Are Leadership Styles Changing?

By | April 12, 2019

[April 12, 2019] When Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his armies swept across central Asia and China, his brutal leadership style was necessary to effect the subjugation of millions. The current wisdom is that leadership styles have dramatically changed since then, as have the conditions of leadership. Yet, perhaps the change is less than we might think.

Extraordinary leaders of the past (e.g., Hannibal & Caesar) possessed leader skills that remain steadfast character traits of leaders today.1 They are all great organizers and uniters of people, highly intelligent with clear visions, and they are determined to such a degree that most people cannot even imagine.

Certainly, leadership styles appear to be changing. However, I will suggest that we should be careful in attempting to compare a savage Genghis Khan to a statesman-President Bill Clinton to draw out the brutality of the former and the social grace of the latter. Both these men are probably more similar than different.

There is no doubt that the conditions of our current modern world are pushing change upon leaders. Like any good leader, they are sensitive to culture and technological movements. Ways of doing things are fundamental to any peoples and, as such, leaders adapt. For example, a nation’s elected leader today is less autocratic than ancient leaders who relied heavily upon brute strength.2

While leadership techniques change; they don’t do so as much as we sometimes like to think. True, today’s leader is more transparent and uses advanced technologies. But the ancient leader was just as inspirational, intelligent, courageous, and just as able to “connect” with people as a modern leader. Perhaps, the ancients are better than the modern leader.

We tend to view leaders of the past as dressed in animal skins or armor-platting with a bloody spear at their side and the modern leader with a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase. These stereotypes mask the similarities of these leaders. Modes of dress and technology are merely extraneous differences. Great ancient and modern leaders are alike; the modern leader perhaps just a little less bloodthirsty.

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  1. Augustus, Cyrus the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, and Alexander the Great were similar to Genghis Khan in that they were smart and yet utterly ruthless in building their empires. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Mao are modern leaders and learned much from the ancient world because they figured out how to kill and subjugate more people.
  2. I believe, however, that great leaders of the past are not accurately portrayed. Biographies and the various sources from which we take our information are heavily biased in ways that are difficult to unravel. Thus, I propose that leaders such as Genghis Khan were not “smart, autocratic savages” that used brutality as their primary means to create their empires. They were far more intelligent and sophisticated than we will ever know.
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

26 thoughts on “Are Leadership Styles Changing?

  1. Terri Issa

    One more thought…Good article. But I respectfully disagree that there is more transparency. I would also submit that in certain aspects, particularly politicians, there is less transparency as they are constantly trying to obscure the truth or just lie. While this appears to be acceptable behavior to some, it definitely is not acceptable to me. It would be nice if we held our politicians to the same standards we hold military leaders. Then perhaps DC could get cleaned up!

  2. Terri Issa

    Not so long ago in Western Civ, many officers from somewhat wealthy families purchased their commissions in the military. It took the true leader a bit longer to rise to the top by displaying the qualities we look for.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Good point Terri. Most of those “purchased” positions saw those men killed off pretty quick.

  3. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    “In these volatile, uncertain and often controversial times, effective leadership is critical. ” I read this somewhere but it shows how clueless so many writers about leadership are. Effective leadership has ALWAYS been critical. Why only today? Of course, the idea is straight forward. Good article, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks.

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    I agree with most of the comments today from my fellow readers. Thanks all. I think much of what is written is largely out of the echo chamber of academic studies on leadership development. Its growth over the last couple of decades has not allowed enough time to shake out the many inconsistencies in the theoretical milieu. I like this website for the exact reason that it doesn’t follow the paved path of scholarly work but actually makes me think and think hard.

    1. Jonnie the Bart

      Excellent comment. I believe you will find innovative thinking here with Gen. Satterfield and many of us that post responses. Thanks WIllie. Always great to read your comments.

    2. Georgie M.

      Loving today’s discussion.
      🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. Doug Smith

    This is why I read this leadership blog every day. A different take on the straight-jacketed thinking of professors and the common man. I’ve never seen this argued before.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Same here Doug. Loving today’s article.

  6. Maureen S. Sullivan

    “Scholars, and people generally, look at leadership in a very different way than they did a generation ago. Leadership was seen as something that was straightforward, done “by the book,” and could be easily learned. Leadership today is a lot more complicated.” This is from Psychology Today. They have missed the point. Read the article. Good overall but falls short.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201003/leadership-101-how-leadership-has-changed-in-the-last-generation

  7. Yusaf from Texas

    I agree with Gen. Satterfield but will point out that his main exception is that modern leaders are more transparent is perhaps not correct. The ancient leaders, especially the military leaders, lived directly with their armies. Everything they did was seen by everybody. How else could it be? When you travel as an army, everyone sees everything everyone else does.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      I think the only exception is, of course, that modern leaders have newer and more advanced technologies in weapons systems and visibility over the battlefield. Leadership qualities, however, other than adapting to technology have largely not changed.

    2. Big Al

      I think you’re right, Yusaf. Good thinking. Too many of us just take for granted what is written about leadership and never really think through the arguments for any position. We just take it for granted that the authors have some insight we don’t.

  8. Ronny Fisher

    If you look on the Internet (just Google it), you will find many articles that talk about the radical changes in leadership over time. So, Gen Satterfield’s article is running a bit counter to their thinking. He makes excellent arguments as usual. I’m inclined to think that leadership styles really haven’t changed that much.

  9. Eric Coda

    .Only one thing is certain: leadership will continue to evolve over time, as business practices and cultural values change. Leaders need to be prepared for rapid change and stay adaptable in order to succeed in modern leadership.

  10. Nick Lighthouse

    Though the qualities of a good leader don’t change, the way we view leadership does—and that’s a good thing.

    1. Fred Weber

      Hmmmm, maybe it is a perception issue. Along with bias in old records of the ancients, I think you might be onto something. Thanks Nick.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Good points. The best argument, I think, that there is little difference, is that the lack of historical information (that is accurate) of the ancients. The ancient leaders also were more likely to be high level military or political leaders. There were no CEOs back then.

    2. Gil Johnson

      Thanks Max for your cogent comments as usual.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Thanks, Army Captain. Good to see you on the website this morning. I”m just here drinking my coffee and thinking about what happened to Army Captain. Didn’t see you post much lately.

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