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Trait vs. Great Man Theory of Leadership


Every organization or group of people requires a leader who can motivate, unite, and guide them. Individuals follow various leadership strategies and styles depending on a situation, their personal preferences, the characteristics of their followers, and many others. Every leadership approach has some peculiarities that can determine whether subordinates will be successfully guided. The great man theory of leadership and the trait theory of leadership are similar strategies, but slight differences between them result in the fact that the latter is more appropriate for a social work practitioner.

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The Basics of Great Man Theory of Leadership

The great man theory of leadership is one of the oldest attempts to explain how people lead others. This approach stipulates that leaders are born with the required characteristics and qualities (Chow et al., 2017). This statement denotes that not every person can guide and motivate others because it is an inborn skill. Thus, this view of leadership is similar to that of Ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed that their rulers were God’s messengers.

People were instructed that they needed to imitate such historical figures as Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and others, to succeed in the task. Consequently, this theory was beneficial for leaders because they were given almost complete freedom of action, which makes it challenging to comment on some specific components of this approach. However, certain disadvantages contributed to the fact that the theory is not requested today. Firstly, there is no empirical evidence that can support the theoretical assumptions (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Secondly, leaders do not draw attention to situational factors and their followers, which results in many management inefficiencies.

The Details of Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait theory of leadership is a systemized version of the great man theory. Thus, the trait theory does not stipulate that leadership is an inborn quality, but it mentions that a leader should have a specific set of skills and characteristics. For example, typical components of this approach include self-confidence, intelligence, sociability, and others (Chow et al., 2017). If a person masters these abilities, they will obviously become a successful leader. The trait theory also fails to focus on followers’ features in assessing leadership efforts. This approach is often considered useless because no scientific evidence supports its effectiveness.

Similarities and Differences

The two theories under consideration have both similarities and differences. On the one hand, they are similar because the two suggest that leaders are predetermined (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Simultaneously, these approaches can be considered isolated from the real world because they do not stipulate how leaders should behave in different situations (Chow et al., 2017). On the other hand, there is an essential difference because the trait theory specifies that a person should master some, even though predetermined, skills to lead others. Consequently, this approach demonstrates that individuals can invest in becoming leaders.


The great man theory of leadership and the trait theory of leadership can be considered outdated approaches to consider how people lead others. The rationale behind this statement is that the two only focus on leaders’ characteristics and ignore followers’ needs. However, the difference between the two allows for supposing that the trait theory is more suitable for a social work practitioner in a management position. Clients will face some benefits if such a person has particular qualities, including self-confidence, intelligence, and sociability. This scenario offers a higher probability that the leader will address the clients’ needs and requirements, while the social work practitioner’s belief that they are an inborn leader does not imply such chances.


Chow, T. W., Salleh, L. M., & Ismail, I. A. (2017). Lessons from the major leadership theories in comparison to the competency theory for leadership practice. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies, 3(2), 147-156. Web.

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Hunt, T., & Fedynich, L. (2019). Leadership: Past, present, and future: An evolution of an idea. Journal of Arts & Humanities, 8(2), 20-26. Web.

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