A literary perspective on the limits of leadership: Tolstoy’s critique of the great man theory

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

The traditional Great Man theory of leadership is treated with scant respect, yet it is still widely in use. This article reconstructs and reevaluates Tolstoy’s critique of the claim that great men drive the course of events. Great men are not great, Tolstoy contends, nor do they drive the course of events: they merely think that they do, due to an incorrigible combination of conceitedness and incognizance. The illusion of their pervasive influence persists because it is built into the narratives we tell about events, in the form of unexamined assumptions about—inter alia—power, plans, and planners. Tolstoy subjects these tacit suppositions to critical scrutiny and constructs a coherent counter-narrative that neatly contradicts nearly everything that Great Man stories affirm. His critique engenders an epistemological crisis that still constitutes a significant challenge to contemporary studies of leadership.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLeadership
Volume15
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)81-102
Number of pages22
ISSN1742-7150
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

Cite this

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abstract = "The traditional Great Man theory of leadership is treated with scant respect, yet it is still widely in use. This article reconstructs and reevaluates Tolstoy’s critique of the claim that great men drive the course of events. Great men are not great, Tolstoy contends, nor do they drive the course of events: they merely think that they do, due to an incorrigible combination of conceitedness and incognizance. The illusion of their pervasive influence persists because it is built into the narratives we tell about events, in the form of unexamined assumptions about—inter alia—power, plans, and planners. Tolstoy subjects these tacit suppositions to critical scrutiny and constructs a coherent counter-narrative that neatly contradicts nearly everything that Great Man stories affirm. His critique engenders an epistemological crisis that still constitutes a significant challenge to contemporary studies of leadership.",
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A literary perspective on the limits of leadership : Tolstoy’s critique of the great man theory. / Mouton, Nicolaas T.O.

In: Leadership, Vol. 15, No. 1, 01.02.2019, p. 81-102.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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