A Research On Whether Margaret Thatcher Could Be Considered A “great Man”


There is one important question to be asked- what defines a good leader? Is there something specific that one must do in order to be considered a great leader? Can you inherit great-leader genes? Some believe that greatness is inherited, some believe that great leadership can be taught through classes and training, some believe great leaders are products of their environment and some believe it to be a combination of the three. Margaret Thatcher accomplished many things during her time as Prime Minister. Not only was she the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain but she had a huge impact on the economy of Great Britain during her time in office. One her most famous accomplishments was the introduction of “Thatcherism”. This term was named directly after her.

Margaret Thatcher is known for being a very strong and powerful leader. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain after leading the Conservative party for four years prior. Thatcher accomplished many things while holding that position- encouraged the free enterprise market in Great Britain, lowered inflation in the 1980s due to her economic policies, led the United Kingdom through the Falkands War successfully, and many others. Thatcher was a strong leader known for her perseverance and brilliance and was even given the nickname of the “Iron Lady”. Over the course of history there have been many great leaders like Margaret Thatcher. These leaders are known for accomplishing many different things. But what makes a leader great? Is there a way to teach people to be good leaders or is it something that they inherit or are born with? In this research paper I would like to assess whether Thatcher, even though she is a woman, fits the Great Man Theory.

Leadership Personalities

It has been proven that emotions have not been systematically studied which leaves a lot of room for interpretation and overlap within certain character traits of a leader (Crawford, 2000). There are a few ways to understand and categorize leaders based on their personalities- operational code, presidential character, and leadership trait analysis. Each form of analysis helps determine a leader’s characteristics by analyzing them in different ways.

Operational code is used to describe the leader or decision maker’s fundamental beliefs. The operational code uses two sets of questions, philosophical and instrumental, to gather the information needed on the leader to determine their operational codes. It has been stated that in a study of Henry Kissinger’s operational code that “the scope of these linkages is logically restricted to decision-making situations with characteristics that permit Kissinger to exercise his personal influence”. The statement made by Walker (1977) can be considered with any leader and not just Kissinger. The operational code analyzes a leader to determine how they perceive the world and the effects, whether positive or negative, that certain decisions will have.

According to the study titled, Cross-cultural comparisons of political leaders’ operational codes, leaders are not just rational humans who consider every possible scenario, whether good or bad, when making politically-based decisions but they are humans who have beliefs, biases, ideologies, and emotions (Dirilen-Gumus, 2017). Operational code relies on the analyst to determine the outcome of the leader for that strategy. Using the operational code approach to analyze leaders is considered to be one of the strongest and most well-established political psychology tools. Walker (1977) makes the statement “the operational code construct is an attempt to isolate the most politically relevant aspects of an individual’s cognitive map and conceptualize them so that they become a set of general beliefs about political life” which helps understand the aspects of the operational code and what it is used for.

The second form of analysis is the presidential character analysis. According to the book written by James David Barber titled, The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, the presidential character strategy is evaluated based on five concepts- character, climate of expectations, worldview, power situation, and style (1972). Within this strategy the evaluations of the five concepts categorize the leaders, specifically presidents, into four categories. The four categories established are being active-positive, passive-positive, active-negative, and passive-negative. To determine whether a president is active or passive one has to consider the presidents energy level. Does the president devote a lot of energy into his job as president or barely any? The answer to this question determines whether they are active or passive with active involving more energy and passive involving less. To determine whether a president is positive or negative one needs to determine the way the president “feels about what he does”. Does the president find the job of being president delightful or discouraging? The answer to this question determines whether the president is positive or negative. Barber (1972) stated in his book that Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War for Franklin Roosevelt wrote that the Roosevelts “…not only understood the use of power, they knew the enjoyment of power, too....Whether a man is burdened by power or enjoys power; whether he is trapped by responsibility or made free by it; whether he is moved by other people and outer forces or moves them — that is the essence of leadership”.

The third form of analysis is the leadership trait analysis. What is different about the leadership trait analysis is that it does not require the cooperation of the leader in question. For this strategy all that is needed to determine leadership traits are the interviews and speeches that the leaders have previously done. Hermann (1999) noted that when considering speeches from leaders one needs to be wary due to the fact that most of the time the speeches are written by other people for that leader. Hermann (1999) also noted that of the two- speeches and interviews- interviews are more closely based on the leader’s personality due to interviews being based on quick responses on the leader’s behalf. This quick response is good to see the leader’s lack of control in a public setting. Hermann (1999) makes a statement regarding leadership traits that helps sum up the meaning behind them by stating that it the traits are “the ways in which leaders relate to those around them, whether constituents, advisors, or other leaders- how they structure interactions and the norms, rules, and principles they use to guide such interactions”. It was determined by Hermann (1999) that leadership styles are constructed from the answers given from three questions. The three questions were determined as-

“How do leaders react to political constraints in their environment – do they respect or challenge such constraints? (b) How open are leaders to incoming information – do they selectively use information or are they open to information directing their response? (c) What are the leaders’ reasons for seeking their positions – are they driven by an internal focus of attention within themselves or by the relationships that can be formed with salient constituents?”.

