would not be an exaggeration to say that, until recently, the
history of humanity has been the history of its leaders. Certainly
what comes to mind when we think of history are names like Julius
Caesar or Martin
In the second half of the twentieth century,
however, historians, following the lead of Ferdinand Braudel and
the so-called Annales School, undertook new approaches. There
became a trend toward writing the history of all people, not just
the leaders, summed up in Braudel’s comment that to the
historian the life of a peasant should be as significant as that
of a king.
A similar trend can be discerned in management
science. Historically, a common theme in the literature of
management is the role of the business leader, who provides
inspiration and direction, just like the great military,
political, and sports leaders. If one looks at the management
books on the bookstore shelves, one will perhaps see more books on
leadership than any other topic.
But there has been a change. No doubt
the new ideas parallel and grew out of
thinking in other disciplines. And it
is no coincidence that these
developments succeeded World War II.
Second World War was a war for democracy. The success of the
democratic countries had many ramifications, such as the fight
against racial discrimination and the abolition of colonialism.
that war, there certainly had been great leaders. But, as Bill
Maudlin’s famous cartoons of GI’s showed, there was also more
realization that the actual winning of the war was as much an
accomplishment of those at the front lines as of those in the
seats of power.
So today, when one peruses the list of
management tomes, one sees more and more books about teamwork and
team management. Cross-functional teams have been one of the most
important concepts of Late 20th Century Management. Empowerment is
a given, and leadership has to be understood in that context.
In addition, a revolution in the
concept of leadership has taken place,
beginning with Robert
Greenleaf’s 1976 Servant
Leadership. This landmark work
“inverted the pyramid” and made
for a new paradigm: the leader at the
top works for those in the
lower ranks, not vice versa.
In 1993, Peter Block, who had already
“invented” empowerment, published Stewardship.
This book, one of the greatest ever
written on management, in effect
carried the concept of servant
leadership further, advocating
“accountability without control or
compliance”. Its first chapter title
is “Replacing Leadership with
Stewardship,” and Block criticizes
“cowboy” and “hero” images in
James Kouzes and Barry Poster’s The
Leadership Challenge (1995) said,
“Leadership is Everyone’s
And in 1999 came Horst Bergman,
Kathleen Hurson and Darlene Russ-Eft’s
Everyone a Leader.
By the last decade of the 20th
century, team management and
cross-functional teams were clearly
best practice concepts. Researchers
even suggested that the best teams
might be those that used rotating
leadership or no leaders at all.
we enter the 21st century, the role of
"alpha persons" is very much
in question. No doubt traditional leadership
(and traditionally minded books on how
to lead) will continue. But the
following seem the best predictions as
to how the concept of leadership will
Leadership is for everyone.
No doubt some people are better
flutists than others, but almost
everyone can learn to play the flute.
In the modern organization, everyone
is a team member and every one is a
project manager. So everyone needs to
learn and to exhibit leadership.
The leader is one who uncovers
new knowledge and knows how to share
it with others. More than ever before,
knowledge is truly power. More than
ever before, leadership will be shown
by spreading learning.
Leadership is team based.
Hierarchy will continue to
exist. But the best organizations will
be those that empower their members to
be leaders. No one will want to work
as an underling when they can work
somewhere else and be treated as an
Leadership is not
In the 21st century, one’s
authority comes from what one says,
not who one is. Leaders will
communicate with, not to,
people. New methods of communication
will result in new styles of
Some people will have more
leadership responsibility than others,
but everyone will learn from everyone
else. With teams as the norm, everyone
will have the experience of being a
contributor. The best leader will be
the one who is best of developing,
listening and empowering.
Some other books worth reading as
guides to 21st Century Leadership are