Just the other day, a group of young colleagues and I were debating the relevance of the Great Man Theory of Leadership. The theory was propounded by philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who declared that “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” We have grown up with history texts that had us believe that it was the few, the powerful and the famous who shaped our collective destiny.
We wondered if this was true of the present. “Where are the Great men or women today?” asked one young colleague. “What great work is being done by the great leaders today,” commented another. I must confess that I have been a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, both great men and great leaders. But I too have to admit that the theory appears to have lost its relevance today.
Look around. There are few famous leaders who are making a huge difference to our lives. In fact, there is growing despondency over the drought of great men or women at the helm of affairs right now. It is reflected in the deep freeze in leadership across the globe in tackling the perfect storm brewing around us.
And then, if we look again, there is a growing band of men and women at the grassroots, embodying leadership as we know it, passionately and relentlessly chasing their vision of tomorrow and driving change.
Happily, the scenario at the grassroots is the exact opposite of that at the top. There are many inspiring stories of people, who decided to lead by example instead of chasing the archetypical big city dreams.
So, coming back to the discussion with my colleagues, as one of them suggested, maybe it is time to replace the Great Man theory with the ‘Great Work’ theory of leadership! Wouldn’t you agree?
Our former Vice Chairman & former Joint Managing Director engages with stakeholders through his blog, ‘In Search of New Leaders’ at http://www.vineetnayar.com/
His ideas and thoughts on sustainability, innovation, diversity and leadership are shared regularly through this platform.