Effective leadership and its attributes have always been of particular concern for various scientific and business development areas. Considering that a successful leader can tremendously improve the productivity of a given company and promote the employees’ motivation, choosing an appropriate executive for a given corporation is an essential task (Antonakis & Day, 2018). However, understanding the history of leadership and its changes is crucial for creating a comprehensive understanding of its role and the possible future advances (Antonakis & Day, 2018). The current paper focuses on the evolution of leadership, presenting an overview of leadership ideas and concepts that were used throughout the history of this sphere, suggesting what form leadership might take in the future.
The Development of Leadership Before the Modern Age
The Focus on Innate Traits
In the history of leadership theories, the Great Man theory is considered to be the first framework to explain how certain people can impact and motivate others. The Great Man theory, based on the proposition that true leaders are born to lead, stated that an efficient leader has a number of innate characteristics that allow them to exert power over others (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Nonetheless, this model was derived from a subjective understanding of leadership and had no empirical data to support its suggestions (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Therefore, other theories were introduced to account for this limitation.
The trait theory, the second leadership framework, was primarily based on the early Great Man theory. Rather than basing the leadership characters on particular Great Men, the trait theorists analyzed the common qualities of influential leaders, proposing that all successful executives possess similar personality aspects (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Nevertheless, the trait theory has not been proved by empirical evidence, which led researchers to believe that effective leadership might not be a predetermined condition.
Personal Power and Behavior
An idea that emerged after the Great Man and trait theory failed to grasp the nature of leadership was the concept of personal power acquired by the leader. The power framework argued that power or authority could be utilized to lead individuals, influencing them to comply with the requirements of the senior executive (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Although this suggestion has been disproven by researchers, especially due to the fact that the leader’s personality is ignored in this approach, some modern evidence proposes that personal power can be a valuable factor. For instance, combined with the relevant personal attributes and appearance, personal power can contribute to the improvement of interpersonal relationships (Haller et al., 2018). Furthermore, performance-approach leaders can benefit by having a high sense of personal power, which compels them to become more receptive to their subordinates’ ideas (Sijbom & Parker, 2020). Considering this evidence, although the leadership theory of power was not supported by empirical evidence, personal power still remains a crucial variable to be considered in leadership research.
After the Second World War, with international companies growing and acquiring more employees, a more reliable theoretical approach was needed. Thus, the behavior leadership theory emerged, focusing on the behavioral patterns of the leader and disregarding the personal traits as a notion of the past (Antonakis & Day, 2018). Although scholarly studies presented mixed results, the behavior theory has been found to have some empirical basis (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Thus, this approach remains popular in the contemporary age, and behavior is considered a vital aspect of a successful leader.
The Importance of Adaptability: Innovation and Disruption
Another leadership concept coined in this historical period was situational leadership. Together with the contingency approach, this situational framework directed the researchers’ attention towards the leader’s environment, arguing that the atmosphere surrounding the executive plays a crucial role in their performance (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). For instance, situational leadership assumes that the leader’s behavior and characteristics are less important than the aspects of the working environment. As an extension of this suggestion, the contingency approach integrated adaptability into the mix, proposing that successful leaders should consider their personality, behavior, authority, and the overall working situation (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). From this perspective, the executives were expected to adapt to the ongoing changes, transforming their methods according to the emerging trends.
On the basis of these introductions, scholars began to consider the role of innovation and disruption in the performance of a leader. While innovation is understood as a new development that can improve a firm’s efficiency, disruptions are considered negative events that can adversely impact the company’s operations (Richardson et al., 2017). However, it has been reported that executives should possess the knowledge of strategic planning to address internal or external interferences, utilizing short-term and long-term planning to account for the changes (Richardson et al., 2017). Considering that disruptions can negatively impact the flow of operations, adapting the workplace environment to facilitate the resolution of these issues is a critical responsibility of the leader.
The role of innovation has become a vital topic for researchers due to the revealed positive effects of this concept. The obtained scholarly evidence suggests that innovative leaders might tremendously advance not only the efficiency of the organization but also the creativity and satisfaction of the employees, promoting the introduction of unique ideas (Mokhber et al., 2018). As such, executives who support innovative ideas and encourage their workers to demonstrate creative thinking were able to facilitate higher levels of job satisfaction and expression (Mokhber et al., 2018). From this perspective, adaptability to disruptions and innovative integrations is suggested to be a beneficial trait for a successful leader.
Leadership in the Modern Age
Accounting for Change
With innovation and change occupying a larger space in the leadership theories, the transformational approach has been introduced. In the transformational leadership framework, both leaders and followers are recognized as contributors to the creation of an empowering workplace (Antonakis & Day, 2018). In this regard, the perspective on leadership responsibility has shifted, shaping a theory where employees can also influence the leader’s efficiency. In this framework, leaders collaborate with their teams to identify the emerging needs and promote changes in the workplace, which are then incorporated together with the group members (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). Therefore, transformation and adaptability are vital in this approach, and leaders are expected to endorse innovation and creative thinking, similar to the contingency approach.
