The word “leadership” comes from the Old English word lithan (one of the rare English words that has an English origin), which literally means, “to go”; and also means “to guide” if you have researched Old Dutch. This use of the word “leadership” is associated with the idea of going somewhere together with others. Another little known fact by Dilts is that leadership as a concept is culturally determined. It has also become quite evident that modern leadership theory supports the concept that leadership is about the ability to adapt in a fast changing world in order to be effective. So how did the concept of leadership evolve?
To answer we have to agree that leadership has evolved and is not a static notion. To support this, please allow me to delineate such an evolution of leadership, as I understand it.
Since the dawn of time, human beings have struggled to bring order to an environment consumed by anarchy. The idea of leaders and followers can be traced back as far back as sentient thought has existed and leadership continues to evolve as our society matures. As such, the evolution of leadership can be traced through pre-classical, classical, modern, and the post-modern era. So I dusted up some of my Doctorial taxonomies and chose to share some of them with you for context.
The Pre-Classical Era:
In trying to identify the influences of the pre-classical model, Aristotle, Sun Tzu , and Niccolo Machiavelli are three philosophers that provide distinct perspectives. Nonetheless, Plato and Socrates should be honorable mentions, even though I do not cover them in my post.
Aristotle: According to Reinhart and Wahba (1975) “Historically the pre-classical conception of motivation had its origins in the Greek principle of hedonism which assumes that behavior is directed towards pleasure and away from pain” (p. 521). This is supported by Schoengrund (1996) who identifies Aristotle as the father of pre-classical theory and states “…so fundamental to human existence are the basic philosophical concepts that underlie total quality management that they have been discussed, albeit in pre industrial language, since ancient times” (p.79). He elaborates on how Aristotle’s philosophies are embedded in the roots of all management theory and comprise the framework for which the classical model was built upon (Schoengrund, 1996).
Sun Tzu: According to Cleary, Sun Tzu’s teachings can be traced to Taoism, the origin of psychology, science, and technology in East Asia. Moreover, these Eastern philosophies are the basis for the insights in Tzu’s book “The Art of War” (1988). Tzu’s book offers one of the many philosophies considered in the pre-classical era. His depiction of strategic assessments has transcended to modern day leadership models. One of his philosophies that still holds true in today’s leadership is:
If you know others, and know yourself you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; If you do not know others, but know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every battle. (Tzu, 500BC/1988, p. 82)
Niccolo Machiavelli: The term “Machiavellian” has become synonymous with corruption, deviousness, and with the culture that “the ends justify the means”. In his play “The Prince,” Machiavelli depicts “Cesare Borgia” as a cunning, cruel and self-seeking man, but still the right man to lead and unify Italy (Robinson, 2005). Today, Machiavellian behavior is denounced as self-seeking and immoral and “the ends justifying the means” is considered morally wrong. Nonetheless, Machiavelli’s depiction of human beings reverberates at the core of political interplay and the fact that people do act in less than honorable behavior. According to Robinson (2005), “A lot of successful managers employ these methods, some more consciously than others” (p. 30).
I chose these three philosophers to represent the pre-classical theories as they encompass what is good, what is bad, and what is evil in the origin of “us” and their quest to understand leadership.
The Classical Era:
The classical era, which began in 1900 was defined by a hierarchical management approach which is based on military tradition – the “great man” and “trait” theories. The three people chosen to depict the classical era are Fredrick Taylor, Henry Gantt and Elton Mayo. In the book Poor Richard’s Legacy (1990), the classical period was often referred to as the “man versus goods” era (Baida, p. 160). Managers were seeking high production rates and profits; workers were a commodity that needed to be tightly controlled.
Fredrick Taylor: Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management philosophy “…emphasized the application of scientific method to the selection, training, and utilization of workers, highlighting the need for planning and management based on empirical investigation rather than tradition” (Bruce & Nyland, 2001, p. 955). Furthermore, monetary incentives were tied to job performance in terms of production, and the idea of cheaper goods due to increased efficiency in production was realized (Flynn, 1998).
