19 Attributes of Great Men

great men attributes

From my commonplace:

“I went on troubling myself about general
ideas until I learnt to understand the particular achievements of the best men.”



Trouble yourself about this.


1) Prodigious memory.Either born with it or by practicing mnemonic methods. Checklists, best practices, systems, commonplace.


1b) They found their natural learning method and developed a framework of learning based on it. Churchill was a listener, Caesar was a writer, many were mixed.


2) Social deviants, but not necessarily poor social skills. Simply not very motivated by fitting in with the crowd. Or: Perhaps having such important ideas that it was prioritized above normal company.


3) Creative. Not necessarily like a professional artist or designer, but certainly more creative than average; enough to be consumed by their own ideas and philosophic framework, undeterred from popular opinion.


4) Having their own sense of values. Not going by someone else’s scorecard.


5) Finding a way to scale their biggest talent(s). Usually by building an organization that facilitates it. Easy examples: Steve Wynn, Rockefeller, Hitler, Larry Hillblom, Bernie Ecclestone, Warren Buffett.

  • Steve Wynn = service skills and synergy
  • Rockefeller = bullet-point decision-making + weighing options
  • Hitler = psychology and charisma
  • Larry Hillblom = managerial mastery + jurisdictional stuff
  • Bernie Ecclestone = negotiation and sales
  • Buffett = decision-making, analysis, immersive research


6) Generalists for the most part. Sometimes even comprehenvisists (Munger, Dalio, LKY). Very rarely hyper-specialists (except one or two scientists and inventors).


7) High metacognitive ability & analytic ability. Good at adjusting to feedback without being told “do this”. Remember the successful IT companies.


8) Good at inspiring/motivating others. Giving credit, unifying team, etc. Mike Bloomberg = Role Model.


9) Flexible ego. High self-esteem, willing to look bad if achieving the goal requires it. Goal > image.


10) Good at visualizing. Either through genetic ability (pictorial mind–inventors) or by long-term practice of mental rehearsal, drawing, design.


11) Above average health and energy levels. Also learned to know their body well, pacing themselves between hard work and relaxation without burning out.

Relatively often unfair genetic advantage of being able to get by on 6 hours of sleep per night. Napoleon, Nikola Tesla, Edison, Buckminster Fuller, Ted Turner. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc.


12) Usually good at tracking metrics, taking notes, and adopting an experimental mindset. Seeing what works and doesn’t. Rockefeller is the perfect example. Everyone who is good at something that doesn’t come naturally knows not to expect what they don’t inspect.


13) Develops a unique philosophical framework in their youth (before 30). Either consciously or by accident. Hamilton made +80% of his intellectual progress by ~25 already. Super interesting how one of the brightest people in the history of the world could “stagnate” so early… (and still accomplish more than millions of  average people combined).


14) Built their hard core of allies. LKY & PAP: Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party achieved the best success in history when it comes to transforming a country for the better. The result of identifying the most talented people and maintaining consistent teamwork for 60 years. Unprecedented.


15) They are more driven by legacy, greatness and contribution than they are by sex, money, and popularity. Some say it’s genetic.


16) Above average knowledge. Often when it comes to psychology, motivation, and human nature. Ingvar Kamprad.


17) Finding their own best working hours and methods. Napoleon’s information elimination methods. Hamilton’s coffee-writing. Einstein at the patent office.


18) Great men are cerebrally superior. Most people are focused on short-term profits, relative status, and political correct ideals. The great man builds character; establishes a solid work ethic, and achieves integrity amongst future comrades. Marcus Aurelius.

He knows he’s going to be around for a long time. So, he establishes a pristine reputation as a crafty and dependable fellow.

Credit flocks to the great man.

There’s trillions of that shit out there. But there are only a few great ones per generation.

It was not hard for Rockefeller to get a loan. Carnegie said that if you stripped him of all he had–except his people–he’d get it all back in a few years, and that was in the 19th Century. . .


19) Great Men Rise to the Top by Solving Difficult Problems

(A great man bestows his benevolence..)

They are hyper-focused on adding value and improving their environment.

Put a great man in filth and he will clean it up. Like Lee Kuan Yew did with the Mafia in Singapore.

As soon as Napoleon received notice that he was to be banished to Elba, he throwed himself into self-studies; not self-pity.

By the time he set foot on the Island he already knew most essential facts about the island’s natural resources, fauna, past history, and political structure. He called for a town meeting, presented his big ideas for improvement, and volunteered to become their new mayor. . .

. . and the Elbians intelligently agreed. “What a guy!” they thought.

