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Picking The Leader

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The mere mention of the phenomenon of leadership is enough to open the floodgates of an endless debate spanning countless subjects, dynamic figureheads, varying benchmarks of excellence and scores of conspicuous examples and workable strategies. After all, leadership plays a pivotal role in our daily life, be it politics, religion, work place, family, neighbourhood or friendships.

Many writers have attempted to capture the essence of leadership before, but then it is such a seamless concept that there's always room for a new theorist to redraw the picture. Selected, authored by Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja, stakes claim to being the most reliable journal by picking, dissecting, analysing and regrouping the core principles required to stay in the front through the evolutionary leadership theory.

By digging deep into the evolutionary cycle of the mankind and studying the societies inhabited by our ancestors, the writers have tried to simplify the concept of leadership. They say, if one were to hunt, the others automatically followed the hunter to gather the food. This inbuilt urge to lead and follow is, therefore, ancient and the "psychological templates" of these twin phenomena has evolved in our species over a period of two million years.
The writers claim that the evolutionary leadership theory is the first scientific theory that is consistent with the evolutionary theory and attempts to integrate and subsume knowledge from across the behavioural sciences to make a better sense of the rich data and observations available on leadership. This scientific theory explains how and why only some men and women evolve as good leaders while others do not.

The book sifts through ten broad theories of leadership: a) the great man theory (leaders are born and not made); b) the trait theory (leaders can be identified by their attributes); c) psychoanalytic theory (the Freudian argument that all social groups are extensions of family); d) charismatic leadership (how magnetic personalities draw followers); e) behavioural theory (leadership is marked by certain behaviours); f) situational theory (execution of leadership depends on a situation); g) contingency theory (that determines the task at hand against the powers wielded by a leader); h) transactional versus transformational leadership theory (conventional style versus visionary and inspirational style); i) distributed leadership theory (where roles are shared or hierarchal); and finally, j) servant leadership theory (leadership towards the benefit of a group).

Through illustrative examples from the animal kingdom and by combining disparate pieces of information from various disciplines into a coherent whole, the book explains why the leadership-followership is central to the existence of our species, something which no author has done before (as claimed by the authors). In the chapter, the mismatch hypothesis, the authors tell us how modern leadership is strikingly different from the Stone Age days of hunting and food gathering in the savannah and that this mismatch is one of the primary reasons behind our leadership crises today. The authors have also used the game theory and some mathematical models to explain certain types of leadership.

Since the information given by the authors is more of an academic nature, the book can, at best, serve as course material for management students.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-07-2011)