Leadership: A Historical Perspective - Nu Leadership Series

 


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"Wealth in the new regime flows directly from innovation, not optimization; that is, wealth is not gained by perfecting the known, but by imperfectly seizing the unknown. "

Kevin Kelly

Although many people would view leadership thought as a new 20th century phenomenon, aspects of leadership have existed since the very beginning of human history. Bernard Bass, author of the Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership argues, “Leadership is one of the world’s oldest preoccupations…. The understanding of leadership has figured strongly in the quest for knowledge. "

Prior to the Industrialization Era, leaders were found operating in families, tribes, religious organizations, militaries, and governments. We will review some of the ancient leadership applications.

the Near East

Throughout this region, there was integration between religion and leadership. Under this scenario, a king was not legitimate until ordained by a priest. For example, Babylonian King Hammurabi was a leader of this empire from 2123- 2071 B. C. E and issued a code of 282 laws which governed business dealings as well as personal behaviors.

the Far East

The ancient Chinese civilization provided ample opportunities for leadership development. As early as the sixth century, the Chinese literature contained advice to the country leaders about their responsibilities to the people.

First, the Chinese government was bureaucratic and contained a hierarchy of officials. Second, in 600 B. C. E. , the Chinese general, Sun Tza, provided strategies for his military leaders to follow. Confucius also played a role by providing the moral compass during this time for leaders to follow.

Egypt

Some 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians were dealing with leadership (seshemet) and leader (seshemu) in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Egyptians are also credited with setting up the proper supervisor- laborer ratios during critical projects such as building the pharaohs’ tombs.

Greece

Greek culture also provided an opportunity to showcase leadership thought. Greeks admired leadership qualities as portrayed by the heroes in Homer’s Iliad. Some of the leadership qualities admired included order, justice, shrewdness, valor, and activism. Greek philosophers like Plato saw leaders as an important part of a good government.

Rome

In the Roman lifestyle, much of the leadership thought was military related. The Roman military followed the “rule of ten" and established order and discipline within its ranks by providing a hierarchy of authority.

The Romans also developed a quasi-factory system to manufacture armaments for its legions. There also existed a highly specialized labor force and free workers formed guilds.

Judaism –Christianity

Throughout the Bible, there are numerous examples of good and bad leadership. The Jewish religion held leadership in high regard as witnessed through the priesthood and king lineages. Some esteemed leaders from the Old Testament include Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Nehemiah.

However, the leadership formula shifted over the period, from tribal leadership to judges and finally to kings. Religious figures were also placed in leadership roles, such as priests and prophets.

The New Testament contained an array of leaders with varying leadership styles, from the master teacher Jesus Christ to his misfit of disciples. The Apostle Paul provides several books for Christian leaders such as I & II Timothy and Titus.

Obviously, leadership has been a great component of all effective civilizations. Therefore, leadership should be a vital component of any successful organization today.

Reference:

Wren, D. (1994). The Evolution of Management Thought. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

© 2006 by Daryl D. Green

Daryl D. Green has published over 100 articles in the field of decision-making (personal and organizational), leadership, and organizational behavior. Mr. Green is also the author of four books, including More than a Conqueror: Achieving Personal Fulfillment in Government Service. Do you want to improve your life? Do you want to make better decisions? If you answer “yes, " then go to the ‘master decision-making’ website at http://www.darylgreen.org

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