The answers given to the three questions determines the sensitivity or insensitivity to political circumstances with which they are eager to have authority over what occurs or to be the voice for another stance.

Importance of Leadership Analysis

There is a difference between the public persona and the private persona of an individual. Gathering information on a leader’s personality can affect future decision making and could help prevent future destruction as well. Being able to understand what makes a leader great and even what makes a leader bad can be incredibly beneficial to the analysis of foreign policy. What shapes leaders’ beliefs and behaviors are their character (Wayne, 2011). It governs their relationship with others. Wayne (2011) stated that “The personal experience from which character is developed also effects beliefs. As people become aware of the world around them and seek to understand it, they formulate views that frame the mindset from which their judgments are made. Their views and beliefs also shape their perceptions of reality; they are guides to decision making”.

Being able to fully understand the individual and what they’ve experiences in the past, the choices they are given, and the decisions they make can help predict and anticipate the potential prosperity or destruction of a nation (Wayne, 2011). Analysts can compare the previous leaders to future leaders to gauge what decision he or she might make.

There are some key characteristics that stand out when determining the analysis of leaders. Clifford (2018) mentioned in his article Reassessing the structure of presidential character, that competence was found to be ranked as the most important characteristic whereas, sociability was found to be the most unimportant. It was also determined that goal-driven leaders view their surroundings from a point of view based on their beliefs, motives, attitudes, and passions. Those who tend to view life as a “theater where there are many roles to be played”, tend to be the more situationally responsive leaders. Stevens and Karp (2012) determined in their study that two key traits stood out for presidential candidates and presidents was competence and trustworthiness. Taking this into consideration, determining the characteristics of leaders can be incredibly helpful. Understanding these can help anticipate future decisions that could one day change the course of history.

Not every leader can be categorized into organized and clear sections. Not every terrible leader has a dark past just like not every great leader has a good past. If a child is abused growing up it does not mean that the child will become an abuser in the future. That could potentially happen, but it is not guaranteed. There is a higher likelihood that the child might grow up to abuse others, but it is not considered to be a guarantee. Being able to understand and recognize the good and bad behaviors in leaders can be a challenge but can be incredibly helpful.

Great Man Theory

A popular theory that continues to be brought up with the examination of leaders is The Great Man Theory. The Great Man Theory describes the idea that great leaders were born to be great leaders. Even though the Great Men Theory has been known to focus heavily on male success, it can still be applied to women. There is nothing that prohibits a woman from being considered a great leader. There have been many great women leaders throughout history- Margaret Thatcher, Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, and the list could go on. Whatever qualifications are given to men in order to determine their greatness can be given to women as well. So for the purposes of this paper, when the term “great men” is used it also includes “great women”.

The Great Man Theory emerged from a piece written by Thomas Carlyle in 1840 titled On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (Carlyle, 1986). Carlyle emphasized that Great Men are born into the world already containing the characteristics needed to be considered great (Carlyle, 1986). Originally, Great Men were considered to be strong and smart (Mouton, 2019). The Great Man Theory is seen as a “trait approach” that highlights exceptional and exemplary characteristics. There are two main assumptions within the Great Man Theory- leaders are born with certain traits that make the become more powerful leaders and that leaders will rise when the need for them is high (Spector, 2015). The Great Men Theory is noted to be an “analytic description of the elemental forces that lead people to seek heroes”. Carlyle fully believed that that Great Men were essentially gods that should be worshipped and revered simply for their incredible ability to make good decisions and lead accordingly (Carlyle, 1986). Carlyle often referred to these Great Men as heroes.

There are numerous great men that have been found in history between military leaders, leaders of countries, and even leaders of religion. Carlyle states, “The History of the World, I said already, was the Biography of Great Men”. Carlyle’s (1986) statement about the biography of history being written by the actions of Great Men is a popular idea considering Borgatta, Bales, and Couch (1954) mentioned the same idea that history has been continually referenced from the point of view of “great men” allowing for them to essentially be the storytellers of history. This perpetuates Carlyle’s idea of hero worship. It has been stated that many scholars have challenged this theory to say that it is primitive and illogical, but the Great Man Theory makes very interesting and valid points that describe many leaders including the brilliant Margaret Thatcher (Spector, 2015). Although the Great Men Theory appears to be primitive in some cases to some scholars, that does not mean that the theory is dead and should be dismissed.

