At the end of World War Two, Americans had just emerged on the winning side of a bloody, monumental struggle for world influence, a struggle orchestrated by seemingly titanic figures like Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt.  Just after the war, a variety of public opinion polls concluded that citizen confidence in American institutions was running high – around 75% of Americans felt secure about the future of American government, business, education, religion, and the professions.  Fifty years later, however, that level of citizen confidence had plummeted to less than 20%.  One strikingly consistent feature of these alarming statistics is that declining confidence in American institutions has been mostly a matter of declining confidence in the leaders of those institutions.  Americans still seem to value the inherent worth of their central institutions; they just don't believe they are being properly led.


The metaphor of human cultural evolution comes in handy as a tool for understanding leadership behavior.  We don't need to get tangled up in arguments about Darwinism, creationism, or the details of genetics and theology to recognize that the idea of cultural evolution can provide a useful framework for all our discussion of leadership, followership, management, and citizenship behaviors.  At the most basic levels, the concept of purposeful change for the benefit of a specific community or even the whole human race can be expressed in religious, philosophical, and scientific terms which are ultimately compatible with each other.

Paradoxically, the earliest stages of leadership and followership behaviors seem to be almost as instinctive within human groups as in other species.  People in groups, when faced with new or unfamiliar problems, intuitively begin casting about for solutions to apply, for culprits to blame, and for leaders to follow. Interaction, communication, and searching behaviors all increase, and new alliances frequently emerge.  If the original problems are widespread, interconnected, and deep-rooted, solutions may turn out to be a new community, a new religion, a new technology, a new political party, or a new industry.  The most significant acts of leadership in human history are associated with the most important turning points in our cultural evolution–in the introduction of agriculture and permanent settlements ten or twelve thousand years ago; in the founding and dissemination of the world's great religions and philosophies; in the development of science, technology, and industrial civilization; in the development of democratic forms of social organization; and in the emergence of the knowledge-based global civilization we're witnessing right now. 


Furthermore, the more potential responses the group or community can muster, the more likely it is to adapt effectively.  Among all species, the more defense mechanisms, the more resources within reach, the more coping strategies available to the group or community, the more secure its future.  Within human communities, of course, the most important resources are often ideas and visions. Thus, the more ideas and visions we can call on when things change all around us, the better off we all are.  Modern organizations and corporations recognize the value of research and development, which usually begin with brainstorming as the first step in the process of group innovation or self-renewal.  Brainstorming itself is nothing more than purposely dreaming up as many ideas as possible regardless of their logic or rationality.  Sometimes, in fact, the goofiest ideas lead to the most effective solutions by triggering a creative train of thought. We’ll say more about brainstorming in the chapter on groups, organizations, and networks.

Over the last five or six generations, as we’ve learned to integrate systematic study of human behavior with the insights of history, philosophy, and other intellectual disciplines, we’ve reached some useful conclusions about the nature of effective leadership behavior and how to develop it.  As noted above, the study of business and organizational management became an official academic field when the Wharton School was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1881.  Around the same time, studies of large-scale organizations, time-and-motion studies of work processes, and research on small-group dynamics eventually gave organizational managers a variety of tools to accelerate the pace of economic development and technological change.  While managers are not necessarily leaders, the notion of management as a professional activity was clearly a step in the right direction.

Leaders are also expected to be more committed to group goals, to set examples for behavior, to understand just about everything that goes on inside and outside the group, and to take most of the responsibility for failure as well as success. And leaders are sometimes called on to make ultimate sacrifices in pursuit of their goals. Many of history’s greatest prophets and reformers, in fact, were persecuted, assassinated, or crucified for their efforts.  In one sense, the ultimate act of leadership is martyrdom, which calls forth increased commitment among followers in response to the sacrificial example of the leader.  That doesn’t mean that leaders in everyday life should think of their work as a suicide mission, but it does suggest that leadership has more to do with absorbing pain and hardship on behalf of other people than with inflicting pain and hardship on other people. Put another way, one of the most common yet seldom recognized roles of leadership is the scapegoat role.


Individual leaders tend to be good at either task behavior or relationship behavior, but very seldom do we find leaders who are outstanding at both. And no wonder. It's hard to keep people happy when you're cracking a whip over their heads, and it's hard to make tough decisions if you’re always trying to please everybody. Some organizations, like the military, have long recognized this fact and arranged methods whereby two different leaders could specialize in each of the two behaviors — a task master to crack the whip, and a sympathetic listener to resolve tension and build morale.


