Leadership theories: From great man to great team theory

Leadership is a sensation that has caught the attention of people for more than 100 years. With time, different theories of leadership have come into action. Here we shall discuss the two major theories, the Great Man Theory, and the Great Team theory.

So, what is the great man theory? Well, in simple words, leadership is viewed as a heroic deed done by one person. The ambition and desire to motivate people for a single objective makes people adopt a strategy to help them handle their daily work operations. The Great Man Theory is one of the first leadership theories working on the assumption that there are specific features that separate people with leadership abilities from the rest. This theory of the Great Man is widely popular and quite famous in science literature.

But, what all is included in this theory?

Up till now, there are no commonly-acceptable global leadership abilities

The search for features that outline prospective leaders started with many studies that began in the former half of the 20th century. In 1948, Stogdill concluded that confidence, efficiency, reliability, and sociability are a few characteristics that portray successful leaders. Other researchers added traits like innovativeness, motivation, and masculinity to the list.

However, they failed to unfold the long-wanted repeating pattern. And lastly, the realization occurred that many traits are not related to successful leadership. In 2002, Judge et al. concluded that individual traits like being open to new things, conscientiousness, and being extroverted are some traits that can relate to successful leadership. These qualities are often seen in the trait-based leadership model.

The Five-Factor Model of Personality and Leadership

  • Neuroticism: Neurotic people are restless, nervous, and self-doubting and may turn harsh during stressful conditions.
  • Extroversion: Extroverts are passionate, outbound, and friendly and always present themselves in a positive way.
  • Openness: Highly open People are often untraditional and choose autonomy.
  • Agreeableness: These people are cheerful, enthusiastic, friendly, and adaptable.
  • Conscientiousness: These people are dedicated, hardworking, careful, and achievement-oriented.

The Five-Factor Model of Personality has all the personality traits used in companies to choose and develop employees, leaders, executives, and managers with leadership potential. Also, cognitive performance and intelligence are traits linked with successful leadership. (Schmidt 2002). The theory of Great Man aims to unravel global traits and is a controversial topic to date.

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Redefining leadership: Workplace environment, different conditions, and people stand at the center of leadership

So, what is the present understanding of leadership when the Great Man Theory isn’t confirmed till now? Like many other things, the answer to this question is not very simple. The current leadership approach has shifted from a single superhero to a combination of many aspects accounting for the desired environment and the human factor. This has led to the growth of another theory mentioned below:

The Great Team Theory is not new but has gained much popularity. Just standing opposite to the Great Man Theory, the Great Team Theory assumes leadership as more of a team and interactive process between two people at minimum (a follower and a leader). It is an interactive relationship formed between two people. The relationship can be of high or low quality.

The major decisive criteria for developing a top-quality team leadership relationship are dedication, trust, and respect. The better the bond, i.e., the relationship standards, the higher the performance of the team, the better work satisfaction, and overall welfare.

Great Team Leadership Theory- How does one plus one add to three?

Working collaboratively in teams to reach a common objective with group effort is an effort that’s becoming more relevant these days. Leadership means team growth, motivation for common objectives, and further enhancement. Group development has a major role because it helps everyone identify with the team.

Organizational goals are a trait that separates real teams from mock teams. Thus, in team leadership, leadership is more like a shared procedure that is not perceived by one person but implanted in the complete team. This leads to a boost in the performance of every single person and collectively as a team to a level that surpasses the combined effort of the individual team members.

Genuine leadership: Moral, self-confident, self-aware, ethical, and positive psychology

Current understanding in the areas of positive psychology, inspiration research, and the rising relevance of ethics are added to the recent leadership model. Genuine leadership includes leading actions that need a dedicated and consolidated persona while aligning with high moral and ethical standards. It is all about working towards positive team development and the company as a whole.

Thus, genuine leadership involves a new understanding of the effects of the right emotion on people teamed with the already set leadership models to develop a new promising approach.

Agile leadership: Stand out from the competition in the VUCA workplace environment

Agile leadership is also a leadership model which gained traction off-lately. Opposing the most accessible leadership methods, agile leadership is a holistic model that works on preset principles extracted from systems theory and social sciences. Basically, it is a decision-making and decision-implementing structure.

Agile leadership doesn’t depend on one major leader but on a distributed and team-based leadership method. By choosing quick decision-making cycles rather than a long and time-taking planning step, agility allows a quick and efficient adjustment to a constantly changing work environment. It makes agile leadership perfect for an environment with a great standard of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity).

While the transition from the Great Man Theory to the Great Team Theory did not occur in one day, here is a more straightforward way to understand both terms.

History of Great Man Theory

The myth behind some of the most renowned leaders across the globe, like Abraham Lincoln and Alexander the Great, helped add to the idea that great leaders are not made; they are born!

