Leaders in History

Do Great Leaders Make History, or Does History Make Great Leaders?
Reconsider history’s “great leaders” in light of this debate.

Introduction

Some people argue that history can largely be explained by the impact of great leaders—a relatively small set of historical figures whose highly influential actions and decisions shaped the course of the world. In other words, great leaders make history. 


However, others argue that great leaders are little more than the products of their specific societies and times—factors that are outside their control. In this view, great leaders only appear when the social conditions are ripe for an influential person to arise. In other words, the course of history itself is what determines whether or not a great leader appears.  
 

So which view do you support: Do great leaders make history, or does history make great leaders? Follow the exercises below to consider a few case studies from history and come to your own conclusion.
 

References

  1. Vishakha Sonawane, “Harry Truman Birthday: Quotes to Celebrate 33rd President’s Birthday,” International Business Times, 8 May 2017, https://www.ibtimes.com/harry-truman-birthday-quotes-celebrate-33rd-presidents-birthday-2535963 [31 July 2020].

Next Up:

DEFINING LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

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THEORIES OF LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

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EXPLORING THE FIVE THEORIES OF LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

Tell people more about the classes you offer. Add images, text and links, or connect data from your collection to display dynamic content.

Next Up:

DEFINING LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

Define what leadership is and brainstorm word associations related to leadership.

THEORIES OF LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

Learn about five main theories of leadership.

EXPLORING THE FIVE THEORIES OF LEADERSHIP

ACTIVITY

Reexamine your notions of leadership and reflect on your leadership experience.

Read the quote below by U.S. President Harry Truman.

Do you agree with this quote? Or disagree? Why?

 

Give at least one example from history to support your position.

truman%20(1)_edited.jpg

 President Harry S. Truman, 1949.

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”¹

-President Harry Truman

Image by Library of Congress

President John F. Kennedy, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front.

1741px-Harriet_Tubman_c1868-69_(cropped)

Portrait of Harriet Tubman.

Interview with Cesar Chavez, 1979.

800px-Patsy_Mink_1970s (1).jpg

Patsy Mink, ca. 1965.

512px-Susan_B_Anthony_c1855_edited_edite

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, ca. 1855.

8673602267_741dbb7118_4k_edited_edited_e

Dennis Banks being honored in 2013.

Old World Map
  • Why were these leaders great?
     

  • ​What did they accomplish?
     

  • What were the historical circumstances around their leadership?

Name some “great leaders” in history

Reconsider these leaders through the lens of the debate

  • Did these leaders make history, or did history make them?
     

  • Pull from your own historical knowledge to try to discuss each case.

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