Despite all we had learned about effective leadership by the middle of the twentieth century, the tragic irony of two world wars and the specter of global annihilation seemed to undermine any sense of optimism about our collective ability to act wisely upon our knowledge. In the aftermath of World War II, as thoughtful women and men reflected on the horrifying destruction wrought by millions following leaders they apparently respected and admired, the whole question of human destiny and its relation to leadership, followership, and citizenship called for redefinition. In the years since then, at least in the United States, we’ve witnessed a gradual but consistent loss of confidence in our leaders. 

Yet upon further reflection, we must also recognize that a loss of confidence does not necessarily signify a loss of faith, and it certainly doesn’t signify a loss of hope. Our experience with large-scale mobilization for war itself has ultimately helped us learn how effective leadership for the common good might possibly work and how the skills and values of effective leadership can be developed. We’ve also begun to realize that the destructive potential unleashed by war over the last century century reflects an even more powerful creative potential within the human community.  Leaders in all times and places are called on to keep hope alive among followers; at this point in our history, leaders need to help us all recognize that if we can destroy ourselves, then we can surely create ourselves as well.


If we wanted to find valid signs of hope and self-renewal in the wake of World War Two, we would have to consider the challenges facing the losers at least as much as those facing the winners. Without a doubt, the world wars made us all losers in profound ways, but probably the three biggest losers of the Second World War in terms of physical destruction and loss of life were Germany, Japan, and Russia.  Russia, of course, was actually on the winning side and did not see any need for a thorough-going renovation of its whole system until more than 40 years after the war. Germany and Japan, however, had to start rebuilding literally from the ground up, salvaging whatever they could from the wreck of their past and integrating it with new ideas for the future. European economies were rebuilt largely through the Marshall Plan, an ambitious program of welfare and reconstruction financed by the United States and named for the American General and Secretary of State George Catlett Marshall. The case of Japanese renewal offers a different but equally intriguing example of leadership and collaboration, particularly but not exclusively within the realm of commercial and industrial development.


In a curious partnership with its very recent enemy, the United States, the Japanese after World War Two began immediately learning how to rebuild their culture. By the nineteen fifties, they had built a new if somewhat makeshift commercial enterprise based on inexpensive, mass-produced goods.  For some time the phrase "made in Japan" was a widely joked-about code phrase for cheap throwaway items; but people all over the world bought Japanese goods and the Japanese just kept experimenting, learning, and improving on their work. By the nineteen eighties, they had built a magnificent industrial juggernaut based on high-quality high-tech goods, including cars and VCRs. Management scholars scurried from all over the world to study the supposedly new forms of Japanese management — mostly based on consensus decision-making; continuous improvement; and collaboration between government, industries, and workers.  As it turned out, many of these new forms were borrowed from other nations — particularly the United States — and then experimentally adapted to accommodate the most important elements of Japanese culture.


At the same time in other nations, a similar process of learning and self-renewal among leaders and followers was unfolding.  While Germany and Japan were renewing their civilizations by learning from and collaborating with their former enemies, a mass movement for civil rights and social justice was sweeping the world, including the United States.  In the U.S., the most effective leadership strategies within this movement were based on the concept of nonviolent resistance to injustice and–once again–collaboration between traditional adversaries. Its most prominent practitioner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, was a Christian preacher with a Ph.D. who had consciously studied the leadership strategies of other nonviolent leaders, including Mohandas Gandhi, whose career had spanned the first half of the twentieth century.  Through organized nonviolent resistance and collaboration with sympathetic elements of the dominant culture, Gandhi had led millions of powerless, poverty-ridden followers  — first in South Africa and then in his native India — in a successful revolution against colonial British rulers.

Gandhi himself was brought up in the Hindu religion, but he was educated in the British legal system and his leadership strategies drew on elements of Christianity, Islam, and the works of the American writer Henry David Thoreau, who had willingly gone to jail in 1848 rather than pay taxes in support of a war his conscience could not support.  In an essay called Civil Disobedience, Thoreau explained his behavior and outlined the principles of nonviolent protest that would travel to South Africa and India and then back to the United States over the following century.


The point of all this is that we can keep hope alive if only we keep experimenting and keep learning from all possible sources–including our enemies. Leaders of the future must learn that the most important challenge facing any human group, organization, or community is to figure out what must be learned — and then learn it.


Leadership study and leadership education as an organized enterprise emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century as need coincided with opportunity.  Dismay about the need for more effective leadership coupled with a growing body of information about the way leaders and followers and people in general actually behave triggered a wave of intellectual and academic search behavior and new ways of thinking about business, government, community development, and organizational management.