- Bert Alan Spector⇑
- Bert Alan Spector, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University, 350 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Contemporary surveys of leadership scholarship will occasionally mention the Great Man theory before moving on to more rigorous
academic categories. Less a theory than a statement of faith, the Great Man theory does not fit into the rigorous scholarly
theory and research that makes up the contemporary canon of leadership discourse. My goal in this article is to treat the
Great Man theory seriously and to present a fuller notion of the theory. My intent is not to offer a defense of the theory
or to “redeem” Thomas Carlyle as a leadership theorist. Rather, I will add a hitherto unacknowledged dimension: the element
of Freudian psychology. In Freud’s case, the Great Man was articulated not a moral proscription for how to act, but rather
an analytic description of the elemental forces that lead people to seek heroes. The article suggests that the Great Man theory
is worth considering because of its contemporary relevance. To consider the theory in full, however, Freud’s work on leadership
needs to be examined alongside that of Carlyle. It is Freud’s description of the impulses that drive us toward authority figures,
more than Carlyle’s proselytizing for hero worship that can, and should offer valuable insights into how we—scholars, observers,
and participants in the business world—react to corporate saviors.