traits that are common to homogeneous types of groups or situations. Third, for purposes of personal selection in an organization there often will be reliance on an appraisal of personality traits. Finally, in spite of lack of agreement on a complete list of leadership traits, there is some agreement on a few: intelligence, social maturity and breadth, inner motivation and achievement drives, and human relations attitudes. These traits are in no sense “universal” traits. However, as Keith Davis notes in his discussion of these traits, “Studies show that there is a better than chance probability that a leader will have more of these traits than the general population and sometimes even more than the average of his followers”.
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