Henry Gantt: Gant was a follower of Taylor’s management philosophy, but “Gantt differed from the older man about the development of workers, especially Taylor’s lack of interest in the workers point of view” (Peterson, 1987, p. 20). Peterson elaborates on Gantt’s philosophy focusing not only on production, but also on the development of workers and their potential. He introduces the ideology of “fair compensation” for a “fair day’s work” (1987).
Elton Mayo: Elton Mayo’s philosophy can be regarded as the tail end of the classical era and the dawn of the modern era. Mayo’s work on the “Hawthorn Study” introduced the concept of the human relations and its effect on productivity (Smith, 1998). “Mayo emphasized managerial shortcomings, and poor working conditions as factors affecting worker performance and distanced himself from conventional psychological testing or scientific management techniques” (Smith, 1998, p. 234).
The Modern Era:
Elton Mayo’s legacy introduced the idea of behavior theory, which were adopted and further developed by Vroom and Yetton, Fred Fiedler, and Peter Drucker, post 1935. While a large number of management theories were introduced this era, including contingency and situational theories, the four people chosen for this period clearly embody the concepts of the modern era. The modern era is sometimes referred to as the “social person” era, characterized by the introduction of theories that exposed the relationship between followers and leaders (Flores & Utley, 2000).
Vroom and Yetton: Victor Vroom developed the expectancy theory which takes into account worker motivation. According to Reinharth and Wahba (1975), “The central theme of expectancy theory is the rather simple concept that an individuals behavior is a function of the degree to which behavior is instrumental in the attainment of some outcomes, and the evaluation of these outcomes” (p. 521). Vroom’s later work with Yetton on the contingency model of leadership behavior, established a systematic construct for leaders to make informed decisions. The contingency construct lead to the formation of the “decision tree” in the modern era of leadership (Field, 1979).
Fred Fiedler: Fiedler’s contribution to the modern era and contingency theory, was the identification and development of a systematic process in which managers were tested to gauge their management style. “Fiedler determined that a person’s leadership style was fixed, and that the right style needed to be matched with the right situation” (Armandi, Oppedisano & Sherman, 2003, p. 1077). In Fiedler theory, he believed that managers were either task or relationship orientated. The main flaw in this model is it does not account for the possibility of degrees within the styles but that managers were either one or the other (Rice & Kastenbaum, 1983).
Peter Drucker: In the way that Mayo was a link from classical to modern theory, Drucker is pivotal in the transformation between the modern era to the post-modern era. Drucker’s contribution to the modern era was the concept of management as a discipline. He differed from his predecessors, especially Taylor, as Drucker indicated that management could be taught and studied rather than the older paradigm that “leaders are born and not made” (Robinson, 2005). According May’s article “Lean Thinking for Knowledge Work,” Druker’s work revolutionized management as the focus shifted from product management to “knowledge” and “human resource” management (2005). “Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge work’ in the 1960’s when describing management challenges of what he called the emerging knowledge society” (May, 2005, p. 33). Drucker’s work is best known for his five principles of leadership: setting objectives; organizing; motivating and communicating; establishing measurements of performance and developing people (Robinson, 2005).
The post-modern revolution evolved away from bureaucracy and hierarchy found in the previous eras. Boje and Prieto’s (2000, ¶ 3) article “What is Postmodernism” states that: Postmodern is a “new paradigm” approach to knowledge and it is also a “new paradigm” of aesthetics (Feldman, Y. 1999). Best and Kellner (1997) call this “postmodern turn” a turn with two aspects, (1) the shift in modern to postmodern science knowledge and (2) a shift in aesthetics (See also Hassan, 1987; Clingham, 1998). Postmodern aesthetics is a new sensibility, a rejection of the “boring, pretentious, and elitist, European and American high modernism” (Best & Kellner, 1997: 124).