The many accomplishments of Margaret Thatcher

This next section is designed to note some of Margaret Thatcher’s main accomplishments in order to establish the significance of her decision making and logicality. Margaret Thatcher was known for many things in her career as a stateswoman. She used market-based reforms to restore the British economy, got rid of marginal tax rates, nullified exchange controls, deregulated, controlled militant labor unions, and implemented the term named directly after her- Thatcherism. Before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the British economy was in trouble. The global economy has been largely affected by privatization by encouraging economic growth and enhancing living standards (Edwards, 2017). Because of Margaret Thatcher, labor productivity increased substantially in the gas and electricity industries.Because of her dedication to privatization of industries and trade union legislation the term “Thatcherism” was established.


Thatcherism is the term used to characterize all of the things that Margaret Thatcher worked for and the way in which she accomplished them, relating specifically to the huge privatization efforts from state control to market. Thatcherism was comprised of six main components. The first component was the “liberalization to promote free market forms of competition” where there was greater competition and the ability to keep out monopoly and oligopoly and allow for more possible contest within (Jessop, 2015, p. 23). The second component was deregulation; giving more freedom from state control to economic mediums. The third component was the privatization of agencies that are owned by the state. The fourth component was the introduction of “market proxies” in order to effectively share public services (Jessop, 2015, p. 23). The fifth component was the reduction of direct taxes on a handful of things- personal income, personal wealth, and corporate income. The very last component was the promotion of the “free flow of goods and services” through internationalization.

Thatcherism is considered incredibly important because it perpetuated the idea that markets and states should be separated and gave the markets more power. Margaret Thatcher supported the small and medium sized enterprises. Thatcher was a pioneer for entrepreneurship and wanted to keep business in the hands of the small to medium size business. In her efforts to increase privatization, Thatcher brought inflation down and raised the living standards along.This encouraged competition in Britain’s economy allowing for more growth and opportunity.

What makes Margaret Thatcher a “Great (Wo)Man”?

Margaret Thatcher accomplished a lot of things and managed to turn Britain’s economy around. Thatcher, being the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, inventing her own term for her accomplishments, and taking the world by storm must have been a very strong and powerful leader. But does that mean that she is a great leader? Does she fit in with the Great Man Theory?

Understanding Margaret Thatcher’s personality and character plays a key role in understanding her policies and implementations. Margaret Thatcher is known for her starkness. It takes a lot of strength, bravery, and spirit to become the first female Prime Minister and “play with the big boys”. Thatcher did not take “no” for an answer; she made her way through a largely male dominated field and excelled. She was very straightforward and did not allow people to patronize her.

When Thatcher delivered her speech concerning the British miner’s strike of 1984-1985, she focused her speech in a very compelling way. Earlier in the morning a bomb exploded in the same building in which Thatcher was in that was placed there by the Irish Republican Army to target the Conservatives. Thatcher was not harmed but many died, and more were injured. Thatcher was not a fan of unionizing and focused her speech more on the division of what she called the democratically elected government and terrorism. Margaret Thatcher has a very black-and-white style of thinking. She chose to use this speech to separate the two groups into the British against the National Union of Mineworkers in very few words. In this speech she established a clear sense of right and wrong or black-and-white. According to Dyson (2009), Margaret Thatcher has a lower complexity cognitive style. Individuals with a lower complexity cognitive style are often more sure of themselves. They appear very confident and they way the act and speak instead of someone with a higher complexity cognitive style who is very unsure or doubtful. Thatcher was a “distinctive and forceful individual”.

Taking all of this into consideration, Margaret Thatcher fits within the Great Man Theory. Some might question if that is possible considering the fact that she is a woman. If anything, that just proves she fits even more. As a woman, Thatcher is held to a different set of standards. People expect women to not accomplish as much as men. She surpassed those standards and even those expected of men. She increased growth within Britain’s economy and established many things that changed the great kingdom of Britain. Margaret Thatcher was someone who was born to do great things and lead a nation of people into growth and prosperity. With her strength and courage, she became one of the most praised leaders in history and that is considering all leaders- not just women.


In conclusion, there are many ways to analyze a leader and many different theories as to how a leader becomes great. Margaret Thatcher was a strong and powerful leader who led the way for women in politics in Europe. She accomplished many things during her time in office. As a strong, independent woman who encouraged other women to follow in her footsteps, she made her way through a field dominated by men and did so by making a difference. This paper proves Margaret Thatcher’s qualifications to be a Great (wo)Man. Margaret Thatcher, “…swung her handbag thoroughly in a policy world largely dominated by well-bred men who wanted to patronize her” and she’s a hero.

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16 December 2021
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