Before the mid-20th century, most business professors believed leaders were born, not made. Stephen Parry, a tutorat the leadership programme on Manchester Business School's MBA course, speaks about why the Second World War changed the assumption.
You teach MBA students about theories of leadership. How did it start and how has it changed over time?
If you really wanted to, you could go back to the Greeks and beyond in terms of some of the literature on leadership. But if you think about the modern development of it in terms of an academic study, I would guess you would start to look towards the late 19th century, certainly in terms of western literature on leadership. Ideas about trade theory and the ideas that leaders are born. That really was a dominant approach all the way through to the mid-20th century.
I would imagine that the experience of the Second World War changed quite a lot in terms of people's perceptions of roles, responsibilities and attitudes about who could actually take on leadership roles.
What replaced the theory?
What started to happen through from the 1950s to the 1960s were ideas about contingent leadership, so leadership depending on what the circumstances might be, different styles of leadership, and then once you get into the 1960s, there is a real emphasis on charismatic leadership. Beyond the 1960s into the '70s [there were] a lot of the academic influences from other fields, so from cultural studies and so on, or postmodernism. It started to get a bit complex, people creating their own realities … the role of a leader in creating their own vision.
Where are we now?
We're now in an era where the latest thinking in terms of leadership is really an exploration of authentic leadership and ethical leadership, so we're talking about not just the business but practical implementation of business processes.
Manchester Business School has campuses all over the world, including in Miami, Brazil, and Hong Kong. Is leadership here significantly different from in other regions?
In all regions and [in] countries within regions, there are subtle and important cultural differences and different forms of leadership, some of which would be more dynastic and others which are more open and work on different appointment processes. The answer to your question is every organisation, every country that we work in will have different styles of leadership and succession.
Does that not make leadership more difficult to teach, and to learn?
I think it makes it difficult, but it makes it real and it makes it exciting, because companies are working in many settings, so it is complex. But that is the reality of being successful in global leadership nowadays. You can't afford to be insensitive or unaware of the ways in which business might be done and the legal or social factors in China or Indonesia or Dubai and so on.
* Gillian Duncan