We need inspiration from:

  • Agrippa.
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu.
  • Albert Speer.

Decisive Marcus

These were extremely intelligent people, masterful managers, whose secrets are now buried in the tides of time. Buried by political correctness. Or perhaps bad luck.

Who else?


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  1. Yves-Georges says

    How do you think Great Men should deal with (repressed) anger, given that some of them very probably grow up in a context that incites it? Hitler and Stalin, for instance, seem to me like men from this category who were affected by past abuse, which in turn (because not correctly/completely dealt with) can have dire consequences on the world, apart from being efficient elsewhere.

    In a Great Man, anger becomes productive when channeled, dangerous when neglected.

    • Hi Yves-Georges,

      I have never thought about that before. But it seems like what you are saying it probably true. Here is a related term you may find useful:


      I think it is a good definition of people who make the most of their experiences.

      • Yves-Georges says

        Thank You, friend.

        I’ll let you know where this leads me.

      • Yves-Georges says

        Hey Ludvig,

        Advancing my personal development. I need to find a way to apply effective anger management, dealing with repressed anger from past human obstruction in childhood + the fact of being slowed down / obstructed still by general average population in a daily manner. What would someone that was in an obvious way “designed for progression and contribution“ (as were Great Men, practically) should be dealing with that, according to you? I have to find techniques to channel that energy in the most productive way possible. My body is traumatized to a degree where it is incessantly, though less and less, harassed by feelings of being abused/attacked, as it has actually been the case in early life by a human predator, so to speak. How would a warrior restore himself after breaches done to him when his defenses were not established? Is just going towards your goal, enough to auto-correct this?
        “Autotelic“ (from the link you sent me last time) turns out to summarize the way to go pretty well; but a particular problem requires a particular solution, which is what I am trying to find here. I therefore need to design a more sophisticated way of proceeding, to accelerate/structure the process. So far I have evacuated (more or less) the surplus of anger after abruptly ceasing medication and other ineffective/worsening mainstream ways, but the core of the problem seems to remain. I am advancing at a fast pace, reading/understanding saved me of course, but anger itself greatly affects the researching, paradoxically.
        Any ideas?


  2. Unfortunately great men are like Diamonds in that they are few and priceless as we are in a world full of ignorant people as well as dumb people. Imagine if we had a world full of great men! The world would be and look so different than it does today. We may have been more advanced and better able to make choices and choose right from wrong.

    Unfortunately its just a dream as we look around the world today.

    • All great men depend on hordes of lesser men for their greatness. Can a writer without readers, a general with no one to conquer, an inventor without workers to reproduce his inventions, a businessman without customers, or a leader without followers be called “great”?

  3. A succinct article here Ludvig – thanks for the summary of these great men.

    What’s jumped out to me was the “generalist” bit. I find that most greats were definitely equipped with an above-average general grip of human nature, psych, behavior, and sociology.

    However, I feel what made them truly great was focusing in on their highest visions and largest natural strengths, and mining those caverns the deepest.

    I always enjoy Munger’s “multi-disciplinary mental models”. I think in this sense, there’s nothing wrong with being a generalist; I often find it hard to define “what I do” for a living. But being a jack of all trades in business is dangerous. I think the way you’ve defined generalist here is significant.

    * Slight typo on “comprehensivist” – I take it that’s from Fuller’s creating new words on the spot? *

    Keep up the great work buddy!


  4. Ludwig, I like your blog but you should never draw inspiration from people like Hitler or Speer. All Nazi leaders are losers. They lost. Badly. They are not “great men” – they are great losers/ego-driven opportunists who did not contribute anything fundamentally positive to the world. No person aspiring for success should consciously chose them as role models. Their ideology and thinking were fundamentally flawed. Don’t make this mistake. There are plenty of winners out there who can be your role models.

  5. Scipio Africanus: the edge gained from repeatedly taking seemingly insane risks with your very life in service of an essential mission for the highest stakes. E.g.

    1. Charging into a horde of Hannibal’s cavalry to save his father – the example made his men follow out of shame, and the rescue worked.

    2. After the Cannae defeat, confronting a group of Roman soldiers determined to flee, and challenging any would be deserters to single combat before they could leave.

    3. Single-handedly persuading the Senate to let him raise an army (from the unwanted defeated veterans of Cannae) and take the war to Carthage first in Spain, then Africa, something close to a suicide mission – even to get the force raised and trained was a difficult challenge. This was after years of Roman defeats and Fabian delaying tactics.

