A Brief History of Leadership Essay

Total Length: 975 words ( 3 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 4

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History of leadership

Leadership has for long been the centre of focus for many organizational and psychological researches. The terms “leader” and “leadership” have quite a wide gap regarding their coming into existence. “Leader” came to being in the early 1300s whereas “leadership” surfaced centuries later in 1700s (Stogdill, 1974). Scientific research on leadership started far much later in the twentieth century (Bass, 1981). From then on, research on the topic has intensified. This essay seeks to track the changes in the definitions of leadership from the turn of the 20th century up to the present.

The evolution of leadership definitions

Defining leadership has not been that easy for scholars and practitioners. It is now more than a hundred years since academicians started researching on leadership. Through this period, the definition of leadership has undergone numerous changes. Factors such as the prevailing politics, world affairs and people’s perceptions have been responsible for this evolution of definitions. It is commonplace that persons from different social and cultural backgrounds may not view leadership in the same way. Rost (1991) examined materials published between the years 1900 and 1990. He ended up with over 200 definitions of leadership. This served as a good history on the evolution of leadership definitions through the century.

1900-1929 - During this period, leadership tended towards a central dominating power. Take the example of one leadership conference in 1927, where they defined leadership as the ability to bring the led to total respect, obedience, loyalty and cooperation through imposing the will of the leader.
This left the led with little or no contribution to what ought to be achieved (Moore, 1927, p. 124).

1930s - The mainstay of leadership through this decade was influence as opposed to domination. Leadership was characterized by an individual’s characteristic traits interacting with those of a given group. The take was that the leader could change the led, and also the led could influence the leader in one way or another.

1940s - According to Hemphill (1949), leadership was basically the manner in which an individual behaves when in charge of a group of people. Copeland (1942) had earlier differentiated leading by persuasion from leading by coercion, which he coined “drivership”.

1950s - This decade comprised three themes around leadership:

Continuance of group theory - Leadership was seen in terms of the actions of leaders when in group activities.

Goal theory - Leadership was a portrayal of the character of the leader.

Effectiveness theory - Leadership was taken as the ability of an individual to improve the effectiveness of a group.

1960s - This is the decade when leadership scholars largely agreed on the definition for leadership. Among….....

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Bass, B. M. (1960). Leadership, Psychology and organizational behaviour. New York: Harper.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Copeland, N. (1942). Psychology and the soldier. Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publications.

Hemphill, J. K. (1949). Situational factors in leadership. Columbus: Ohio State University, Bureau of Educational Research.

Moore, B. V. (1927). The May conference on leadership. Personnel Journal, 6, 124–128.

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