a great man is he who perceives the invisible and knows the obvious. The Great Man Theory of Leadership states that some people are born with the attributes that set them apart from others and that these traits are responsible for their position of power and authority. A leader is a hero who accomplishes goals against all odds for his followers.
The Great Man Theory was established in the 19e Century by proponents like the historian Thomas Carlyle, who advanced the idea that world history is nothing more than a collection of biographies of great men.
According to the theory, leadership requires qualities such as charm, persuasion, dominant personality, a high degree of intuition, judgment, courage, intelligence, aggression and action orientation that ‘they cannot be taught or learned in a formal sense.
In South Asia, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Shibli Naumani were strongly influenced by Thomas Carlyle. He had been the most significant influence on Muslim scholarship in history. It is also important to realize that while the great man theory itself is archaic and debatable, the traits identified by Carlyle have been repeated in other leadership theories as desirable in leaders and, because of this, new and seasoned leaders would do well. to develop them.
This theory began the scholarship of which traits and characteristics make great leaders. However, the theory lacks scientific validity and only considers men in power.
As Sidney Hook notes, a common misinterpretation of the theory is that “every factor in history except great men was inconsequential”. Rather, Carlyle asserted that great men are the deciding factor, because of their unique genius.
Hook continues by emphasizing this uniqueness to illustrate his point: “Genius is not the result of cumulative talent. How many battalions is one Napoleon? How many minor poets will give us a Shakespeare? How many “ordinary” scientists will do the work of an Einstein?
American scholar Frederick Adams Woods supported the great man theory in his work, The influence of monarchs: stages of a new science of history. Woods investigated 386 Western European rulers from the 12th century until the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century and their influence on the course of historical events.
American philosopher William James, in his 1880 lecture Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment published in the Atlantic Monthlyforcefully defended Carlyle against his detractors, including the famous philosopher Herbert Spencer.
Spencer argued that attributing historical successes to individual decisions was primitive and unscientific and that so-called “great men” were mere products of their social environment. Before a “great man” could shape and build his society, the same society had to shape and build him.
While challenging Spencer in favor of Carlyle, William James asserted: “If there is one thing humanly certain, it is that the society of the great man proper does not do it until he can do it again… mutations of societies, therefore, from generation to generation, are essentially due directly or indirectly to the acts or examples of individuals whose genius was so adapted to the receptivities of the moment, or whose accidental position of authority was so critical that they have become leavens, initiators of movements, creators of precedents or fashions, centers of corruption or destroyers of other people, whose gifts, if they had had free play, would have led society into a other direction.
What I want to assert is that success is different from greatness. Great people tend to set impossible goals. Very few of them manage to reach them. Jesus Christ, Buddha, Socrates, Napoleon and Gandhi fall into this category. For the attributes of a great person (leader), Iqbal gives the fullest description in his couplet.
Big ambition, seductive talk, passionate soul—
It’s the whole arsenal of a caravan leader
“Success is the achievement of a desired goal, such as gaining name and fame or wealth or a higher degree, for which a person has done his best.” A successful man finds his purpose tied to his own well-being (or that of his loved ones) and creates a life where he can fulfill that purpose.
He knows or seeks to find the balance between fueling this goal and sacrificing himself and others to achieve it. Various people have observed success differently. Like, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global says, “To live the life we truly want and deserve, and not just the life we are content with, we need a third measure, a third measure of success that goes beyond two measures of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.
Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, opines, “Success is about loving yourself, loving what you do, and loving the way you do it.” But the most interesting quote is from none other than Winston Churchill who said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.
Churchill’s assertion of a successful person brings her closer to a great individual. In Pakistan, we find many success stories, but greatness is sorely lacking since the passing of Abdul Sattar Edhi. He had empathy. He lived for others; so he will live forever. The couplet of Iqbal mentioned above should be taught to all our politicians. They should make it their life’s purpose. When we have weak state institutions and governments last until the will of the invincible, the need for great individuals will always arise.
The author is a professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts in Beacon House National University, Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]