Is Leadership Primordial?

By | August 11, 2019

[August 11, 2019]  Did leadership begin with the caveman?  A kid about 9 or 10 years old asked me that question a few years ago when I went to visit an elementary school class.  My visit was meet a veteran day, and I was chosen to say a few words about what being a vet was all about.    The boy had the sort of off-the-wall thing kids say, and yet there is some truth embedded in his question.  Is leadership primordial?

There are some in the field of academics who believe that leadership is what distinguished early humans from animals and what made us ultimately the dominant species.  While mainstream academic literature doesn’t call it “leadership,” they do allude to the skills required of leaders.  Physical prowess, intelligence, and resilience make up the main traits.

We all admire and respect those who possess these characteristics.  While physical strength is not a major trait today, it remains highly respected and is useful for leaders to be strong.  The popular movie, Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe shows a strong, decisive Roman General as he leads his army to battle the Germania peoples in the opening scene.  After the early battle, he is betrayed and enslaved.  Because he possesses both physical strength and intelligence, he makes a comeback for challenging the movie’s villain.

The attributes that distinguish a successful leader have existed since the dawn of humankind.  We can read the words of ancient military men who describe those traits of the most successful military leaders.  Sun Tzu, Scipio Africanus, Marcus Cicero, Augustus, and Alexander the Great just to name a few of the most well known.

Great leaders can:

This was true thousands of years ago and is still true today.  The commonalities of leadership in the “caveman” era are fundamentally the same as the “modern man.”  Some say that those characteristics are inborn; that there are neural pathways in the brain that have been part of the evolution of humankind and that explain the universality of leadership skills.

I’m not so sure that leadership traits are inborn; although there is new compelling evidence, this might have some truth in it.  What I do know is that leadership has been around since the beginning of humans, and in that respect, it is primordial.

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.

18 thoughts on “Is Leadership Primordial?

  1. Jonnie the Bart

    Another great article. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield. I’m a daily reader and although I don’t always have a comment, I find your daily work to be significant. If only more people read your blog, we all would be better off.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Jonnie, I agree with you. I have also found that if we supplement our leadership reading across various platforms (books, blogs, and podcasts) we can gain a better appreciation of leadership and just being a better person.

  2. Danny Burkholder

    In the USA, the 22 Democratic contenders for president are all self-proclaimed socialist with a simple neo-Marxist ideology. There is no escaping the fact that this is ultimately destructive to everyone except the few political elite.

  3. JT Patterson

    I think the idea that we are “socially constructed” humans comes from the post-modernist ideology that is so prevalent today. And what do you think post-modernism is based upon? It has adopted a neo-Marxist baseline (for some unknown reason) and that pushes peoples’ buttons.

    1. Lady Hawk

      JT, you are, I believe, correct in your assessment. There are a few philosophers who are looking at this but most of them are academic Marxists themselves and thus less trustworthy.

    2. Darryl Sitterly

      Hi JT. I agree but to be very clear, the marxist and neo-marxist are different in that a marxist is largely a political-economic system, while neo-marxists are an egalitarian-political system. Conservatives haven’t figured that out yet.

      1. Janna Faulkner

        Anyone who is alive and not totally stupid cannot support any form of Marxism after the 100 million deaths it caused in the 20th century. To believe that today’s Marxists, have “got it right” is a scandal of epic proportions. But hey, if the Chinese and Russians want a Marxist totalitarian system, more power to them. I just don’t want it.

  4. Max Foster

    The idea that nothing we do is connected to our ancient ancestry (read that as our genetic makeup) is a non-starter. Now, that can be a dangerous idea that we are who we are partly due to genetics but it should not be ignored. People who have kids know this to be true. Any kid in a family who treats them exactly the same can produce radically different kids.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      Max, you are again spot-on with your comments. A person who has taken a little bit of intellect to observe the world can see this. Too bad the ‘progressives’ are blinded by their ideology.

  5. The Kid 1945

    Leadership is what separates the human from the ape.

  6. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Excellent. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for a new look at the origins of leadership. People want leadership but perhaps this explains why we cannot really say what it is. Kind of like art; you know what you like but can’t describe it.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      True. For those folks who say that everything humans do is socially constructed, like your gender, they are ignoring some of the most basic elements of human existence.

  7. Dennis Mathes

    Nicely argued. There certainly must be something about it.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      I never really gave it much thought but now that I’ve read Gen Satterfield’s work here, I’m convinced there is something to it.

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