Leadership, followership, and evolution: some lessons from the past

Am Psychol. 2008 Apr;63(3):182-96. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.3.182.


This article analyzes the topic of leadership from an evolutionary perspective and proposes three conclusions that are not part of mainstream theory. First, leading and following are strategies that evolved for solving social coordination problems in ancestral environments, including in particular the problems of group movement, intragroup peacekeeping, and intergroup competition. Second, the relationship between leaders and followers is inherently ambivalent because of the potential for exploitation of followers by leaders. Third, modern organizational structures are sometimes inconsistent with aspects of our evolved leadership psychology, which might explain the alienation and frustration of many citizens and employees. The authors draw several implications of this evolutionary analysis for leadership theory, research, and practice.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Behavior*