As long as there have been human endeavors, there have been people willing to take charge—people willing to plan, organize, staff, and control the work. One might say that nature abhors a vacuum and thus someone will always step forward to fill a leadership void. Probably the natural emergence of leadership grew out of our instinct for survival. In the hostile world of early humankind, food, shelter, and safety needs usually required cooperative efforts, and cooperative efforts required some form of leadership. Certainly leadership was vested in the heads of early families via the patriarchal system. The oldest member of the family was the most experienced and was presumed to be the wisest member of the family and thus was the natural leader. As families grew into tribes and tribes evolved into nations, more complex forms of leadership were required and did evolve. Division of labor and supervision practices is recorded on the earliest written record, the clay tablets of the Sumerians. In Sumerian society, as in many others since, the wisest and best leaders were thought to be the priests and other religious leaders. Likewise, the ancient Babylonian cities developed very strict codes, such as the code of Hammurabi. King Nebuchadnezzar used color codes to control production of the hanging gardens, and there were weekly and annual reports, norms for productivity, and rewards for piecework. The Egyptians organized their people and their slaves to build their cities and pyramids. Construction of one pyramid, around 5000 BC., required the labor of 100,000 people working for approximately 20 years. Planning, organizing, and controlling were essential elements of that and other feats, many of them long term. The ancient Egyptian Pharaohs had long-term planners and advisors, as did their contemporaries in China. China perfected military organization based on line and staff principles and used these same principles in the early Chinese dynasties. Confucius wrote parables that offered practical suggestions for public administration. In the Old Testament, Moses led a group of Jewish slaves out of Egypt and then organized them into a nation. Exodus, Chapter 18, describes how Moses “chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, and differentiated between rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties and rulers of tens.” A system of judges also evolved, with only the hard cases coming to Moses.
The city-states of Greece were commonwealths, with councils, courts, administrative officials, and boards of generals. Socrates talked about management as a skill separate from technical knowledge and experience. Plato wrote about specialization and proposed notions of a healthy republic.
The Roman Empire is thought by many to have been so successful because of the Romans’ great ability to organize the military and conquer new lands. Those sent to govern the far-flung parts of the empire were effective administrators and were able to maintain relationships with leaders from other provinces and across the empire as a whole.
There are numerous other ancient leaders who were skillful organizers, at least as indicated by their accomplishments, such as Hannibal, who shepherded an army across the Alps, and the first emperor of China, who built the Great Wall. Many of the practices employed today in leading, managing, and administering modern organizations have their origins in antiquity.
Many concepts of authority developed in a religious context. One example is the Roman Catholic Church with its efficient formal organization and management techniques. The chain of command or path of authority, including the concept of specialization, was a most important contribution to management theory.
Machiavelli also wrote about authority, stressing that it comes from the consent of the masses. However, the ideas Machiavelli expressed in The Prince are more often viewed as mainly concerned with...