The post-modern era brought about the principles of transformational leadership and innovation. The post-modern era centers on the question what interaction of traits, behaviors, key situations and group facilitation allows people to lead organizations to excellence? (Boje & Prieto, 2000)
Mitchell and Tucker (1992), articulated that transformational leadership should be seen as only one part of a balanced approach to creating an effective leader. The concept of transformational leadership needing a balance to be effective is further supported by the statement “no one style or set of behaviors will be effective in all situations” (Chemers, 1997, p. 151). A transformational leader functions with a win-win attitude. The norm for our culture is win-lose. As such, it could be deducted that unless transformational leadership is only one aspect of a leader’s arsenal of styles, the transformational style could only be successful some of the time with select employees that respond to a coaching mentality. For the purposes of this paper, the focus on post-modernism will be based on Henry Mintzberg and Peter Senge.
Henry Mintzberg: Henry Mintzberg’s The Nature of Managerial Work, caused friction in the management world when he compiled a detailed analysis of any managers’ tasks. The analysis showed “what they actually do, rather than the theory of what they do, what they say they do, or what they should be doing” (Robinson, 2005, p. 37). In this era, leaders are seen more holistically than they are in other management models. Mintzberg states “I am totally against the notion that you can separate manages from leaders” (Coomber, 2005, p. 42). Mintzberg insists that leaders should not only be measured within the context of their job, but by the understanding of their role within the organization. Mintzberg’s theories further differ from most of his colleagues, as he fundamentally disagrees that that there are differences between leaders and managers (Coomber, 2005).
Peter Senge: According to Loermas (2002), “The concept of the learning organization was popularized by Peter Senge who established five disciplines: Systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning” (p. 287). Senge understood that success could only be derived by the organizations’ willingness to learn and adapt in an ever-changing environment. Without employee commitment and learning, at every level of an organization, productivity and excellence cannot be achieved (Robinson, 2005).
So in the final anaslysis, my view is that leadership theories have converged and diverged over time. Convergence within leadership theories is evident when comparing models within a designated era. By virtue, the leadership modules grouped in each particular era, similarities naturally exist within them. For example, the theories of trait and scientific management within the classical era focus on goods over people and the scientific analysis of production (Flynn, 1998). The modern era theories of behavior, contingency, and expectancy, all focus on human relations and how it affects motivation in the workplace (Rieger, 1995).
However, divergence in leadership models is more visible when comparing models across eras. These divergences have included management philosophies that differ on the principles of: product vs. people; top-down vs. servant; leadership vs. management; and transactional vs. transformational management.
Every leadership or management model that was introduced within its designated era, filled a void that was necessary for progress to occur and contributed to its field of study. However, the evolution of the theories, like most things, rendered some of the earlier theories obsolete. Nonetheless, it is important to note the earlier theories provided the infrastructure upon which the later models were built. Wrege and Hodgetts (2000) speak of Taylor’s time-motion studies:
Taylor and his associates made copious mistakes, because they simplified the results of their study and glossed over the inconsistencies. In the new-millennium, where hyper competition will rule the day, firms that repeat Taylor’s mistakes will find themselves unable to compete effectively (p. 1290).
The statement above could make one deduce Taylor’s model was flawed. However, it is important to realize not only was Taylor’s model the first formal management theory during the industrial revolution, but his theories advanced production management in its time (Wrege & Hodgetts, 2000).
It is important to remember “various strategic theoretical frameworks succeed one another because organizational leaders have shifting preferences and attention spans, and not because of some Darwinian progression towards an ultra-fit theory” (Barry & Elmes, 1997, p. 439). In other words, the prevalence of today’s leadership models may have less to do with accuracy or predictability than with their appeal to current tastes and interests.
So to be a leader in my mind, I have to:
Understand the culture of those I lead
Know the people I lead
Be compassionate, yet decisive
Be strong, yet approachable
Understand the situation, while not necessarily accepting it
Appreciate friends and foe alike
Be vulnerable, yet resilient
Lead and let others lead with me
Be a “risk eater” while holding those with me accountable
Ensure that loyalty, trust, fidelity, diversity, and integrity are ubiquitous within the prevailing culture
Understand the weakness of others, but not exploit them
Never be ashamed of simply being me
In short, I have to be willing “to go”, to guide, to adapt. …
By your definition, as a leader you have to: