Theories of Leadership: Great Men and Great Women


In this time of leadership crisis, what can we learn from differently from great male and female leaders?

Men and women leaders

Andrii Yalanskyi/Adobestock


Last Friday I introduced a series of columns on leadership, and noted there have been a variety of leadership theories. One of them is the great man theory, which was established by the philosopher Aristotle among others. It was an obvious reflection, for better or worse, of historical patriarchal domination. That explanation is further confirmed by the fact that the 5 leaders I mentioned were all men. Whether they could be considered great in any sense of that term is debatable, although the recently assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was touted as such for bringing Japan out of a malaise and for forming productive relationships with our presidents.

Given that the rest of the men are in political duress, the necessary question is whether more women leaders would be better. This would convey the great woman theory. Although historically women leaders have been a distinct minority, there have been some prominent female political leaders. If fact, some may say that Vladimir Putin is modeling himself after Catherine the Great, who expanded the Russian empire in the 18th century by, among other things, conquering Crimea and western Ukraine. Also on this list are the Queen Elizabeths of England. And, more recently, great female leaders included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Gold Meir in Israel. It is not clear that there have been major differences and outcomes between these “great” women and men.

Our recent leadership history in psychiatry, at least as far as the American Psychiatric Association goes, is different. Although our CEOs, which are chosen by our board of trustees, continue to be men who serve many years, lately most of the presidents, who are voted in by the members, have been women, and their terms are only 1 year. The women presidents have tended to emphasize the social determinants of mental health. Perhaps a hormonal influence on brain development as well as the traditional mothering social role and experience contribute to their interest and platforms on ethics of care in relationships, while the male presidents have generally emphasized justice. Given that relationships worldwide are more crucial than ever, it would seem that what we have experienced in psychiatry might be tested out more widely in the world.

Or is a nonbinary gender leader another possibility?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. To create a better world, he is an advocate for treating mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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