History of Leadership Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1227 Words
Date:  2022-12-18


Leadership is a process by which an individual influences a group of people to achieve desired goals and objectives (Gordon, 2017). It is one of the most observed but least comprehended aspects on earth (Burns, 2012). While questions remain as to whether leaders are born or made, the term "leader" was noted in the 13th century and even conceptualized during biblical times (Stone & Patterson, 2005). Leadership theories are therefore fundamental in understanding the process of leadership or in other words, how people become leaders. In the complex organizational environment, leaders are required to influence their employees to meet the goals, vision, and mission of an organization. The paper will explore the history of leadership theories from ancient times into the 21st century.

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The Industrial Revolution brought a shift from the traditional agrarian economy based on agriculture to an industrial one. The revolution altered the relationship between leaders and employees. Most importantly, the Industrial Revolution meant that people would ascend in powerful positions on the basis of the skills. The technology associated with the new age of mechanization created hierarchical bureaucracies that changed human thoughts and actions. Marx Weber stipulated that bureaucracy made the process of administration a routine just like how production changed into routine due to mechanization (Stone & Patterson, 2005, p. 2).

Classical Management and Scientific Management Theory

The classical management theory gained popularity in the early 20th century and emphasized on the increasing productivity of workers. Classical theorists were not limited to Weber's theory of organizational bureaucracy. In fact, Stone and Patterson (2005) indicate that classical theorists set the stage for modern management practices. Henri Fayol, a classical theorist conceptualized administrative management in which leaders command, control, organize, plan and coordinate tasks (Burns, 2012). One of the most fundamental classical theorists was Fredrick Taylor who heralded the concept of scientific management. Taylor illustrated that employers could increase employee productivity if they employed the division of labor and specialization. Labor could be broken into different parts and trained workers assigned to specialize in each level of production. Creating efficiency in the production process was the main objective of Taylor's scientific management. Furthermore, scientific management theory stipulates that the leader should establish performance criteria aimed at achieving organizational goals.

Great Man Theory

Great Man Theory championed by Thomas Carlyle in 1840 depicted the leader as a hero (Grint, 2014). It assumes the inherent capacity of leadership in the sense that leaders are born. At the time of its inception, leadership was considered a male quality and that leaders would rise to leadership positions when needed. Philosophers such as Machiavelli and Plato had argued that leaders were born even before Carlyle. A heroic leader still remains a notable figure rooted in individual cultures. The 20th and 21st centuries continued to capture the imagination of iconic figures such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk (Harrison, 2017). However, in the current day and age, the shift is towards individuals with the expertise to contribute, recognize and solve problems through collaborative efforts.

Behavioral Theory

The need to understand the relationship between the actions of leaders and the satisfaction and productivity of employees led to the behavioral concept of organizational leadership. According to the theory, leaders inspire and motivate people to achieve the common good of the organization. The theory indicated that understanding or addressing human affairs is essential in management and leadership instead of concentrating on technological methods of creating efficiency and productivity. McGregor (1960) as cited by Stone and Patterson (2005, p. 3) indicated that "management needed practices based on the accurate understanding of human nature and motivation."

Contingency Theory

The US faced social changes in the 1960s such as the Civil Rights Movement. There was a shift from concentration on economic wealth to the promotion of equality and social rights (Stone & Patterson, 2005). Likewise, technological advancement was unprecedented. Therefore, leaders were required to plan and develop contingencies for the contextual variables since the internal and external business environment was changing. The society acknowledged that traditional leadership methods were ineffective, hence the need for leadership behavior. The contingency theory dictates that the effectiveness of a leader is determined by their flexibility or ability to adapt to various situations (Grint, 2014).

Transactional Leadership Theory

The transactional theory illustrates the importance of supervision, group performance, organization, and the exchanges that occur between leaders and followers. In the 1970s, the focus of leadership shifted beyond situational factors. There was a need to understand the interactions between leaders and their followers. According to the theory, leaders not only influence followers but are also influenced by them. Therefore, a leader who adjusts to the followers' expectations earns influence. In practice, leaders reward employees to maintain their compliance, loyalty, and productivity among other factors. Furthermore, the leader should abundantly make clear what is expected of the followers and the consequences of non-compliance during day-to-day management (Grint, 2014).

Transformational Leadership Theory

Transformational leadership theory focuses on the connection formed between leaders and followers. Also called relationship theory, this form of leadership indicates a process in which an individual engages with others to create a connection that results in increase morality and motivation for both parties (leader and followers) (Harrison, 2017). Transformational leaders should ensure collaborative efforts in decision-making. Therefore, a team effort is fundamental in transformational leadership because it creates sustainable productivity within an organization. Transformational leaders focus on the end-goal of an organization by determining the best way to handle internal, external factors and change in employees to achieve the desired goals. In essence, transformational leadership encourages followers to be selfless and focus on the common good of the organization or society and engage in practices that improve them as future leaders (Harrison, 2017).

Leader-Follower Theory

The Leader-Follower Theory is an integral aspect of leadership that entails the exchange of roles. At one time, leaders are led by the followers and leaders influence the followers. It implies a system in which individuals work together to achieve desired outcomes. Followers can assume leadership roles. It is important to note that unlike traditional leadership styles, the leader-follower theory focuses on the ability to influence self-concept and behavior (Stone & Patterson, 2005). Such as leadership style does not care about the hierarchical positions created by organizational bureaucracy. In the modern complex organizational environment, leaders cannot overcome business uncertainties alone, there needs to be a high level of collaboration between the management and subordinates. In light of this, the leader and follower cannot operate alone, hence the need for effective and productive collaborative efforts (Harrison, 2017).


In conclusion, the evolution of leadership theories stipulates the need for change to tackle the evolving and complex problems that organizations and societies face. Leadership theories are therefore crucial in understanding what it takes to be an effective leader and the process of leadership. Most importantly, the different theories show that leadership is a dynamic aspect that needs to mold based on the impact of the internal and external organizational environment.


Burns, J. (2012). Leadership. New York, NY: Open Road Integrated Media.

Gordon, G. (2017). Basic Academic Theories of Leadership. Leadership through Trust, 1-15. Doi:10.1007/978-3-319-56955-0_1

Grint, K. (2014). Leadership, Management and Command. Palgrave Macmillan.

Harrison, C. (2017). Leadership Research and Theory. Leadership Theory and Research, 15-32. Doi:10.1007/978-3-319-68672-1_2

Stone, A., & Patterson, K. (2005). The History of Leadership Focus. In Servant Leadership Research Roundtable (pp. 1-23). Regent University. Retrieved from http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/sl_proceedings/2005/stone_history.pdf

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History of Leadership Essay Example. (2022, Dec 18). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/history-of-leadership-essay-example

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