The Evolution of Leadership

Like life on earth, leadership has evolved over the years. Leadership has been around for millennia. I am not going to go into the details of the History of Leadership. However, there are numerous leadership theories that are important to know about. Understanding the various theories helps understand how we got to where we are with leadership and to identify gaps and where improvement is needed.

Because of his views, Socrates believed that the best form of government was neither tyrannical nor democratic.

Rather, people should be governed by those with the greatest knowledge, abilities and virtues, and who possessed a deep knowledge of themselves.

Plato proposes instead that states should be governed by philosophers and be a lover of wisdom, which is the meaning of the Greek word, philosophia.

Leadership is a duty of philosopher kings who acquire the techniques and skills for the art of ruling.,for%20the%20art%20of%20ruling.

Aristotle gave us 11 Lessons. These are lessons that still apply today, and I find them appropriate as something from which we could all benefit.

Whilst little of his writings have survived the centuries, they provide great insights of leadership which are relevant today. Some of Aristotle’s thoughts include: 1. “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” Aristotle felt to become a leader, we must first be a follower, and even after we have become a leader, we still need to follow those we serve. 2. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Set the standard, once you commit to excellence in everything you do, it becomes a habit.

Some of Aristotle’s thoughts include:

  1. “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” Aristotle felt to become a leader, we must first be a follower, and even after we have become a leader, we still need to follow those we serve.
  2. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Set the standard, once you commit to excellence in everything you do, it becomes a habit.
  3. “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Avoiding criticism by avoiding action is not the answer. It is more important to do the right thing than to please everyone. You can never please everyone, criticism will always be given, and it is how you choose to respond that matters.
  4. “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” Leaders need patience, they need to bring people on the journey, they don’t give up easily, it reflects their inner strength and conviction.
  5. “Liars when they speak the truth are not believed.” A leader’s reputation is their number one asset. Don’t deal in lies. Integrity is everything.
  6. “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.” Leaders cannot afford to be tolerant to laziness. Leaders need the bravery and resolve to oppose and eliminate poor behaviour. Apathy is like complacency; it is the beginning of the end.
  7. “To run away from trouble is a form of cowardice and, while it is true that the suicide braves death, he does it not for some noble object but to escape some ill.” Many people avoid conflict, they run away from it. Leaders do not run away; they face their problems head on to prevent it from growing. They act swiftly and decisively.
  8. “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.” Self-Sufficiency creates confidence and esteem. Leaders teach and encourage others to be self-sufficient. They believe in accountability and delivery and surround themselves with people who are competent in their own abilities to deliver.
  9. “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.” Leaders need to take risks, by doing the same as everyone else they achieve the same. To think differently, to break with convention and to act could be perceived as genius or madness.
  10. “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” As a leader you develop confidence by teaching others, it forces you to fully indenture your subject matter, to build knowledge and develop  expertise.
  11. “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.” Courage is the greatest of all qualities, it is the quality that ensures all others.

These habits continue to apply today. The numerous theories that have since developed continue to give us important information. As you review these theories think about what you want to adopt for your own leadership development, what you want to toss out, and what you could adapt.

The actions and traits of leadership are linked to and have developed as our species has evolved. Next, I present some of the leadership theories that have developed since the times of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I have often found tidbits of each theory can be used in a variety of situations. Therefore, take a bit of time and learn more about a variety of theories.

The following information comes from the work of:

 Hunt and Fedynich, JAH (2018), Vol. 08, No. 02: 20-26.  Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH) 22

Great Man Theory: In the beginning there was the Great Man Theory. This theory proclaims leaders are born. This theory declares some men are born with inherent characteristics and ability to lead.

Trait Theory: The Trait Theory developed from the Great Man Theory. This theory suggests certain qualities are required to be a leader. Some of the qualities include high energy, integrity, competence related to their specific area, intelligence, and faith.

Behaviour Theory: The Behaviour Theory came along many years later. This theory focused on the actions of the leader rather than their personality traits. Though the leader is focused on the task, s/he is also concerned about both the group and the individuals. This theory evolved into the Theory X and Theory Y. Theories X and Y, for example group people as to whether they like their work, need to be controlled, and want job security as opposed to responsibility.

This is an interesting theory you might want to read about more.

Situational and Contingency Theory: Leadership discussions, ideas, and options continued to be investigated and explored. The Situational and Contingency Theory  includes the role of the leader-follower relationship. The situation influences the relationship, the behaviours of both leaders and followers. Expand this to consider both the physical and psychological environments. Goals and values can also come into play. Another exciting theory you might want to investigate further. We can learn a great deal from this one that can be incorporated into our relationships as leaders or followers. Afterall, we are often in one or the other role. And we can learn to adapt to the various changes occurring.

Path-Goal Theory: As other characteristics and events are being considered in leadership the Path-Goal Theory developed from the situational and contingency theory. The roles of the leader and follower are defined and expected to be followed. Think ‘chain of command’.

The leader in this theory directs the followers and guides them to solve problems and overcome obstacles to achieve the desired goals of the organization.

The more recent leadership theories are identified next. However, I encourage you to remember the theories have evolved and knowing the basics of them can help you understand more recent theories.

Transformation Theory: A great change comes in Transformational Theory with the leader and follower helping each other. Imagine working together, still a novel idea in some areas. Working together leaders and followers can increase motivation and decide and discuss ethical behaviour. Leadership is the responsibility of each member of the work group.

Questions arise, does the leader need to be charismatic to ensure the vision, which the leader has developed alone or with the group, is accepted by all and thus the common goal is established and agreed upon.

Think about the charismatic leader. How important is it that a leader be charismatic? What other qualities might be more important?

Authentic Theory:

If you follow or have recently read much about leadership, you have probably heard something about being authentic. Authentic is also being paired with self – people are working to discover their authentic self.

To be authentic it is considered important to focus on the positive, rather than the negative aspects of any situation. Sounds good. However, the negative aspects cannot be ignored.

The leader following the Authentic Theory treats followers with respect, is dependable, and consistent in words, actions, beliefs, and values. Wow!! These characteristics or traits sound like something we should all be doing.

Servant Leadership: This theory is pretty much like it sounds. The focus of the Servant Leadership Theory puts the needs of the follower, or team members ahead of those of the organization. If this theory is practiced to its fullest the followers will develop their leadership skills. Servant Leadership can also mean the leader and follower roles are interchangeable. I find this a logical method as we each have different strengths and expertise depending on the situation.

There are other leadership theories, and leadership continues to be explored and evolve. Several years ago, I became acquainted with Complexity Leadership. (Check my blog). More recently I learned a bit about Mobius Leadership. My own thoughts lean toward everyone developing their leadership skills. There are formal and informal leaders, and these roles can change depending on the situation.

As the world evolves each of us is also evolving. What any person does influences everyone else, whether they are a leader or a follower. If you consider your actions will influence others and how they will influence them, maybe you will think and reflect more about your words and actions.

Great Man and Charismatic Leadership are no longer considered as theories being used. However, some organizations continue to operate in an old-fashioned hierarchical manner. Everyone has good ideas, knowledge, and experience to share. Formal leaders would do well to listen and discuss what others have to offer.

Consider your leadership ideas and how you would lead in the various roles you take on. You don’t need to become an expert in any of the theories, but being aware of their properties.

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