Understanding Leadership Evolution

29 January 2015 04:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The way we define leadership has evolved throughout the human history to the premises, beliefs and understandings of today. By studying evolutionary theories and philosophies of leadership similarities and differences can be identified. With this background knowledge, we will be better equipped to define appropriate leadership skills and traits required to handle present day complex world problems.



Humans are creatures who need leaders. Similar to most primates, such as lemurs, monkeys and apes - humans live in social groups and these groups are essential to satisfy their needs.


Although we human beings do not just stand around in a herd, pushing and shoving each other to get to the middle and away from preying lions, for us a social group is all about connecting with others.


The role of leadership is centered on solving coordination and collective action problems. Conflict resolution in a social group setting allows us to realize the importance of leadership in human evolution. Human leaders not only initiate group action but also motivate, plan, organise, direct, monitor and punish to achieve group actions as well.



Leadership development studies and theories are stemming from over 5,000-yearold philosophies. Although it has been greatly transformed in numerous ways, over the years one must understand ancient philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Sun Tzu, Seneca, Lao Tzu and others have endured and had their roots in many contemporary leadership theories.


Leadership theories evolved in the 20th century argued that great leaders were born, not made. Recent studies have indicated that leadership is much more complex and cannot be boiled down to a few key traits of an individual. Years of observations and studies have indicated that one such trait or a set of traits does not make an extraordinary leader. What scholars were able to deduce is that core leadership traits such as intelligence, assertiveness or physical attractiveness does not change from situation to situation. However, each key trait may be applied to situations differently, depending on the circumstances.
As outlined below, evolution of leadership
theoriesus to understandin chronologicalthe historical order perspectiveshould helpof leadership development theories.


Great Man Theory
Outline description: This theory advocates that leaders are born not made. It recognizes that certain individuals have exceptional qualities and are destined to lead and the situation brings out the leader.


Trait Theory
Outline description: People have certain natural traits which are more suited to lead. Leadership traits can be defined. It is the combination of the right traits which makes a leader.
Main writers: Stodgill, 1974


Behavioural Theory
Outline description: Leaders are made and not born. Leadership can be defined into certain behavioural attributes which can be learned and developed.
Main writers:
Skinner, 1967; Bandura, 1982


Situational/Contingency Theory
Outline description: While situational theory sees leaders adapting their styles to the context and development level of their followers, contingency theory proposes that it is situational factors together with the leaders’ style which determine the success of a leader. Main writers: Fiedler, 1964; House, 1974
Hersey, Blanchard, 1972


Path-Goal Theory
Outline description: Path goal theory recognizes that the leader is responsible in crafting the ends and means to achieve the same. Accordingly the successful leaders create conducive structural paths which help followers attain their work goals.
Main writers: House, 1971


Charismatic Theory
Outline description: Charismatic theory of leadership has gained much public endorsement. Followers are attracted to charismatic leaders and the theory typically characterises leadership as a role that is granted by devoted followers rather than a given position.
Charismatic Main leader writers: Weber, 1947, House, 1977;
Conger, Kanungo,


Transactional Theory
the Outline leader-follower description: relationship.Emphasis is This placed theoryon proposes punishment), that whichit is are the the transactionsbest way for (reward, leaders to motivate the performance of their followers.
Main writers: 1994; Burns, 1978; Bass, 1985


Transformational Theory
Outline description: This theory focuses on the process of engaging commitment in a context of shared values and vision or aligning the interests of the organisation and its members.
Main writers: Burns, 1978; Bass, 1985
Cognitive Theory
Outline description: The cognitive approach looks at how leaders think and how their behaviour is determined as a response to the information they receive. Cognitive theory proposes that leaders influence the behaviour, thoughts or feelings of their followers through communication or leading by example.
Main writers: Gardner 1996


Servant Leadership Theory
Outline description: This leadership style is most successful when the leaders are genuinely concerned of serving those they lead. It is a leadership model based on that the end and means are inseparable and that we live in a world of relationships.
Main writers: Greenleaf, 1977


Authentic Leadership Theory
Outline description: Principle of any leadership theory is the need for a leader to be authentic. Authentic leadership is defined on the basis of a leader’s self-concept and the alignment of self-concept to their actions; authenticity is seen as an attribute rather than a value or a style.
Main writers: Avolio, Gardner, 2005


Complexity Theory
Outline description: Complexity leadership theory views leadership as an interactive dynamic system of unpredictable agents that interact with each other in complex feedback networks which produce adaptive outcomes. Leadership takes place in a system of complex interactive dynamics has three entangled roles - adaptive, administrative and enabling.Main writers: Uhl-Bien et la. 2007

Cross-Cultural Leadership Theory
Outline description: Leadership, which takes place in a multi-cultural setting or across national boundaries and expected, accepted and effective leadership behaviour, varies according to the culture within which it takes place.

e-Leadership
Outline description: Leadership which takes place in an AIT (Advanced Information Technology) environment where leadership influence occurs across a range ofAIT media.


Main writers: Avolio, Kahai, Dodge, 2001 Each of t hese t heories takes a rather individualistic perspective of the leader, although a school of thought gaining increasing recognition is that of ‘dispersed’ leadership. This approach, with its foundations in sociology, psychology and politics rather than management science, views leadership as a process that is diffused throughout an organisation rather than lying solely with the formally designated ‘leader’.


The emphasis thus shifts from developing ‘leaders’ to developing ‘leaderful’ organisations with a collective responsibility for leadership. During the recently concluded presidential election it was evident the public voted for a ‘Leaderful Political Party’ in favour of a ‘Great Man Political Party’. (Eng. Gamini Nanda Gunawardana [B.Sc. Eng. (Hons.); M.B.A.; C.Eng.; F.I.E. (SL);M.C.S. (SL); M.I.D.P.M. (UK); F.I.A.P. (UK); M.B.C.S. (UK), a Management, HR, OD & ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Consultant - HRD - GoodhopeAsia Holdings Ltd, can be contacted at gamining@gmail.com. Skype: gamini7147)

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