Tuesday, February 1, 2011

History Of Leadership

As I mentioned in a previous post, the definitions of leadership are constantly changing, that change with each passing decade. But to reflect this changing definition there are changing theories of leadership as well. The first cohesive and well-defined theory of leadership was the Great Man Theory. Leaders were born, not made! You can sort of see why this theory had such a following, and why even today it is still going strong. For there is a recognition that our leaders were born to rule, that there is something special or significant about them that you can’t attribute to learned behaviors or situations. I feel there is a link between the Great Man Theory of leadership and what Leo Tolstoy wrote in his essay, “Rulers and Generals are History’s Slaves”. In the Great Man Theory, men are born into leadership roles, they have no choice. According to Tolstoy, leaders have no choice in the grand scheme of things to be anything but people who affect the world, history is conspiring against them. I feel I’ve seen this theory at work, for instance: I’ve known the current youth leader of my church since we were both in elementary school, and he is someone that people are just naturally drawn to, someone they naturally elect to leadership roles because he just seems to fit the bill without any effort. In fact, there was really no question of whether or not he would take over for his older brother (who was the previous youth leader, but left to get his Masters Degree). It was almost as if it were preordained… I feel personally that this friend of mine never particularly “learned” to be a leader; he was just gifted with those abilities (and the position that needed to be filled) right from the start.
Another interesting concept (but not really a theory) of leadership by another prominent intellectual is that the means of leadership is preferably by way of the law, but can also be achieved through dishonesty and fear. That is, the theory propagated by Machiavelli in “The Prince” is that the best method of ruling is by honesty and being just, but if the only way to achieve the desired result is to be dishonest and not just, then that is the proper course of action. Namely, the ends justify the means. I feel like I’ve seen the perfect example of this in the character of Col. Mathieu in the film, “The Battle of Algiers”. The character is portrayed in a pretty sympathetic light, a decent man who is trying to lead in a just way. But to win the battle against the FLN (those fighting for independence), he needs to resort to torture to get needed information. In the movie, reporters’ question him at a press conference regarding the ethical issues regarding his methods he calls “interrogation”. Mathieu replies that their entire reason for being in Algiers is to stop the FLN and keep the country as a colony of France. Torture is the only effective means of fighting back. Therefore, as long as the French people deem winning as the most important objective, then he will continue to do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. In other words, the end justifies the means.


  1. I like how you related the Great Man Theory to Tolstoy, that is an interesting connection. I also have know a few people that seem to be drawn toward that leader role no matter what situation they are in. People just seem to be drawn to them and follow them naturally.
    I also agree with how you have connect an ethics principle in with Machiavelli's idea of leadership. It is very much like the concept that a course of action is acceptable if it justifies the means. I learned about this in high school & at the time I agreed with it, but in this situation looking at it from a leadership perspective I'm not sure that I do. How i was raised with my father, he always told me that the 2 worst kinds of people are liars & cheats... so I have a hard time agreeing with Machiavelli. However, I know there are certain situations that may necessitate this course of action.

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