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500 Years of Leadership Theory

500 Years of Leadership Theory

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Published by Lucy Garrick
The evolution of thought on the subject leadership is vast and increasingly complex. Over time, leadership theorists have built upon each others’ ideas and discoveries creating an interdisciplinary study that draws on many academic disciplines including psychology, social psychology, anthropology, design and systems theory. The intent of this paper is to examine the development of concepts driving leadership theory, especially those that have accentuated theoretical thought in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Because the terms, leadership and theory, have multiple meanings, I wish to first clarify how these terms shall be used herein.
The evolution of thought on the subject leadership is vast and increasingly complex. Over time, leadership theorists have built upon each others’ ideas and discoveries creating an interdisciplinary study that draws on many academic disciplines including psychology, social psychology, anthropology, design and systems theory. The intent of this paper is to examine the development of concepts driving leadership theory, especially those that have accentuated theoretical thought in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Because the terms, leadership and theory, have multiple meanings, I wish to first clarify how these terms shall be used herein.

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Published by: Lucy Garrick on May 31, 2009
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Five Hundred Years ofLeadership Theory:Learning to Lead is aboutLearning to Learn
Lucy E. Garrick, MA, WSDPrinciple Consultant, NorthShore Group
T
he evolution of thought on thesubject leadership is vast and in-creasingly complex. Over time, lead-ership theorists have built upon eachothers’ ideas and discoveries creatingan interdisciplinary study that drawson many academic disciplines includ-ing psychology, social psychology,anthropology, design and systemstheory. The intent of this paper is toexamine the development of conceptsdriving leadership theory, especiallythose that have accentuated theoreti-cal thought in the late 20
th
and early21
st
centuries. Because the terms,
leadership 
and
theory 
, have multiplemeanings, I wish to first clarify howthese terms shall be used herein.Theories are a generalized set ofconcepts which in themselves are notnecessarily correct. Although muchleadership theory cited here is basedon empirical and field research onpositional leaders, researchers oftenseek to measure only a tiny slice ofthe activities involved in leadershipand most consistently limited theoryto persons with formal authority. Myexamination of leadership theorydoes not necessarily imply formal po-sition or authority, nor is there an at-tempt to present a comprehensivecompilation of all organizational lead-ership theory. Leadership is, there-fore, defined by the concepts that thetheorists emphasize. Major shifts inthe development of leadership theoryare revealed, primarily as held inWestern European institutions. Lead-ership theories are grouped by sevenmajor themes, some of which overlapin chronology. The themes are: Con-trol, Trait, Behavioral, Basis for Au-thority, Effective Behavior, Open-Systems and Inter-Personal Leader-ship. Figure 1 provides a chronologi-cal summary of major leadershipthemes and theorists.
OVERVIEW OF LEADERSHIPCHRONOLOGY
 Regardless of the focus, eachleadership theory tends to pull for-ward ideas from its predecessors. Itis, therefore, useful to understand
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1 
 
