Academic journal article Advances in Management

Comprehensive Leadership Review - Literature, Theories and Research

Academic journal article Advances in Management

Comprehensive Leadership Review - Literature, Theories and Research

Article excerpt


This article provides a comprehensive literature review on leadership. The author sheds light on the historical foundation of leadership theories and then elucidates modern leadership approaches. After contrasting leadership and management, the article touches the overcome trait theories, summarizes the still prevailing behavioral and relational approaches and gives insights into the latest research on the efficiency of the transformational leadership style. The article critically combines historical leadership fundamentals with implications for current practicing managers.

Keywords: Leadership, literature review, trait theories, behavioral approach, relational approach, transformational leadership style.


To mark the very beginning of early (or better: classical) human leadership thinking, evolving from the animal origins of social organization and leadership12, it takes us back a long way into history. Plato129 (428/427-348/347), the scholar and philosopher of ancient Greece, inspired by his truth seeking teacher Socrates (470-399 B.C.), originates three types of leadership which he specified as the mle of reason, the mle of desire and the mle of spirit. These three forms, which Plato develops in his work The Republic (here used: translated edition of 1945, esp. 175308), focus on different types of leaders. The mle of reason makes the philosophers become kings in an ideal state and impose the obligation to mle under the maxim of righteousness and ethical excellence, performing political power by virtue and correctness which Plato refers to as the term arete.

The characteristic of righteousness of the philosopher king12 is greatly influenced by Socrates, who has not bequeathed any scriptures. Plato considers his teacher to be the most righteous man of all. The mle of desire depicts a characteristic of political mle which Plato explicitly denies, because it breeds tyranny, despotism and totalitarianism, which was later personified by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)79. The mle of spirit finally marks the beginning of military leadership, as it illustrates courage, loyalty and honor and refers to generals as leaders and to the conduct of war.

Aristotle4 (384-322 B.C.), Plato's student, criticizes The Republic in his works The Politics for its general and idealistic approach and states more practical theses, such as those on hierarchy. Hierarchical orders are on the one hand still valid today as most of the companies adhere to that but on the other hand Aristotle's views are judged to be anachronistic e.g. his slaves-by-nature perspective that regards the woman to be naturally destined to be mied by the man. He mitigates this extreme view through his Golden Mean approach, changing the servant role of women to that of loving wives and mothers which still remains obsolete in modem liberate societies.

In his work The Prince (here used: translated edition of 1961) the Italian writer and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli106 (1468-1527) challenges the imagination of an idealistic state and promotes a leader ruling by law and by force concluding that a king (he literally refers to the prince) should be rather feared than loved. While e.g. the leadership of the warlord Attila the Hun (unknown-453) practically aims at conquering other realms139, Machiavelli (in his political writings) aims at unifying a king's realm. In his work the ultimate pragmatist12 breaks with ancient Greek scholasticism, medieval religious doctrines and also with the utopian ideals of his contemporary, Saint Thomas More (1478-1535), when Machiavelli promotes his ideas on realism and calls for a prince using radical means to achieve his personal ambition of glory and honor, even if these means lead to immoral actions. Napoleon I of France (1769-1821) is deeply inspired by The Prince as he makes detailed commentaries on this work considering the art of war113.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the German Philosopher and precursor of Marxism, states that the essential prerequisite for effective leadership is to make the experience of being a follower before becoming a leader12. …

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