History of Leadership

Exploring the Complexity of Leadership

Has leadership been too solitarypoornastybrutish and short ?

One of the key omissions in contemporary leadership is the inclusion of the heart in asking the question;

“Are we doing the right things for the right reasons?”

It may thus be evident that another key skill of a leader is to ask the intelligent questions. We can indeed look back in history in understanding the ethical and moral grounding for leadership in setting the right context for the right questions.

Courage and Direction alone is not enough

Silverback Gorilla
Courage alone is not enough

Leadership is as old as earth has been inhabited, irrespective of primal or human beginnings. We can first determine accounts of ancient leadership from as early as Egyptian pharaoh’s, with Ramesses II in 1274BC. History is replete with comparisons of leaders based on courage; courage alone, is not enough. Such leadership practice can also encourage what is increasingly described as ‘toxic’ leadership (the ‘dark side’ of leadership).

Practical wisdom (phronesis) is the intellectual virtue concerned with doing.

Aristotle, arguably one of the most eminent of Greek philosophers, distinguished the word phronesis from other forms of wisdom (such as episteme and techne) relating it more to practical wisdom rather than simply intellectual wisdom but within the context of ethics. This aligns well to the notion of the practice of leadership. Theories can only be useful if they improve the practice of leadership.

Leading through Complexity

The capability of primals and early human leaders would be stretched when meeting new challenges. In technical matters, instinct would often find a ‘work-around’. This is what we would describe today as applying a tame (or technical) solution to what is often a wicked (or adaptive) challenge. This may work in the short term, but certainly not in the longer term. All leadership systems are complex and adaptive. Individual leadership skills are necessary, particularly at time of crisis, but it will only get us so far. Dealing with complexity requires collective solutions through collective networks working to a shared vision.

Beyond the individual to the collective

Collective Leadership

Leadership theories began their journey focused on the innate qualities of an individual. This then evolved to a study of the behaviours adopted, the situations in which leadership takes place and leadership that is specific to particular functions. These theories have their place but arguably they tend to ignore leaderships’ increasingly important dynamics. The dynamics of leadership work best through collective leadership in which the sum of the parts is greater than the whole

CLICK HERE to watch a brief animation which describes how Old World Leadership (from Antiquity) moved to New World Leadership (from the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution) to the challenges of leadership today.

Link to Animated Video
1.5 minute animated video
The Selfless Leader