1 minute read


Leadership As A Skill

Learned examinations of the lives of great leaders abound, among them Arrian's History of Alexander and Plutarch's Parallel Lives, bona fide leadership manuals have been relatively rare; only a few have survived the centuries, among them Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Most such works were military in nature, where meritocracies tended to flourish.

Popular opinion through the ages has typically held that leadership flows from the throne of the gods to a privileged few, as evidenced by most societies' willing subjection to and adulation for inherited royalty. In the biblical account contained in the first book of Samuel, the Israelites beg Yahweh to abandon his plans for a pure theocracy, asking in exchange not for democracy but for "a king to lead us." The equation began to change at the end of the global tendency toward dynastic succession and the advent of republican government and other broad meritocracies.

Currently, in an era that can be considered far more Carlylean than Tolstoyan in its worldview, the analysis of living and dead authorities has given way to a dramatic development: the belief that leaders can and should be trained. The worldwide explosion of leadership study and leadership development is an even more recent phenomenon, launched primarily at American universities. Beginning in the 1960s, the most informed academic opinions held that leadership could be taught effectively if prevalent past assumptions about human nature could be overcome. The concept grew in popularity through the 1970s and 1980s, and the result by the turn of the twenty-first century was a $250 billion industry—the amount spent annually on management training and executive education around the world.

Leadership theory and development was to a degree an off-shoot of inquiry into organizational life, as industry and government bureaucracies evolved rapidly, with figures such as Vienna-born economist and management editor Peter Drucker forging roles as key commentators. Theories of organizational life gradually gave way to theories of leadership as an exalted vocation.

Once scholars began not only to assess the impact of leaders but to dissect the traits that fueled their success, a legion of authors and consultants rose up to offer seven habits, ten techniques, or twenty secrets of top leaders. Eventually American corporations, universities, and even secondary schools began setting aside funds for leadership development programs.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Laser - Background And History to Linear equationLeadership - Leadership In Historical Context, History's Slaves Or History's Masters?, Leadership As A Skill