Leadership in Organizations: A Journey Through Time

From bureaucratic and transactional leadership styles, the organizations are now adapting to more consultative-participative and transformational methods

Credits: Jason Goodman

April 25, 2022

Leadership, as a concept, is as old as the human species is on earth. In fact, it is as old as life itself. Right from ants to reptiles to mammals to human beings, leadership as a trait in living species seems ubiquitous.

Remember the groups of ants moving in a line, wherein if one would change direction, all others would follow? Or the pride of lions that follows the subtle gestures of their leader in everything they do?

Through the ages, humankind has witnessed countless leaders who have taken their followers to a life of prosperity, hope, and well-being.

Ancient religious figures like Buddha, Jesus and Prophet Muhammad are examples of such leaders who preached peace, virtues, and humanity to mankind. At the same time there were political and military leaders throughout history who caused death and destruction through their lives. Ivan the Terrible of Russia and Vlad the Impaler of Romania are examples of the vicious and pain-inflicting things leaders could do to their own people.

As recently as the 20th century, the world has witnessed the worst and the best in leadership. Be it Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler responsible for the holocaust, or Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. who led the struggle against oppression in their respective lands.

Even on our daily newsfeed these days, we are witnessing different types of leadership in global political conflicts that are becoming more alarming with each passing day.

The economic sphere of modern times is also not untouched by different forms of leadership. Time and again, we have witnessed leaders in organizations employing different leadership styles to meet their and their organizations’ goals.

From Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century to Jack Welch, Akio Morita, Ratan Tata in the 20th and 21st centuries, leadership in business has come a long way since the beginning of modern free markets. Leadership research has followed suit as well with leadership theories changing from autocratic, bureaucratic, and transactional leadership styles to more recent consultative-participative, transformational, servant, and authentic leadership styles and theories.

Initially, leadership styles were dictated by the needs of the industrial pattern of a particular era. The 19th century, a time packed with innovation such as the invention of electricity, wired communication, automobiles and airplanes required task-oriented leadership. It is at this time that the idea of bureaucratic management, administrative management, and scientific management was dominant, with its proponents as Max Weber, Henri Fayol, and Frederick Taylor.

As the industry kept changing, forms of leadership evolved and towards the end of the 20th century, organizations began witnessing leaders like Jack Welch who advocated for empowering the employee. Akio Morita advocated for good employee relations and Ratan Tata’s pride in serving the context his business operates in while maintaining exceptional employer-employee relationship is well known to all.

In fact, this movement of organizational culture and environment towards a more human centered approach was captured by many academic scholars. With the advent of the 21st century, aspects of pluralism in the workplace and employee spirituality appeared in organizational discourse, as per Hicks.

Evolving Leadership Styles in Organizations

As organizations continue to grow and reinvent themselves in contemporary times, leadership styles like purpose-driven leadership, transformational leadership, servant leadership, and authentic leadership seem to be becoming increasingly important. Purpose driven leadership is about leading responsibly while having a stakeholder approach over shareholder approach.

Transformational leadership is seen in leaders who are focused on bringing out the best in their employees and facilitating the realization of employees’ full potential through their leadership and resources.

Credits: Memento Media

Servant leadership, on the other hand, is when a leader goes out of the way to do work, they are not expected to inspire their people and make them identify with the work the company does.
Authentic leadership is about a leader leading in a genuine, transparent, and balanced way which in turn, generates trust and commitment in employees.

These positive leadership styles are increasingly finding takers in industry practitioners as well as business and leadership scholars. As the world recreates itself after the political, health, economic, and social blows it suffered over the last two years, it would certainly be interesting to see how leaders respond to the new challenges of the post covid world. Will leaders in organizations be able to show the path to leaders in other life domains? It remains to be seen.

Author bio: Pavas Pandey is a Teaching & Research for Intellectual Pursuit (TRIP) fellow at JIBS