Dec 16, 2008

Leadership, Followership, and Evolution

From Bob Sutton's blog post - "Bob Sutton: Insights About Leaders and Followers from an Evolutionary Perspective":
I just finished read a wonderful article in the American Psychologist called Leaders, Followership, and Evolution, by Mark Van Vugt and his colleagues. You can get a pdf from Van Gut's website here. They take an evolutionary perspective, showing -- among other things -- that leaders in the groups that we evolved from led small face to face groups, which (my interpretation) may help explain why leaders of large organizations fail so often -- it isn't something that humans as a species have much experience doing. The authors also make a compelling case that people who rose to leadership positions in such groups did so because of their ability to serve the needs of followers rather than their ability to intimidate and bully. Along related lines, they point out that another implication of an evolutionary perspective,is that people who study leaders typically devote too much attention to leaders and not enough to followers.

I especially like this quote from page 190, which they show is bolstered by quite a bit of research on leadership in modern organizations:

“[G]ood leaders should be perceived as both competent and benevolent because followers want leaders who can acquire resources and then are willing to share them.”

This post just scratches the surface. This is a carefully researched and unusually creative piece on leadership. If you are interested, I suggest diving in deeper.

The PDF referenced is available here.
Bob Sutton is a professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School.
He is the author and co-author of several books. The only book that I have read to date is The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't , which was a wonderful book on the benefits of recognizing, and then dealing, with assholes (or call them jerks, bullies, kiss-up-kick-down, self-centered dolts, etc...) in the workplace.
He promoted the book very heavily, and very effectively, on his blog (you can read posts on the book and its topic at The No Asshole Rule), that seems to have more than a hundred posts labeled such. and even after close to two years after being released, still ranks #2423 in the overall books category.