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Why is the history of leadership important?

Written by on 27 December 2010

It was Confucius that said, “study the past if you would define the future.” Understanding the roots of leadership theory and how it has evolved can shed light on the future of leadership thinking.

The basic model of leadership

Leadership is not an isolated activity. You need others to follow, and therefore leadership thinking is closely linked to organisational development. As societies have evolved, becoming larger and more complex, the demands of leadership have also changed.

Borrowing from the military

One of the first highly organised social structures is the military capability. Early armies showed emerging levels of organisational capabilities and our knowledge of key leadership figures are often most closely associated with military conquests. This requirement has lead to the “great man theory” dominating leadership thinking for 1000s of years. The view of the leader being an all-knowing, conqueror individual that exercises authority with swift and direct decision-making is becoming less relevant in this ever increasingly complex and volatile global contexts.

Changing organisational requirements

With the growth of business and the development of an interconnected global economy, we have witnessed organisations that are truly multicultural, stretched across several time zones, languages and values. The traditional form of organisational management is stretched to deal with the diversity and complexity of effective leadership within this organisational construct. Leaders are required to become more visionary, emotionally engaged and less directive through single management processes.

Setting the tone

Leadership is an inspirational quality that makes people follow an individual. This ability to generate a willing following is often based on shared values and a sense of shared direction. The greater the diversity within the follower community, the more visionary and inclusive the leadership position must become.

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