The Impact of Eras on the Evolution of Leadership Theory

Topics: Leadership, Management, Organizational studies and human resource management Pages: 6 (1737 words) Published: March 20, 2011
The Impact of Eras on the Evolution of Leadership Theory

World events, such as the World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Baby Boom, Civil Rights, the women’s movement, and the digital age, changed the world. These events and how they influenced leadership theory will be explored. Additionally, leader’s response to the evolution of leadership theory will be evaluated. Early leadership theory focused on the leader’s innate traits and expanded to assessing what a leader does. Theories broadened to the leader’s behavior or the “how” of leadership, then extended to situation in which leader’s operate. This paper discusses the transformation of leadership theory including the impact of eras, the leader’s response, and introduces an action plan to increase success in the changing environment.

The Impact of Eras on the Evolution of Leadership Theory
Over the last 100 years, the work environment has changed exponentially resulting in the evolution of leadership thought. Leadership theories have been influenced by eras and world events. Leaders have adapted in response to the change. “Leadership typically reflects the larger society, and theories have evolved as norms, attitudes, and understandings in the larger world have changed” (Daft, 2008, p. 20). This paper discusses the transformation of leadership theory including the impact of eras, the leader’s response, and introduces an action plan. An analysis of leadership thought and leader impact during two contrasting work environments will be explored.

Autocratic Leadership in a Stable Environment
The stable world environment allowed leaders to control everything centrally and make all the decisions. Autocratic leadership style was effective during the first part of the twenty-first century because organizations were simple. Organization size and simplicity coupled with the stable nature of the environment made it easy for one person to understand the big picture, coordinate and control all activities, and keep everything on track (p. 21). Henry Firestone’s management model utilized autocratic leadership and he espoused that one company had one boss (Fenster, 2000, p. 227). Successful leaders were studied as part of trait theory to determine if they possessed distinct characteristics, but traits were not correlated to guarantee success (Daft, 2008, p. 20). Rapid growth due to the Industrial Revolution created organizational complexity. Leadership thought evolved from Great Person to rational management because rules and standards were needed to ensure effective and efficient operations (p. 22). Darmody (2007) notes that the United States experienced rapid economic growth and industrial expansion and was rapidly becoming a world military superpower (p. PS 151). Scientific management was introduced by mechanical engineers who studied work and tasks to develop the “best way” (p. PS.151). These thoughts resonated in China and Chinese language literature contains a continuing theme for the need of scientific management to guide to modernization….to build a new and strong China (Morgan, 2006, p. 419). Rational management was dependent on a centralized powerful leader who was in control. Jenning (1960) confirms that “…the most refined power skill is to control others without letting them know it” (p. 76). Draft (2008) highlights that behavior and contingency theories were effective because a leader could analyze their situation and develop careful plans for their followers to execute, yet theorists realized that rational management was no longer sufficient in the changing environment (p. 22).

Democratic Leadership in a Chaotic Environment
The chaotic world environment increased reliance on the team for success, that resulted in leadership theory expanding beyond the individual. The era of the team leader had arrived (p. 23). Leaders employed democratic leadership to delegate authority, encourage...

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