 
major shifts in theoretical thinking andhow later theories have built uponprior ideas leading to current themes.It is also interesting to note that dueto the frequently narrow focus of aca-demic research, new theories oftenoverlap and draw from concepts andwork of theorists in earlier periods.The value of learning and using a the-ory-base is in grounding one’s lead-ership work in both ethical and practi-cal. Concepts that have been objec-tively studied and evaluated provide adeepened exploration of the topic forthe practitioner of leadership and aguide for the consultant or educator infacilitating a course of leadership de-velopment that does not harm.
197019802000184015301940
Machiavelli
The Prince 
(1531)
Great Man TheoriesCarlyle, (1841)Galton, (1870)James (1880)
Trait Theories
CouragePhysical StrengthCharismaHeroism
Control
Control ofInformationRegard forinformers &informants
Behavior
Learning
Fiedler, Contingency Theory (1967)
Hollander, Exchange Theory (1964, 1979)
Effective Behavior
Contextual ComplexityLeaders & SubordinateInfluenceMulti-lateral influenceDecision-makingEmotional behavior
House, Path-Goal Theory (1971)
Vroom, Decision Making (1973)Hersey& Blanchard, Situational Leadership Theory (1977))
Argyris, Double-loop learning (1976)1990
Inter-Personal Leadership
ValuesIntegrity, moral intentionMentoringRole modelsEmpowerment
Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (1977 )
Bass & Avolio, Transformational Leadership (1990-94)
Heifetz, Adaptive Leadership (1990-94)
Basis ofAuthority
Charisma +LeadershipStyle
Mitchell, Larson & Green, Attribution Theory (1977)Schein, Culture (1982)Misumi, Performance-Maintenance (1985)Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1985)
Open Systems
Event ManagementSituationsCultureRole making
Lewin, Lippitt& White, (1939)Stodgill& Coons (1948)
Ketsde Vries, Psychodynamics (1979)Weber, (1942)Stodgill, (1948)
Ketsde Vries, Psychodynamics (2004)
Burns, Transformational Leadership (1985)
Goleman, Primal Leadership (19xx)
19002004197019802000184015301940
Machiavelli
The Prince 
(1531)
Great Man TheoriesCarlyle, (1841)Galton, (1870)James (1880)
Trait Theories
CouragePhysical StrengthCharismaHeroism
Control
Control ofInformationRegard forinformers &informants
Control
Control ofInformationRegard forinformers &informants
Behavior
Learning
Behavior
Learning
Fiedler, Contingency Theory (1967)
Hollander, Exchange Theory (1964, 1979)
Effective Behavior
Contextual ComplexityLeaders & SubordinateInfluenceMulti-lateral influenceDecision-makingEmotional behavior
Effective Behavior
Contextual ComplexityLeaders & SubordinateInfluenceMulti-lateral influenceDecision-makingEmotional behavior
House, Path-Goal Theory (1971)
Vroom, Decision Making (1973)Hersey& Blanchard, Situational Leadership Theory (1977))
Argyris, Double-loop learning (1976)1990
Inter-Personal Leadership
ValuesIntegrity, moral intentionMentoringRole modelsEmpowerment
Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (1977 )
Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (1977 )
Bass & Avolio, Transformational Leadership (1990-94)
Bass & Avolio, Transformational Leadership (1990-94)
Heifetz, Adaptive Leadership (1990-94)
Basis ofAuthority
Charisma +LeadershipStyle
Basis ofAuthority
Charisma +LeadershipStyle
Mitchell, Larson & Green, Attribution Theory (1977)Schein, Culture (1982)Misumi, Performance-Maintenance (1985)Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1985)
Open Systems
Event ManagementSituationsCultureRole making
Open Systems
Event ManagementSituationsCultureRole making
Lewin, Lippitt& White, (1939)Stodgill& Coons (1948)
Lewin, Lippitt& White, (1939)Stodgill& Coons (1948)
Ketsde Vries, Psychodynamics (1979)Weber, (1942)Stodgill, (1948)
Weber, (1942)Stodgill, (1948)
Ketsde Vries, Psychodynamics (2004)
Burns, Transformational Leadership (1985)
Goleman, Primal Leadership (19xx)
19002004
Figure 1. Major themes in leadership theory: 1530 – 2004While leadership is “… one of theworld’s oldest preoccupations…”(Bass, 1990, p.3), the formal devel-opment of theories evolved slowly.Most historical sources on the subjectcite the earliest writings on leadershipin Western culture with the publicationof Machiavelli’s
The Prince 
in 1531.“Perhaps the earliest sophisticateddiscussion of the processes of lead-ership is that provided by Machiavelli”(Machiavelli, 1977 as cited in Smithand Peterson, 1988, p.2). The nextsubstantial writings about leadershiptheory were published 300 hundredyears later in the 1800s, and are oftenreferred to as the “Great-Man Theo-ries” (Bass, 1990, p.37). Great-Mantheories assumed that the course ofhuman history and the evolution ofsocieties were due to the personaltraits held by men of extraordinarycharacter and assumed that leaderswere endowed with superior qualitiesthat gave them influence over themasses without regard to situationalcontexts. Examples of such leadersare cited as Moses and Thomas Jef-ferson. It would be nearly 100 yearsbefore the next significant shift inleadership theory emerged.In the late 1930s and 1940s lead-ership research began to focus onbehavior and the role of authority. In
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2 
 
 
their analysis of leadership researchSmith and Peterson (1988) state,
Those whose work we have so farexamined have chosen to defineleadership as a quality which is in-herent in particular persons. Thisquality has been seen as enablingsuch persons to achieve roles in so-ciety which legitimize the exercise ofinfluence over others, and as ensur-ing their use such powers effectively.A modification of this view becamepopular from the 1930s onward,stimulated in particular by the ener-gies of Kurt Lewin (p. 8).
Kurt Lewin, Ron Lippitt and R.K.White performed research that con-cluded that leadership was more thantraits; rather it was behaviors thatcould be learned. In the 1940s and1950s, Max Weber as well as Stodgilland Coons began to examine morespecifically the role of charisma andthe concept of leadership styles(Lewin, Lippit & White, 1939; Weber,1947; Stodgill & Coons, 1957, ascited in Smith and Peterson, 1988).The work of Lewin et al. precipitatedan avalanche of academic researchthat has since been both frustratingand rewarding ever since. Accordingto Smith and Peterson (1988) “… athird criticism of the early leaderstyles research was the most compel-ling: the research failed to reach gen-eralizable conclusions because itfailed to take account of the circum-stances within which leadership actsoccur” (p. 11). Nevertheless, relent-less interest in unlocking the myster-ies of leadership eventually led re-searchers to consider a greater num-ber of the variables in organizationalleadership (pp. 11-14).As leadership theorists focused onmore complex and therefore realisticresearch strategies, research increas-ingly took place in the field. Studieswere conducted about decision mak-ing and Contingency Theory was in-troduced by Fred Feidler (1967). “Thetheory (called the “ContingencyModel”) postulates that the effective-ness of a group is contingent on therelationship between the leadershipstyle and the degree to which thegroup situation enables the leader toexert influence.” (p. 15). Fiedler’stheory was followed by another surgein research that included elaboratemodels for decision making (Vroomand Yetton, 1973) but, for the mostpart, did not take into account abroader context of the organizationsand the circumstances surroundingthem. Instead studies emphasizedleadership behavior within organiza-tions and looked at issues such ascomplexity of choice, (House, 1971,as cited in Bass, 1990). In the mid-1970s the stage was set to lookdeeper inside the self by Chris Argy-ris’s (1976) ground-breaking book,
Increasing Effective Leadership.
Ar-gyris’ background in psychology wasone of the first leadership theories totake into consideration a leader’s abil-ity to become aware of his or her ownbehavior and its influence of subordi-nates and peers.In the next decade researchersbegan to focus on broader contextualelements such follower capacities,rewards and punishment, culture andemotional development. This groupof theories considered aspects ofleadership that came from systemsoutside the leader’s organization. Itbecame inevitable that current lead-ership theories combine many of the
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