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Evolution of leadership theory
  1. Sihame Benmira1,
  2. Moyosolu Agboola2
  1. 1Mayo Clinic Healthcare, London, UK
  2. 2Virgin Care, Reading, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sihame Benmira, Mayo Clinic Healthcare, London W1B 1PT, UK; sihame.benmira{at}

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Leadership is one of the most complex and multidimensional phenomena. It has been studied extensively over the years and has taken on greater importance than ever before in today’s fast-paced and increasingly globalised world. Nonetheless, leadership continues to generate captivating and confusing debate due to the complexity of the subject. Bennis notes that ‘leadership is the most studied and least understood topic of any in the social sciences’ and ‘never have so many laboured so long to say so little’.1

Researchers have proposed many different definitions and theories of leadership. Stogdill defines it as ‘an influencing process aimed at goal achievement’, focusing on leadership as a process directed at influencing a specific group of people to meet a stated objective.2 Kouzes and Posner similarly believe that ‘leadership is the art of mobilising others to want to struggle for the shared aspirations’3 and Maxwell states that leadership is simply influence.4 Yet there is no one definition or particular leadership approach that is considered universal and efforts continue in trying to identify what makes an effective leader.

Effective leadership is recognised as key to the success of any organisation. In fact, there has been a shift towards acknowledging the importance of human capital and organisational management.5 6 But what is the difference between leadership and management? Leaders are generally viewed as visionaries and strategist whereas managers monitor and control performance, maintaining order and stability in an organisation.7 8 Some researchers argue that leaders and managers have distinct roles and responsibilities while others assert that leadership and management are complementary and it would be difficult to separate them in practice.7

The present paper traces the historical evolution of the main leadership theories and reviews the progress that has been made over the years. It explores four …

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  • Contributors SB conceived the idea for the article. SB and MA contributed to the design and wrote the article. SB submitted the article. Both SB and MA contributed to revising the article following reviewer feedback.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.