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. 6). 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 participation, and increased their reliance on the team’s knowledge for task completion (p. 44). Sam Walton’s ten commandments of retail embody these concepts. Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson (2008) note that “It is…important to be able to apply behavioral science principles and concepts to make team more effective. ” (p. 261). They determined that “…one of the major focuses of our work has been the development of a practical model that can be used by managers…to make a moment-by-moment decisions necessary to effectively influence people (p. 131).
Research of Australia managers’ use of this model discovered that supportive styles are more general among Australian managers, which suggests that they may be over supporting their people … (Avery, 2000), in essence investing in actions that would not bring success. The digital age added further organizational complexity because of the impossible nature of being able to know and control everything. Leaders needed their teams to help and had to develop ways to motivate and engage their followers. Daft (2008) states that leadership theory evolved to focus on relational theories and the transformational leadership concept emerged (p. 1). Leaders must be effective in their use of human skills to build a … collaborative culture… (p. 23). The best leaders are “…genuinely interested in other people and find ways to bring out the best in them (p. 24). The leader had to not only have vision, but also be able both to impose it and to evolve it further as external circumstances change (Schein, 2004). As an example, “a culture of adaptability is vital to survival in the armed services. As business executives cope with increasing unpredictability, they can take a page from the military’s book” (Useem, 2010, p. 89).
Research of transformational leadership in India and Nepal noted that that leaders do not demonstrate transformational leadership characteristics due to the impact that national culture has on leadership style and influence tactics used by leaders (Rijal, 2010, p. 125). In determining if charisma and vision could be discriminated by followers, the study conducted by Hwang, Khatri, and Srinivas (2005) determined that follower’s perceptions of visionary variables were higher in New Zealand as compared to Singapore or India (p. 971) highlighting that cultural influence is a factor in how leadership theory is manifested from a global perspective.
Leader Action Plan Leaders in the 21st century are challenged with continued chaos in the world and organization environment due to economic pressures and global competition. Change will be the norm. Rhodes and Stelter (2010) state that “Globalization will intensify” (para. 7). Leaders must focus on dealing change in an effective manner. Leader’s success will come with the ability to thrive on change (Anonymous, 2010, p. 12). Leader should recognize that positive organizational culture provides a sense of security and stability for their followers (Sopow, 2006, p. 21). Leaders must focus on strategically planning for the future.
Berman, Christner, and Bell (2010) say that “Business leaders should develop clear scenarios for their industry and the overall situation that can help identify which strategies and business models will best position their organization to success across a range of possible future outcomes” (p. 31). Leaders must focus on team motivation. Jiang (2010) highlights practices for motivating followers such as: objective-based team training. voluntarily formed teams to foster ongoing learning and establish a friendly atmosphere, creating a team-based leadership and communication system, and a mixed-reward system (p. 228).
Conclusion Change is the constant of the future and a prepared leader increases their ability to achieve organizational success. Understanding the transformation of leadership theory and the impact of eras is an advantage for a global leader. Being able to assess and appropriately respond to the latest in leadership thought will result in being on the leading edge of understanding the evolution of organizational leadership theories and could be a competitive advantage. Leaders cannot be complacent and must continually improve to ensure effective change management to provide for organizational success in the future.