In most instances, it appeared as if the right person for the position emerged magically and took control of things and led people towards success. Thomas Carlyle, a renowned historian, also influenced this theory. He mentioned the world’s history is all about the rich biographies of powerful men. He believed that efficient leaders are the ones that have divine inspiration and perfect traits.

The initial research on leadership focused on people who were successful leaders beforehand. It involved aristocratic leaders who accomplished their position via birthright. As people of lower social status had a lesser chance to accomplish leadership roles, it added to the myth that leadership is all about inherent abilities.

To date, people often explain prominent leaders as having the appropriate personality for the role. It means that inherent characteristics make them effective leaders.

Opinions against the same

According to Herbert Spencer, “leaders were society products where they live.” He further added, “the origin of a leader relies on the consistent series of complicated influences that led to the race where he/she stands and social status where the race is growing… before he impacts the society, the society impacts him.

A major issue with the Great Man Leadership theory is that not everyone with the so-called natural leadership traits becomes a leader. If leadership were only an inborn talent, everyone with the required traits would see themselves in leadership positions.

Research also revealed that leadership is a complex topic, and several factors impact a particular leader’s success. Traits of the group, the environment, organizational goals, and many other aspects help determine the type of leadership needed and its effectiveness.

Enter The Great Team Theory!

How teams function collaboratively has evolved. Distance working and the rise in complex cross-functional projects demands higher flexibility, modernization, and creativeness in leadership. This revolution resulted in the birth of the Great Team Leadership Theory!

This vivid method of leadership eliminates the conventional ladder of leader and team and the authoritative status accompanied by it. According to the condition, a leader is someone with the best-related knowledge and experience at a specific time.

It is a framework that comes out as an idea that every individual in a team is interdependent and working for a common objective with a mutual interest in their pooled success. This team leadership approach helps everyone to feel important and valuable.

The idea here is to aim for better team efficiency. However, only a strong team can succeed- especially with great interpersonal dynamics, higher experience, and extreme efficiency.

Pros and cons of Great Team Theory

The idea of leadership team theory is that instead of one person calling the shots, it is a team. This model can be used in any business. But, it majorly depends on a democratic approach and has some positives and negatives.

Benefits of Great Team Theory

  • Efficient problem solving for issues, especially through collaborative creative ideas
  • Better working relationships and higher collaboration between every member of the team.
  • Information sharing helps team members to enhance their knowledge in areas other than what they specialize in.
  • Helps to choose considered solutions cautiously- many ideas are better than one
  • Better job satisfaction for all as everyone feels valuable

Cons of Great Team Theory

  • Democratic decisions take time and may not be recommended when the company needs quick decisions.
  • Often a team may fail to reach a consensus. This may need voting or a chairperson to come up with a decision.
  • Sometimes individual opinions may be ignored.

Effect of Great Team Theory

The effect of the Great Team Leadership theory can be far-reaching!

Great Team Theory's effects


The Great Team theory helps you develop the confidence and abilities of your team. It makes the leader central to developing a workplace culture that values every person and recognizes their expertise and experience. It gives the leader the power to make or break morale depending on how they treat their team. It also helps increase loyalty, retention, and job satisfaction by giving every team member respect, acknowledgment, and support they deserve.

As a leader, you can develop an environment of trust and integrity to boost employee engagement. It makes the workforce feel secure in stepping ahead for a challenge, enjoy the recognition they deserve, and acquire a feeling of achievement for any success they make.


Strong teams are the base of successful businesses. Productivity, development, invention, effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and service enhance along with revenues. An engaged team has a higher chance to go the extra mile not because they are forced to but because they wish to.

Good team leadership boosts employee retention rates and adds to the company’s reputation as a desirable place to join. It develops a workplace culture that makes your company more appealing than the others, attracting and retaining the talent it needs for better growth.

On the world

Good leaders establish the moral extent of a business, from how it behaves with its employees to its behavior towards its customers. And leaders also show how a company sees itself in the world.

From deciding about the supply chain to promoting diversity in the company,  leadership decisions make a broader societal impact.

And leaders also affect their peers. Leading by example has become quite common. Technology has widened the influence sphere, allowing the decisions you make to be noticed, shared, and practiced worldwide.

Living in a connected world, every leadership decision has a reaction. And, as a leader, it is up to you to decide what that action of yours appears like to the world.


As per the renowned business literature, leadership is all about great individual characters that derive their company towards success through their actions. With time, companies have shifted from the Great Man Theory to the Great Team Theory because they realize that great leaders are born and not made. Thus, you can always use the best leadership coaching to coach your workforce and prepare future leaders for your company. As a business, you don’t need to search for born leaders; rather, you aim to develop the best leaders from your workforce by appropriately coaching, training, and mentoring them from the best coaches on a reliable platform.