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Video:What Is the "Great Man" Leadership Theory?

with Dr. Robert Reiner

The "Great Man" leadership theory discusses innate traits common in historical figures. Learn more about the "Great Man" theory in this video and how interpretations have changed over the years.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is the "Great Man" Leadership Theory?

This is Dr. Robert Reiner from Behavioral Associates in New York. I’m talking to you about the “Great Man” theory, which was a prominent psychological theory espoused and written about by Thomas Carlysle in the nineteenth century.

Based on the Trait Leadership Theory

The theory, which seems kind of quaint right now, was based on something called trait theory, which is that great men were kind of born that way - men like Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln - with traits that were simply extraordinary: extraordinary amounts of courage; intelligence; the ability to size up a battlefield, whether it was in government or actually on a battlefield.

"Great Man" Theory is Open to Interpretation

But, the belief of this “Great Man” theory was that people every once in a generation were born with extraordinary psychological characteristics. That has been replaced by more current theories that are based more on state as opposed to trait. There’s no innate quality that we know of in psychology tied to great leadership because it’s situation specific. We now know that to be true. Somebody can look like a great leader in boot camp or in any kind of training program, yet, in the battlefield freeze up or maybe even run.

Point is, things we once believed to be great predictors turned out to be great disappointments. It’s a lot more in the eyes of the person doing the interpreting rather than the great person himself or herself being born and staying that way for a full lifetime. It was a very seductive and attractive kind of position, but unfortunately not an accurate one.

This has been Dr. Robert Reiner from Behavioral Associates in New York City. I was talking to you about the “Great Man” theory. If you want more information about it, go to About.com. Thank you.

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