The Evolution of Leadership Part 1

Jul 01, 2024

In 2013 I briefly paused my 37-year career in leadership and organizational development to help start a company that leads family events for active-duty military. We quickly found a niche is the highly skilled, frequently deployed units across the branches. They liked the method we used to create family events, and the word spread. In preparation to lead these events I did my typical client research to better understand who we were working with. What fascinated me the most was how they create these elite units. It begins with an intense selection process, but that’s just the starting point. What turns highly skilled and talented service members into elite units is built around one word.


Every year, they spend most of their time developing – getting better and better at their craft. It starts with developing the individual, but it quickly expands to developing the team. You may be elite as an individual, but these units depend on the collective efforts of everyone on the team. If you’re not a team player, you won’t survive in these units. Throughout the year they repeat a regular cycle of planning, rehearsing, and debriefing. They work with trainers, psychologists, physical therapists, nutritionists and others so that when they are called on to respond, they are ready, confident, and fully engaged. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was learning was opening the door to a completely different understanding of leadership in the 21st century.

When I returned to my leadership work a few years later, I sensed that something wasn’t right. I was teaching the same content and using the same interactive teaching style, but it didn’t feel the same. At first, I thought the issue was just me. Maybe I had changed. I pushed away the feeling, though, and dug back into my leadership work.

A few months later I was in the office and a thought ran through my mind, “We’re in a different era.” I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but it felt important and wouldn’t go away. Over the next few months, I began to piece together what we now call “The Evolution of Leadership.” 

Centralized Leadership (1945 – 1970)

In the US, since the end of World War II, there have been 3 eras of leadership – Centralized Leadership (1945-1970), Shared Leadership (1970 – 2000), and now Given Leadership (2000 - present). In each era the culture, market, workplace, and workforce are different. So are the assumptions about leadership, people, work, and organizational culture.   

In the first era power was centralized in the hands of leaders throughout society, and especially at work. The leader was “the boss,” and he was the thinker, communicator, and problem solver. (He is intentionally used because leaders were mostly men in this era.) Managing people was the leadership model, and the organizational model was the top-down hierarchy. The general theme was – “The leader is the boss. Don’t question the leader.” The rest of the organization were the “doers.” In this era organizations valued obedience and people valued security, so it all seemed to fit well together – at least on the surface.

Part of why this model worked well in the US during this era was that we were the lone standing world power at the end of World War II. Unlike countries where the war took place, our culture and economy were intact, even stronger than before the war.

In the next post, we will explore the era of Shared Power. 

Curious about The Auxin Leader?

Preview the first two weeks of the course for free.

Course Preview

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.