Has Leadership Returned to Its Roots?

Has Leadership Returned to Its Roots?

Leadership is one of the most important phenomena in social interactions.

Mills (2005) in his book, ‘Leadership: How to Lead, How to Live‘, acknowledges that the importance of leadership could be examined from both political and commercial views, and provides numerous examples in government and business.

From a political viewpoint, he gives an example of how a leader can dramatically affect the way a government performs its functions, and introduces Charles O. Rossotti who, in the Internal Revenue Service, made a fundamental change in the processes by which this governmental organisation served its clients.

Similarly, Axelrod (2006) observes that Eisenhower, former president of the United States in World War II, could effectively lead both the American government and the Allied Forces in Europe in defeating Adolf Hitler, and even concludes that Eisenhower’s leadership can provide lessons for top management executives in today’s organisational challenges.

Short biography of President Eisenhower

Source: Google

In describing the importance of leadership in business, Mills (2005, p.10) posits that “investors recognise the importance of business leadership when they say that a good leader can make a success of a weak business plan, but that a poor leader can ruin even the best plan”, and provides several examples of such leaders.

One example is Rich Teerlink, who could dramatically changed Harley-Davidson in the 1980s, and fundamentally built a different organisation. Elliot and Simon (2011) give another example of business leaders in a highly competitive environment.

In their book, ‘The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation’, they state that Jobs built a highly effective organisation through taking a change-oriented leadership approach, which highly manifested itself in talent, product, organisation, and marketing.

Infographic of Steve Jobs

Where companies in general confront challenging situations in which they need to proactively respond to every environmental demand, a comprehensive leadership insight could be a basis for understanding and perhaps anticipating these emerging issues.

This has been reinforced previously by Blair and Hunt (1985, p.275) who state that “the issue here is not basic versus applied research, but research that is or is not relevant to current or projected organisational problems”.

In the first step of leadership through evolution, leaders have been regarded as great people with a set of specific personality traits who are born, not made.

To analyse this viewpoint, Judge, Piccolo and Kosalka (2009) explains the paradoxes of this insight as:

initially, there exist some mismatches between today’s leadership conditions and those traits which have already been determined for leaders.

In fact, this paradox reconfirms that “traits that were adaptive in ancestral environments might no longer produce adaptive behaviours in modern environments, especially when these environments dramatically differ, as is the case with those of modern humans” (Van Vugt, Hogan & Kaiser 2008, p.191).

The authors recommend that new requirements are continuously required for leadership today.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

The evolution of thought-leadership at its highest level reaches transformational leadership.

Burns (1978) was the first to consider this leadership insight, and it was subsequently discussed by many researchers to date.

In Burns’ (1978) view, transformational leadership is superior for managers because it focuses on basic needs and meets higher desires by inspiring followers (Marturano & Gosling, 2008).

It could be found that this argument is based on Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs in which the lowest level of human needs (self-actualisation) could only be satisfied by inspiration.

Transformational leaders elevate their followers through increasing “awareness of what is right, good, important, and beautiful” (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999, p.190).

It seems reasonable to state that Burns (1978) has actually theorised how top managers can provide a significant contribution to long-term organisational goals through stressing their subordinates’ lowest human needs of self-actualisation.

To conclude, I argue that the evolution of thought-leadership has come back to its elementary root, which contains great people with a set of specific personality traits who can create fundamental changes at the organisational level.


Axelrod 2006, Eisenhower on leadership: Ike’s enduring lessons in total victory management, Jossey Bass Ltd, United States.

Bass, BM & Steidlmeier, P 1999 ‘Ethics, Character, and Authentic Transformational Leadership Behavior’, Leadership Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 181-218.

Blair, JD & Hunt, JG 1985, A research agenda for leadership on the future battlefield. In Hunt JG & Blair JD (eds.), Leadership on the future battlefield. Pergamon, Brassey’s, Washington, DC.

Blanchard, K & Hodges, P 2003, The servant Leader: Transforming your Heart, Head, Hands and Habits, Countryman: Nashvill, TN.

Burns, JM 1978, Leadership, Harper & Row, New York.

Elliot, J & simon, W 2011, The Steve Jobs Way : iLeadership for a New Generation, Vanguard Press, New York.

Judge, TA, Piccolo, RF & Kosalka, T 2009 ‘The bright and dark sides of leader traits: A review and theoretical extension of the leader trait paradigm’, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 6, pp. 855-875.

Marturano, A & Gosling, J 2008, Leadership, Routledge, London.

Maslow, A 1954. Motivation and Personality. Harper, NY.

Mills, D Q 2005. Leadership: How to Lead, How to Live. MindEdge Press, Waltham, MA.

Van Vugt, M, Hogan, R & Kaiser, RB 2008 ‘Leadership, followership, and evolution: Some lessons from the past’, American Psychologist, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 182−196

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