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.


8 thoughts on “Are the Great Man Theory and Trait Theory still relevant in Contemporary Society?

  1. Great insight. I agree with you that the trait theory is of greater relevance to leadership. What we can’t neglect though is that some persons are definitely born with the ability to leadw2


  2. I completely agree with the assessment of both theories. In a modern society, The Great Man theory can be said to be very primitive despite the fact that some persons really are born with the drive to lead. You cannot discredit those who may not have been born with it but work very hard at gaining the skills required to be a leader


  3. I am a sole believer of the trait theory. There are persons that want to be leaders but do possess certain traits to be one. I believe that socialisation plays the most important role in strong leadership. A leader must be able to communicate, even though we are born with the ability to communicate, there is none the less a standard at which leaders must be able to communicate. This comes naturally for some persons while others have no trouble adapting. Communication is however not all of it, a leader must be strategic, decisive, conscious, and most importantly, in my opinion, passionate. A leader must have the drive to achieve better. A great leader looks to create more great leaders rather than mere followers and they do so by instilling passion into others, through inspiration, being a direct example and encouragement. This is the trait theory and it silences the great man theory because not all leaders are born that way. It’s in our human nature to grow and improve and this takes time, it does not happen over night.


  4. Even persons who aren’t born with a certain affinity for leadership can become leaders. It’s about influences, experiences and environment.


  5. The trait theory is far more viable. I believe a man is the sum of his experiences. Leadership skills are developed,not simply given.


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