A short history of leadership theories

Leaders on leadership

Leaders’ Quest

14 July 2017

Our world is changing and so is our understanding of leadership. From the Great Man Theory of the 19th century, to new research on genetic factors underpinning leadership behaviours, there’s a wealth of data to examine.

Gene Early, a Leaders’ Quest partner, has explored the history of leadership theory, and what it teaches us about current trends. His conclusion? That our awareness of the interconnected world has led to an appreciation of the systemic nature of contemporary issues.

In today’s globalised world, what demands do leaders of complex organisations face? And what role can true system leadership play?

So many aspects of our cultural and organisational lives are changing. Add to the mix the different perspectives and behaviour patterns of emerging generations, and it is clear that leaders need flexibility of mindset and action – combined with emotional intelligence.

Individuals can’t meet today’s personal, organisational and global demands. Collaborative responsibility is required. System leadership allows us to optimise the potential of every player.

It fosters authenticity and distributed authority – and deeper awareness about what we know, how we interact with others, and ultimately why we are doing what we are doing.

This is a significant shift from the traditional emphasis on hierarchical leadership – and it requires a fundamentally different way of thinking.

Exploring the history of leadership theory allows us to reconsider the demands placed on leaders today. In a world where stakeholder values are constantly shifting, the challenges may be great, but they are well worth embracing.