    4. Sailing with just a boat captain and assistant, across from Spain to NW Africa into the court of Syphax (neutral untrustworthy king in present day Morocco), past the warships of his 2 enemy Carthaginian generals, and gatecrashing the meeting banquet of Syphax and the generals, then through pure nerve entering the negotiation and getting Syphax on side (temporarily). He could easily have been executed on the spot, but instead changed the balance of power in a few hours. Even the likes of Napoleon and Alexander would have shrunk from this display of nerve, or not even thought of it.

    5. Turning down Hannibal’s offer of a truce before the battle of Zama, and instead going into a battle against one of the top 5 generals in history with his veteran army and war elephants on home turf. This decision was crucial as shortly after the victory, an ally of Hannibal arrived with over 20,000 men which would have changed the result and probably wiped out Scipio’s army.

    Finally, after winning the campaign against Carthage, he then imposed a moderate peace and there was no war for decades, no massacre of civilians, and he turned down absolute power on his return to Rome. Such restraint would be rare even today, but for the BC-era, that was almost unprecedented.

    A rich person today should sponsor the world’s best archaeologists to find Scipio’s autobiography, which was either destroyed or lost to the ravages of time. Imagine the lessons that could be learned from that.

  6. I am sharing here a comment about the article I received on FB : ” Couldn’t agree more with this assessment. A little more could have explored as to what constitutes greatness for the non-worldly man, the underrated underdogs history missed and how men of all walks of life can quietly achieve moral and integrity based “greatness” without the suggestion that all the greats rise to high public stature. But maybe that’s beside the point. Still a great article I can identify with. “

  7. Finally another article :)

    For me, especially the point of many of the greatest men being expert-generalists is key. Today’s society promotes specialization, but if you look at it, the guys who have seen the most success recently (not counting click-bait populists and reality TV stars) are the guys who have a broad view of things and can pull on things from different domains.

    Funny thing is that I have been writing about this on my own blog recently. Also having a framework for learning and constantly soaking up new information is very important. Most people in this world are just BSing. If you are the one constantly learning and not just entertaining yourself, you can get far.

    • Good point – they were comprehenvisists. But it’s not something you can become fast, especially not in business or statesmanship, which is why many of them don’t start making a big splash until “later in life” (age 35-50).

    • It’s important to have broad knowledge, but I think it’s also important to be a serious specialist in /something/ and not just a dilettante – Jack of all trades, Master of none. People who have a mere passing acquaintance with a dozen different fields often fail to appreciate how much more knowledge a specialist has in any field.

      • I agree, Abgrund. Any comprehensive view would be well punctuated by intense mastery of specific areas – that can tie into the whole.

        I also notice that those who “master” a particular area can also replicate that process and intensity in other fields. They know what it is like to go deep and hard into something. Could also be true for the broader approach, as you can create intensity anywhere in how you train and work on something…but not in exactly the same way perhaps…

  8. Lisa Haydon says

    Good compilation.

    How does one get memory the level of prodigies. Is it even possible.
    Do you have an excellent memory @Ludvig.

    Thanks as always.

    • Hello Lisa,
      I don’t have as good memory as some of those people, but it’s getting better all the time :)
      More importantly, I know how I learn best and for the stuff I can’t remember I have commonplace systems.

  9. Polybius says

    Thanks for another article.
    Could use more frequent updates

  10. Was just wondering a few days ago if I had been unsubscribed from the blog or something. It’s been quite a while, hope you’ve been doing well! :)

  11. Albert Speer, really? From his memoirs he seems to have been rather weak-willed, an efficient manager but by no means a leader.

    Agrippa I’m not familiar with.

    Ieyasu could certainly be called a great man, but his merits may be exaggerated relative to his predecessors. As the saying went, Nobunaga made the cake, Hideyoshi baked it, and Ieyasu ate it.

    Here’s a suggestion: how about exploring the faults of great men, and the causes of their failures? Why was Einstein never able to accept quantum physics? Why did Hitler consistently override the good advice of his generals? How did Hamilton wind up getting in a duel with a psychopath? Why didn’t Hannibal take Rome? Why did Tesla fail to make any real money from his many ideas? etc.

    Studying great men should lead not only to emulating their virtues, but avoiding their errors.

    • Abgrund! why don’t you have a blog! man, your always handing out wisdom. I would love to read some of your stuff. I didn’t think this blog could raise in quality, but your discussions and comments here have always raised the bar substantially . Your input has been a great supplement to the rest of the blog, in my opinion. If you do have a blog/vlog etc could you please give me a link?

