Is Leadership Thought Following or Leading?

By Manie Bosman

Browsing through Daniel Wren’s The history of management thought1 recently, I was again struck by how changes in popular leadership theory over the past century had often been closely related to developments and changes in other spheres of society. For instance, around the 1900’s when industries became increasingly aware of the value of science to help develop new technologies and methods, Frederick Taylor developed the ‘Scientific Management Theory’. This approach, which quickly became widely accepted in the West, encouraged managers to use ‘scientific’ research in order to determine the most efficient ways to perform tasks.

With growing interest in psychology and other social sciences during the early 19th century, Lillian Moller Gilbreth’s thesis Psychology of Management caused management theorists to acknowledge individuality and other complex human factors related to labour for the first time. Before and after the 2nd World War when disciplined and regimented militarism was the order of the day, Max Weber’s earlier ideas gained popularity, proposing bureaucracy (emphasizing structure, position, order and procedure) as a means of obtaining maximum results in large organizations. Social scientist Kurt Lewin further embellished this approach and developed what became known as the ‘Organizational Management Theory’. The increased worldwide awareness of and emphasis on individuality, equality, human rights and personal freedom which brought us ‘flower power’ and Woodstock in the 1960’s also had an impact on management practice. Many enlightened managers embraced George Elton Mayo’s belief that “the need for recognition, security, and sense of belonging is more important in determining workers’ morale and productivity than the physical condition under which he works.”2

As for the current situation one decade into the 21st Century – no doubt that for quite a while already there had been a worldwide rise in interest in spiritual matters and spirituality which had gradually been overflowing into the workplace.  Some are even referring to this as the “spirituality movement” where organizations are “making room for the spiritual dimension … that has less to do with rules and order and more to do with meaning, purpose and sense of community.”3 This at least partially explains the rising interest in relational leadership models where, as Peter Senge proposed, follower-focused servant leaders are letting go of the old dogma of planning, organizing and controlling and focusing on providing “the enabling conditions for people to lead the most enriching lives they can.”4 Allowing and even encouraging employees to embrace a ‘whole life’ approach where spirituality, meaning, personal fulfillment and work is increasingly fused into a single experience of life is becoming the order of the day. And facilitating this process – relational ‘guru’ leaders who care…

It seems then that at least in leadership theory leaders are following the will of the people.

PS: I’m strongly in favor of relational leadership and transformational leadership in particular. However, this doesn’t prevent me from wondering about these things at times!


1. Wren, D. A. (2005). The history of management thought. 5th ed, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN: 0471669229.

2. Hartley, N. T. (2006). Management history: An umbrella model. Journal of Management History, 12 (3), 278-292.

3. Ashmos, D. P., & Duchon, D. (2000). Spirituality at work: A conceptualization and measure. Journal of Management Inquiry, 9 (2), 134–145.

4. Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization.


About Manie Bosman

Manie Bosman is Founder and CEO of the Strategic Leadership Institute. He is a leadership development consultant specializing in the emerging fields of neuroleadership and neurosafety. Based in Pretoria, South Africa, Manie has more than 20 years of international experience in cross-cultural interaction, diversity management, change management, public speaking, communication, corporate training and team development. He holds a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership and believes that effective leadership is the key determiner of success in any venture, group or organization.
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