A Brief history of leadership

glass_spiral_staircase.jpgLeaders and leadership continue to capture the public imagination. But there have been few attempts to trace the history of leadership to its earliest manifestations. What can be learned from the hard-wired behaviors of insects, the territorialism of reptiles, the disciplinary schooling of horses, and the social capitalism of chimpanzees?

This post [under development] is based on a presentation to Manchester Business School Alumni in October 2007. You can access the presentation entitled A brief history of leadership here, [accessed via my slideshare powerpoints. Be patient. It does load, in about 15 seconds from my PC! ].

The lecture sets out the case for learning about today’s leadership dilemmas by reference to animal behaviors. This is in some ways a well-trodden path since Desmond Morris reminded us of our kinship with other animals as a naked ape.

The approach has to beware the pitfalls of anthropomorphism (attributing human behaviors to other animals). These challenges have been examined by John Stodart Kennedy as the new anthropomorphism.

These scholars have continued the debate on instinctive behaviors that followed the work of pioneering ethologists such as Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz.

Drawing on these sources, the lecture argues that our modern concepts of leadership draw on residual ancient forms. Furthermore, our shared concepts and folk-memories contribute to universal archetypes.

It is suggested that as humans, through consciousness and learning, we become and create ‘the leaders we deserve’

Other points of interest: By re-evaluating the role of instinct in behaviors that are considered to exhibit leadership qualities, we approach the ancient question of whether leaders are born or made.

To go more deeply

In preparing the lecture, I drew heavily on the work of Richard Dawkins, and particularly The Ancestor’s Tale.

Anyone with strong creationist beliefs will probably have problems with the Darwinist treatment.

11 Responses to A Brief history of leadership

  1. Jonathan Giuliano says:

    What marvelous insight! I thoroughly enjoyed the blog and the slides. There’s much here to explore and explore. I hope your presentation to alumni is recorded and posted (perhaps on YouTube).

  2. Procrastination King says:

    Thought provoking without evoking procrastination.

  3. Tudor says:

    Thanks for kind words of encouragement. No, there’s no utube, although the next trial of the materials with a very large group of undergraduates will be recorded for ipodery purposes.

    Best wishes

  4. Tudor says:

    Sadly the lecture was not recorded. I have had an offer to make a ‘virtual version’ and if that comes, about I’ll see it gets posted.

  5. […] Leaders we deserve [Oct 2007] took an evolutionary perspective in examining leadership behaviors, arriving at a more cautious conclusion that an evolutionary perspective helps explore the meanings we bring to leadership across the animal world, rather than provide a unifying framework. […]

  6. ch53ecc says:

    You’ll be happy to know that I did a google search of the “history of leadership” and this page came up 4th! I’m putting together a 5 day workshop on Leadership for FLM’s

  7. Paul W. Yeoshua says:

    Is this a glimp of light in the quest of “Connais toi toi-meme” that could illuminate the path of being useful for our society?

  8. Tudor says:

    Thanks Paul. A golden rule, no less. Pleased to learn of a French version of ancient wisdom.


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  11. claudio says:

    Wow! I really liked your approach.. I’m passionate about this topic as well, and I developed an iphone ipad app where I collected 50 among the best speech ever delivered in history.. I do believe you can track the leadership evolution also reading how leader used to speak in public in the past, and how it evolved time after time.. getting benefits from the iOS platform, I put also some original audio tracks and video as well.. the audio starts in background while reading the text.. hope you may like it.. it’s called Leaders Talk, and you find it on the itunes store at this link http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/leaders-talk/id487204087?mt=8

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