Future of Leadership Theory

The study of leadership really took off with the focus on trait leadership in the 1930’s. (Northouse, 2013, p. 2) This was the first attempt to look at leadership systematically and gave rise to the “great man” theory, believing individuals were born with traits to become great leaders. (Northouse, p.19) With World War I in the rearview mirror and the Great Depression swallowing the hope of society, there was a need to identify great leaders.

Contrast that with the present definitions of leadership. The rising perspectives on leadership in the late 20th century and early 21st century have been focused on collective harmony, mutual benefit, and equal service among leaders and followers. In the seventies the focus was servant leadership believing individuals have a natural proclivity toward service. (Greenleaf, 2002, p. 27) This paved the way for transformational leadership, fitting the growing corporate environment of 80’s. Bass and Riggio (2005) suggested the rise of transformational leadership theory was due to the “emphasis on intrinsic motivation and follower development”. Finally, with the growing threat of terrorism and the integrity breakdowns of major corporations, the collective embrace of authentic leadership has gained traction. Leaders need to be genuine and real rather than ivory tower leaders of the “great man” theories. (Northouse, p. 253) In a hundred years, the focus of leadership has moved from the mountaintops of privilege to the plow fields of productivity.

Future leadership theories will most likely be tied to the current needs of the day such as globalization. The global village will demand cultural diversity be a priority among leaders. Issues such as equality among genders, races, and religions need to be addressed in such a way that all cultures are appeased on some level.

Is it even possible to bring complete harmony of leadership to diverse cultures?


Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2005). Transformational Leadership (2 edition.). Mahwah, N.J: Psychology Press.

Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition (25 Anv edition.). Paulist Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

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