Are the Great Man Theory and Trait Theory still relevant in Contemporary Society?

Peer Leader: Michelle Douse

“You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown…. Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

Herbert SpencerThe Study of Sociology

The unanimous decision of our group is that the Trait Theory is definitely a more relevant theory of leadership than the Great Man Theory in today’s society.  Our thoughts vary on the extent to which each is relevant but at the end of our deliberations, the Trait Theory was undoubtedly the victor.  The essence of how we arrived at such a conclusion is succinctly stated in the quote above in which Herbert Spencer, a renowned sociologist, discredits such a theory.  However, for greater clarity the theories must first be dissected and inspected.

The Great Man theory postulates that great leaders are simply born that way.  This straight forward and simple means of examining leadership was in our humble opinion insufficient and faulty.  For it left many questions to be answered and many to be asked.  How is it that one can justify great leadership by simply saying, “He was born that way?”  There must be a better answer, one that takes into account socialization, one’s personal development and other factors.  Are great leaders simply born that way or were they ‘raised’ or ‘trained’ to be that way?  This theory is indeed lacking and primitive as it is in our human nature to grow and improve and this does not happen overnight.

The Trait Theory on the other hand, focuses on various characteristics that make one a great leader.  Examples of such characteristics include but are not limited to honesty, integrity and self-confidence.  The Trait Theory in focusing on certain traits, acknowledges that a leader is made through socialization as it is one’s upbringing that determines various characteristics in an individual.  We are of the view that traits are what constitute a great leader and leader can become even better if he/she builds upon those leadership traits he/she already possesses.

On a side note, the best consensus we could come to was that, it is likely that some persons are naturally more inclined to leadership than others, but even in those circumstances socialization is key to sharpen those innate leadership abilities.  However, we still remain firm in our stance that the Trait Theory is of greater relevance.


Are the Great Man Theory and Trait Theory still relevant in Contemporary Society?

Peer Leader: Ackeena Drummond

Group: The Melancholies

The Great Man Theory refers to the belief that certain individuals were born to be leaders. The entire theory may be summed up in the quote “great leaders were born and not made”. The theory came into being in the 1880’s however, it has been manifested throughout historic societies long before it was identified eg; the Egyptians, Incas, Amerindians etc. These societies did not choose their leaders, they were born of noble birth. Despite the fact that they may not have had any leadership qualities, it believed that they were ‘born to lead’, which is the basic tenet of the Great Man theory. The General Elections have become a modern day manifestation of what the Great Man Theory represents; a group of individuals who believe they were born to lead with no prior leadership training assuming these roles and behaving as though they are lost sheep throughout their tenure. The term ‘Great Man Theory’ came out of a time when the popular belief was that only men were capable of being great leaders however, in modern societies there are many females’ leaders who are doing absolutely well; hence, it leaves us to question the relevance of the theory.

The Trait Theory is somewhat similar to the Great Man Theory; it looks for the imputable characteristics. It speaks to the notion that some people have inherent qualities which makes them exceptional leaders.  However, these qualities/characteristics are often very wide and hard to pinpoint, which leaves us to speculate as to whether or not everyone with these traits are leader.  Moreover, in the case you have fallen short of one or two trait, does this makes you any less of a leader. Unrealistic isn’t it?

Thus, one may conclude that the “Great Man Theory” and Trait Theory have become artifacts of literature whose only relevance in contemporary society is purely for academic reference.

Are the Great Man Theory and Trait Theory still relevant in Contemporary Society?

Peer Leader: Stafford McLean

Often times we are taught many theories and the thoughts that run through our heads are: why am I learning this? Is it even relevant in my life? Is it even relevant in modern society? Two theories we will ask these questions about are the Great Man Theory and Trait Theory. The Great Man Theory of leadership asserts that leaders in general and great leaders in particular are born and not made However the Trait Theory argues that leadership qualities or traits can be acquired. They are not always inborn.

In examining these theories and contemporary society in which we live in, we immediately see a problem. The concept of Great Man Theory is very old, Stone Age beliefs. However, some persons will probably hold true to some of those beliefs and find the Great Man Theory relevant to contemporary society. On the contrary, some might argue that the Great Man Theory is irrelevant. Let’s pretend that my last name was Luther king and I was the grandson of Martin Luther king and I stepped forward to bring about a change. Wouldn’t you listen to what I have to say quicker than if my last name is John Brown? If my last name is Seaga and I am the son of Edward Seaga, wouldn’t I get into a political career much easier? Could it be that we subconsciously believe in born leaders?

However, those who find it irrelevant might disagree and say that even kings who are heir to a throne got formal training and were socialized to be leaders. Princes don’t just sit around and go on vacations daily. They need to get formal training at times in the army. Some might argue that the Trait Theory is relevant. After all, if we can identify certain leadership traits that successful leaders have, we might be able to become successful leaders by adopting these traits. Furthermore, we might be able to avoid the traits of unsuccessful leaders and teach persons to be effective leaders.

Trait Theory can also be seen as irrelevant, traits do not guarantee that you will be a successful or even a good leader. Moreover, the lists of trait are really wide. How do we know which trait is more important to be known. There are more modern and advanced theories on leadership.

So are these theories still relevant? You tell me!