However, there are some aspects of transformational leadership that require execution from the leader. Specifically, the executives must ensure a high level of communication, understanding of the employees’ motives, and their contribution to the collective interests (Korejan & Shahbazi, 2016). Accounting for these factors allows the leader to empower the workers and promote the completion of group goals, which is the ultimate aim of the transformational framework (Korejan & Shahbazi, 2016). While communication between the leader and employees is critical for learning the workers’ desires, commitment, and proficiencies, the interaction between the team members is also a key aspect of the group’s successful collaboration. In addition, building trust has also been outlined as a mediating factor in the efficiency of a transformational leader, revealing that employees who have faith in their organization and executives are more open to change (Yue et al., 2019). Therefore, to empower the workers within the transformational approach, the leader remains responsible for a multitude of elements that ensure acceptance of innovation and efficient collaboration.
Leadership and Authenticity
In recent years, a unique approach to leadership has been suggested, shifting the focus from the leader’s performance to their authenticity. With the personal traits of the executive being majorly neglected in the previous framework, the authentic leadership model opposes this consideration, arguing that the unique characteristics of the leader are also essential (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). As such, authentic leaders should be consistent in their actions, behaviors, and expressions, creating a memorable image of a reliable and consistent person (Hunt & Fedynich, 2019). However, this model is still in need of further development and research, meaning that it might become the leadership of the future if proved efficient.
Servant Leadership and Community Needs
With the needs of the employees and their motives becoming a central aspect of leadership approaches, the servant leadership theory has emerged. In this framework, the followers’ desires are emphasized, and the organizational demands are expected to become of smaller significance (Antonakis & Day, 2018). Study results demonstrate that this perspective on leadership can be highly effective, as it promotes organizational commitment and job satisfaction, which, in turn, are significant elements of the employees’ productivity and motivation (Harwiki, 2016). In the modern era, such a position on leadership is extremely popular, especially because it endorses followers to become leaders.
However, with the development of ethical norms and community research, the impact of leaders and businesses on society has been outlined. While leaders are primarily responsible for the working environment and their employees, their decisions can also influence societal perceptions and biases; therefore, executives must also address diversity and inclusion in the workplace. As such, the leaders are expected to conduct Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices, which are essential for ensuring the inclusion of minorities and battling negative stereotypes (Davenport et al., 2022). By promoting these ideas and controlling the hiring processes, leaders can make sure that their working environment promotes equality and includes diverse populations.
On the contrary, a leader without a DEI mindset might facilitate stereotypes and biased opinions, as well as create disruptions among the team members. In the modern age, representatives of multiple communities and ethnicities are involved in the working processes, and their cultural and social belonging must be supported to ensure professional growth and motivation (Davenport et al., 2022). However, an executive that lacks understanding of DEI and its importance might negatively affect the working environment, decreasing the efficiency of its employees.
The Challenges of the Contemporary Age
In the past years, leaders throughout the world have encountered numerous issues connected to the global pandemic. With the COVID-19 virus disrupting the everyday lives of the employees and corporations, the executives were forced to account for the new difficulties, creating mitigation approaches. A prime example of these integrations is the remote leadership model, where all organizational activities are conducted via the Internet communication platform. Although this method is advantageous for leading from a distance, lack of personal interaction and decreases in productivity have been highlighted as crucial limitations (Bell et al., 2019). Therefore, even though teleworking was deemed a model of leadership to be used in the future, more research is needed to battle these disadvantages.
Another prominent framework is the resilience leadership approach, which emerged as a result of pandemic struggles. In times of crisis and global issues, leaders are expected to demonstrate strength and stability, countering the emerging complications and supporting the personnel. However, as the majority of the existing leadership models do not account for working under stressful conditions, resilient leadership was suggested (Țiclău et al., 2021). This theory might be a beneficial framework to be utilized in the future, especially in the pandemic environment, due to its focus on adaptability and reaction to adversity. Furthermore, resilient leadership might be advantageous for protecting the business against unexpected shocks (Țiclău et al., 2021). Therefore, based on the propositions from the authentic, DEI, remote, and resilient leadership, it appears that future leaders might be required to include these considerations into their practices, with future work becoming predominantly remote.
To conclude, it is evident that numerous theories and frameworks have been suggested to explain why certain individuals demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities while others have difficulties performing in this role. The idea of a successful leader and leadership has changed tremendously over the years, evolving from a proposition about a person’s traits to a developed understanding of the unique types of leadership. Such aspects as empowerment, situational awareness, and employee support have been introduced, allowing leaders to create an atmosphere that can promote the productivity of every employee. In the future, it is possible that authentic and resilient leadership models will become fully developed, thus adhering to the workers’ and organizations’ needs even in times of crisis.
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