The Evolution of Leadership Part 2

Jul 06, 2024

(This is the second in a three part series on the Evolution of Leadership. Part 1 explored the era of Centralized Leadership. If you missed part 1, you can find it at This content is original content created by the author.)


Shared Leadership (1970)

 In the mid 60’s two things happened that began pushing us into a different era. The first was the social revolution. The civil rights movement and feminism began challenging some of the basic assumptions of the centralized leadership era, forcing people to rethink roles, relationships, work cultures, and more. Two themes were dominant in the social revolution – we want a voice, and we want a seat at the table.

For some, the social revolution might have felt like a surprise attack on cultural norms. The  reality is that the seeds of the social revolution were planted during World War II when women and the black community were called on to support the war effort. They responded by the thousands with energy and commitment to the cause. Without them we would not have won the war. Women, both white and black, and black men were the backbone of the factories that built the machinery of the war effort. Without the planes, tanks, trucks, and guns they built, we would have never won the battle against fascism. In the military, black units proved to be just as formidable a fighting force as other units. When the war ended, everyone was told to go back to how things were before the war. It was a tough pill to swallow for many. It’s hard to be part of the solution and then be told to go back and sit on the bench until you are needed again. The cultural changes were inevitable.

The second issue that began pushing us toward a new era was quality and productivity issues in the workplace. By the mid 1960’s other economies around the world had rebuilt and were challenging the US in terms of quality and productivity. We no longer produced the best quality products and had the best production systems.

Solving quality and productivity issues in the workplace required cross-departmental communication, collaboration, and problem solving. While this seems obvious to us today, it was revolutionary at the time - and it was uncomfortable for many leaders. In the previous era, communication, collaboration, and problem solving were thought to be the leader’s job. When employees started collaborating to solve problems, quality and productivity both improved. It became apparent that leaders weren’t the only ones with brains. As performance improved, accountability began to shift. Employees were now accountable to their leader AND the people they worked with every day. The limits of top-down organizational models and centralized leadership became obvious. By 1970 we were moving into a new era – the era of Shared Power (1970 – 2000).

The most important shift in the era of Shared Leadership was the location of power. Whether it was in the voting booth or in the workplace, those currently in power were forced to share power with others to create a more just society or to improve quality and productivity. The team model quickly replaced the top-down hierarchy as the dominant organizational model, and employees became team members. Because team members now had some of the power in their hands, thy were expected to  be engaged, team focused, and problem solvers. These 3 characteristics (engaged, team focused, and problem solver) became the bedrock of improving quality and performance - the dominant goals of this era. While the Quality Movement was created during the Centralized Leadership era, in became the driving force in organizational life in the Shared Power era. Quality Circles, Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and every other quality system used today are an outgrowth of the Quality Movement that powered organizations in the Shared Power era.

In the team environment, being “the boss” became a liability rather than an asset. The role of the leader shifted to “the coach.” Now, leaders were not just responsible for managing their people. They were also responsible for motivating and coaching their team members to work with others to improve performance. In 1971 Richard Greenleaf wrote an article entitled, Servant Leadership, and the most dominant leadership model of the shared power era was created.

Another dramatic shift in the Shared Power era was what people wanted and expected out of work. People now valued involvement, being in charge of their careers, mobility, and finding meaning from work. These shift were significantly impacted by 3 changes that happened around the same time. By the 1960’s televisions were a fixture in most homes, bringing new ideas and perspectives from around the world. In addition, two transportation advancements happened around the same time: the interstate highway system and affordable air travel. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed The Highway Act, which created the interstate highway systems. My the mid 1960’s these superhighways were opening across the country. In the 1960’s air travel became more affordable for the average person – connecting people, places, and cultures that before had been more isolated. The world was changing, and what people wanted out of work began changing with the times.

Transition to The Given Power Era

In the years leading up to the new millennium, several changes began moving us into a new era. The first was dissatisfaction with working in corporate America. Corporate downsizings, bankruptcies, and mismanagement In the 1980’s and 1990’s created a serious crisis in the workplace. People who assumed they had lifelong careers, funded pensions, and a stable workplace were often disappointed as high-profile companies struggled to stay afloat.

At the same time, three technology changes were happening that would transform our economy and our lives forever. Technology was advancing at an incredible pace. At the same time the size and the cost of technology where shrinking, making it affordable for everyone. Dissatisfaction with corporate life and this trio of technology changes created a new animal in the economy – the startup. Lots of them.

In Part 3 will explore the transition to the Era of Given Leadership - the era we are in today. 

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.