Building on the past

Building from the Past

Leadership predates the emergence of humankind, for example, from animal origins and pecking orders, seen most significantly with the dominance effects in primates. I introduce the Old World Leaders (OWLs ), which includes (but does not necessarily begin with) the Greek Philosophers.

We can ask: Is this about putting new wine in old bottles?

As with many of our old proverbs, the following originates from spiritual scripts:

‘Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out and the bottles perish , but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.’

Matthew, ix, 17

It is thus not the ‘content’ that is important (whether it be ‘old’ or ‘new’ wines – or leadership thinking) but rather its preservation. One of the main themes of the argument is that leadership (as with wine) is context specific.

To illustrate, glass bottles today are far more resilient, and recycling is actively encouraged. During biblical times (in the old world), ‘bottles’ were made from the skin of goats. Pour new wine in, and the skin stretches and perishes. What we need to do, then, as with wine, is to preserve both the old and new ideas and consider these within differing contexts.


Teacher Owl
We can learn from the OWLs of the past

The bottling of wine is a useful description of the context of leadership. In the ‘old world’, new forms of leadership would likely’ stretch’ our OWLs’ capability and capacity. The onslaught of the challenges of the Enlightenment faced New World Leaders (NWLs) along with the Renaissance, followed by modernity and industrialisation. In a global world, this is much easier for our Global World Leaders (GWLs) who lead in a post-modern, post-industrial and more chaotic world. Time is thus one of the main currencies of leadership.



Adapted from Thomas Hobbes’s the Leviathan, written at the time of the Civil War in England, we can ask this question of leadership.

Leadership theories began their journey with our OWLs focused on an individual’s innate qualities. With the coming of a New Order through enlightenment and then modernity, this evolved into a study of the behaviours adopted the situations in which leadership takes place, and leadership specific to particular functions. These theories have their place, but arguably they tend to ignore leadership’s increasingly essential dynamics within a changing context of uncertainty.

Even today, the ‘individual’ is the focus of most leadership studies; from earliest times, theories have focused on what makes individuals good leaders.  Most people agree with the view that post-modern and global leadership is not about dictat. We know the consequences of this style of ‘leadership’ when national leaders make decisions that result in global conflicts. At the operational level of leadership, consequences occur. Suppose an autocratic individual leader prescribes what is to be done or stipulates a course of action, often without thought or consultation. In that case, it can be delivered as an (unauthentic) agreement, almost as if enshrined in law (a given), such as the apt description given by Hobbes almost four hundred years ago.

We need to think differently and reimagine what leadership could really be.


The Selfless Leader