Leadership: From Caveman to Gordon Gecko to You

Leadership is the new black right now.


Type in “Leadership” into Google and watch as 762,000,000 results are thrown up into your face, awaiting your click.

Discover the leader within you!    

Be a leader people will remember!

Make others follow you! (Plus other tricks to be a dictator!)

Ignite your leadership abilities NOW!

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In the world of the internet, leaders want to: become better leaders, seek to develop emerging leaders and mentor other leaders.

Often though leaders don’t have (or need) the word “Leader” within their job title to be a leader within their organisations.

Looking around at Australia and the UK right now there is an absolute need for trust and sustainable leadership.

Let’s look back over the last nine years of leadership within Australia.


…and we are still waiting on the post.

When looking at the above image, it is safe to say that we are definitely giving our Commonwealth Lords and Ladies fuel for further rebukes about our convict past.

Though, the UK probably can’t point the finger at anyone with regards to leadership right now. Let’s just say that they have had an interesting week…


I’d like to point that out again – this happened in one week.

So, let’s bring it together a little bit: we are desperate to find and maintain quality leadership, but we can’t seem to allow a leader to…lead?

Why Meme

Looking back over the two images above, there is one definitive thing that jumps out – our leaders either aren’t trusted or don’t trust themselves.

Now, to help with the whole keep-the-world-stable thing, any kind of leader would be welcomed right now. Wait, scratch that. Most forms and approaches to leadership would be welcomed right now.

But which one should we have?


Since the dawn of time, we have sought out someone to lead the group. This started when cavemen realised that a roster was needed to oversee the sleeping arrangements (and prevent a T-Rex from surprising the group). Fighting and bloodshed took place, people were trodden on and expelled from the cave, but eventually a lone victor stood ready to tell/grunt at people when they could sleep.

Cavemen circa 70,000 BC

Skip ahead a few thousand generations and we reach the late 1920s. Recovering from our first world war and a great economic depression studies began to identify the characteristics or traits leaders had – surprisingly they called it the “Trait Theory”.

Great leaders would lead from the front, hold complete authority and were believed to be born – they couldn’t be made.

You couldn’t learn how to lead, which meant that all of those precious little housewives out there couldn’t possibly be leaders. Only men could be true leaders.

Things slowly began to shift through the 30s and 40s as, gosh darn it, Eleanor Roosevelt holds the first women only press conference and Amelia Earhart flies solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe people can learn certain qualities or skills to lead and inspire people?

The 1950s roll around and now the belief is that leaders demonstrate certain behaviours. When not being busy settling disputes with car races or musical gang dance offs (Westside Story is a documentary, right?), different types of leaders began to show different behaviours. This led to the idea that people possess different leadership styles…Behavioural Theory goes gangbusters.


Things slowed down as we got busy passing a dutchie and embracing flower power in the 1960s and 70s. The behaviours and styles of leaders began to stump leadership nerds.

Why would they show one behaviour at this time, but not at another?

People began to look at leaders who were amazing during times of crisis and war, but then failed miserably during peace time (Winston Churchill). Suddenly leaders aren’t 2-D characters, they actually respond to the situation and the followers they are surrounded by and work with…effective leaders of this time were Situational Leaders.

Great leaders were seen to not only guide and direct people, but also provide support at the right times.

Around this time, a man by the name of Robert Greenleaf wrote a paper outlining why a leader needs to be a servant for his or her people (he actually made sure to point out it could be a woman too).


#legend   #servantleadership

Ah, then the 1980s and 1990s rollerbladed right into view… in bright, neon colours offset by rich denim hues and perms. Gordon Gecko and Charlie Sheen were there inspiring us to do nothing but slick back our hair and serve ourselves (and help us realise how terrible that would be).

Leadership nerds began to almost use this mood of greed and selfishness as inspiration:

Great and effective leaders did the opposite of this!

Effective leaders didn’t only use situations to influence how they lead, they also actually worked towards the common good and mission to transform their teams, organisations and themselves…this became the era of Transformational Leadership.

Think of it like a Rocky montage, but with more suits and less lifting of logs above your head.

Rocky 4.jpg
Rocky just couldn’t do one more log lift…transformational leadership is tough.

And now?

Whilst taking a break from our activewear, we have evolved from the transformational leader. A problem that seemed to keep appearing was the gap left when a transformational or charismatic leader left an organisation…no one felt empowered enough to step up and lead effectively afterwards.

Today much of the academia is focused on leaders being authentic, credible, life-long learners and ethical visionaries. (If you really want to impress people, just also add in the phrase “Change Agents”).

Considering our current views of leaders, it makes sense that it’s a bloody hard job.

Leaders are not only expected to have a clear vision and mission these days, they need to be able to inspire others to follow this ethical vision, while maintaining clear and consistent attitudes and beliefs.

Leaders are also required to model the expected behaviours and traits to others as they continually learn more about themselves and their team (so that they can best transform, evolve and utilise the individual and collective talents, knowledge and qualities of the team).

Again, not an easy job.

But, isn’t that the whole point of leadership?

It isn’t easy, otherwise everyone would be leading and no one would be following. Looking again at the two images of the craziness of Australia and the UK it’s obvious: the people with the titles of “Leader” don’t fully hold the fundamental aspects we are searching for.

There is a lack of clear vision. There is no plan to inspire us.

Head Shake

When things go against what they envision do they react and step up the way we would expect them to? No. Instead of being credible and authentic they step away when things become hard and when a leader is most required*.

Maybe they need to undergo a Rocky montage of leadership?

I’ll provide the logs.


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*Though it must be said, Jeremy Corbyn’s current plight seems odd. When continuing to inspire certain groups, and reacting the way his voters expected him to during this Brexit time, his party is now scheming to be rid of the leader they voted in a year ago.

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