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Does Traditional Leadership Matter?

a man sitting in a chair using a megaphone to scream at a smaller man standing with his head bowed

Traditional leadership definition

Traditional leadership is defined as: a style where power is given to the leader based on traditions of the past.

What made leaders historically

The role of leader has existed throughout history but what or who decided who the leader was going to be? Throughout much of global history, it had to do with who you were and very little to do with what you did.

It made absolutely no difference what this person was capable of, their skillset or their actual ability to lead. All that mattered in a traditional leader was their name, more specifically, their family's name and in most societies, their gender.

What about skin color? Yes, skin color also played a large part in leadership selection, especially in Europe. However, the monarchial and patriarchal systems existed all across the world including all of the major continents. So while it mattered, it only mattered when you were a different color than was predominant in the culture you found yourself in. Any Asian kingdom would never have accepted a caucasian as a leader anymore than a European kingdom would accept an Asian leader.

You either had the right lineage and gender or you didn't. Monarchies and bureaucratic leadership styles in one form or another dominated the power structures and governments of most civilizations for centuries. The traditional leadership style in that time period was no more complicated than "do it because they said so."

It wasn't just government either, traditional leadership as a system extended to business, land ownership, religion and everything else through the system of nobility. The lands or businesses you owned depended primarily on your family name and your gender.

This system existed all across the world for thousands of years and dominated the way people thought about leaders. Only in the last couple hundred years have the chapters of history began to change for the better.

To put it simply, leaders were born, not made. People followed these leaders because they had to not because they wanted to.


Leadership and titles are no longer traditional

Thankfully, things have changed dramatically for the better. While the world isn't perfect, in most places, things like the color of your skin, your gender and your name don't (or at least shouldn't) have any bearing on your ability to become a leader.

Traditionally throughout history, people followed leaders because they had too. If they didn't, if often resulted in imprisonment, loss of land or titles or even death. Nowadays, your ability to become a leader is limited by only one person, you.

Anyone can be a leader and traditional leadership is dead.

Being a successful leader today is all about what you bring to the table. If you want people to follow you, give them a reason to.

If you want to be a leader, then make the choice to become one right now and start acting like one. We have a whole guidebook on how to be a successful leader if you need somewhere to get started. You don't need someone to anoint you, make a special announcement or send an email, you need to act like a leader.

Application to Business

There are many traits and characteristics that define a leader, here are just a couple of them:

  • Communication

  • Confidence

  • Determination

  • Positivity

  • Compassion

  • Ownership

  • Humility

  • Listening Skills

  • Positive Body Language

This list can go on and on but what do you notice about all of them? None of those items listed above requires any kind of special education, job title or formal position. All that is needed is for someone to decide to start acting like a leader. Some of these items might require more practice than others but none are outside the reach of anyone who decides to become a leader.

The root word for leader and leadership is lead, which is a verb. That means that it requires action. What so many people fail to realize is that just because someone is given the title of Manager, Vice President or CEO in an organization, without action, they are not leaders. Leaders are constantly honing their craft, they are actively trying to improve upon the characteristics above to make themselves better leaders.


Tying it all together us

To reiterate the definition from earlier, traditional leadership is defined as: a style where power is given to the leader based on traditions of the past.

While we no longer embrace the archaic means of anointing leaders like so much of history, we as a society still appoint "leaders" based on out of date traditions. Tell me if any of these phrases sound familiar:

  • So and so has been here the longest

  • They are the best worker we have

  • It's their turn

  • They get paid the most

  • They are the boss

  • They know lot's of people

  • They have a lot of money

  • They have lots of experience

  • They have lots of education

Now compare this list with the one from above and think about what they have in common? Sure, there are some well intentioned parallels that can be made between the two lists but often a reason that seems great on the surface, fails to bring the results expected of the individual. Why? None of the reasons just mentioned to make someone a leader, does anything at all to inspire someone else to be better.

One of the leader's primary responsibilities is to make those around them better.

People don't care that the leader has lot's of money but they care whether they listen to them or not. People don't care that the leader was the best at what they DID, they care about whether they have the humility to now let their team be the best at what they do.

Traditional leadership (and the traditional leaders it produced) often required the absolute loyalty of the followers. Those followers don't exist anymore, we no longer have peasants, indentured servants and common folk, suffering at the whims of the nobility and ruling class. We have educated and intelligent groups of people, especially in our workplaces, that demand more of their leaders.

If you are someone who is in a position to appoint leaders, we encourage you to choose leaders for reasons that align with what leader's need to be today and not according to traditional standards.

We love hearing from our readers! Leave us a comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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