      • Martin, I appreciate your support but I don’t foresee much likelihood of becoming a regular blogger. If I did I would write my own opinions (which would get me in trouble) and about things that interest me (many of which would be boring to almost everyone else). Whether I would make any income at all from it is more than doubtful. I do have a blog on which I’ve posted one article in the last eight years: https://abgrund.wordpress.com/category/all-posts/.

    • Speer was a masterful manager. In addition to infrastructure, he replaced most of Goering’s and two other ministers’ responsibilities. But he didn’t divulge how he did his job so well.

      Agrippa was Augustus’ right-hand man. He was incredibly good at everything he did (commanding the army, rebuilding the city, and studying geology).

      Regarding the failings of great men. You’re right. I invite you to the write the article.

      • From what I recall of his memoirs, Speer worked hard, kept Hitler’s confidence (vitally important), and used a lot of slave and quasi-volunteer labor from conquered territories. He was also among those who was dominated by Hitler’s “charisma” – not among those who stood up to Hitler at the risk of their positions. He chickened out on an alleged scheme to kill Hitler and tried to rationalize his actions, deny knowledge that he probably had, and shift blame to others.

        Ludvig, you have a great deal more biographical knowledge about famous men than I do. I could write (and have written) about the failings of the late Mr. Lincoln, and I have read a fair amount concerning Herr Hitler, but it would take research I don’t have time for to analyze the weaknesses of most others; I could only write about generalities.

      • Ok.
        Well in that case, maybe I should write such a post. Thank you for the suggestion.

  12. Look here, the problem is normally history, but the current media. You dont address this enough now

  13. Good. As usually.

  14. What about women? No offense, i’m lazy, and I know your style. But still.
    Name 10 female role models and I will be in your chivalry debt ;P
    Marie Curie obv doesn’t country ?

    • 1. My mother.
      2-10. You dare criticize my mother???

      Seriously, there is a great dearth of women who were great in the way we think of great men. There is also a great dearth of female serial killers, so there’s that. Women are not the same as men, and have different motivations.

      • May you please elaborate on the motivations of women and men, from your point of view? Thanks.

      • Women can’t be ostracized from the herd (it needs offspring).
        Men need to be otherwise they are burdens on it (beta males).

        Every single social interaction you undertake will correspond in some way to the above construct. If you’re a guy grab your fucking balls and go do something with your life. If you’re female & ambitious, find a relentless guy and fuck him whilst he’s unknown. He won’t like you because he has “bigger dreams”. Ignore that, every man wants a women to look after him. After this, make it your mission to push him to be president or something. That’s how it works.

      • John is right. Females have intrinsic value to society, males are born in excess numbers and have to compete for the right to reproduce. Women can have only a limited number of offspring, men can potentially have very many – but only when many other males have none. The result is that males have to compete and the optimal strategy for a female is to adhere to a successful male. Being a tribal chief and having eight husbands would be of no value to her. Females have little to gain by exceptional achievements and little to lose by failing to compete.

        Another factor which I believe to be operative is the uncertainty of parenthood. It has been said that faith is the difference between motherhood and fatherhood; a male in nature has no absolute certainty that any particular child is his. A beta male may have only the certainty that no child is his. Males therefore have wider and vaguer horizons of protective instinct. It is readily observed that most mothers have an intense loyalty to their own offspring and care hardly at all about anyone else’s children, while men are more likely to be loyal to a group that represents a tribe for them and are less fanatically protective of their own children. This trait of men may be generalized in some cases to a sense of responsibility to a whole nation or to posterity in general. I suspect that of those few women who have been important leaders, like Elizabeth I of England, the majority have been childless.

      • Now that I think about it, a number of great men were also childless: Simón Bolívar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Isaac Newton, George Washington, who else?

    • Ada Lovelace
      Federica Nargi

    • Bruce Dickinson (doing big shit)
      Alexander of Macedon (tactical superiority)
      Pyrrhus of Epirus (balls of granite)
      Cyrus the Great (greatest conqueror in history)
      Imhotep – step pyramid at a time when mud brick was standard building medium, medicine, deified after death
      Miltiades (unorthodox tactics leading to overwhelming victory – saviour of western civilisation)
      Thermistocles (wisdom and foresight to build a navy which saved athens at salamis. said navy then went on to be the basis of athens’ dominance with the Delian League)
      Pericles (great cultural influence still existent today — commissioned Parthenon)
      Sulla Felix (rose from nothing to become dictator of Rome)

  15. Great
    We need Varius, Jefferson, and that brave leader who was in African(I forget his name but I learned this a long time ago on yoye blog )!!

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