I look to Aristotle who once said, “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” Simply put, if we look at history we can best understand the present and anticipate the future. Fact remains, the world is complex and theories are our attempt to take a complex world and simplify is through a set of written observations.
We make sense of our world as we view it through our own filters and lenses. These filters and lenses distort our view and we begin to develop interpretations of what is happening to us. Perhaps this, in part, explains why there are literally thousands of leadership and organizational theories to date. Without an understanding of the world around us it would be impossible for a leader to make sense of the needs of the follower or the followers make sense of the leader. The epistemology of leadership theory is simply a process of understanding the limits and validity of a specific action within the context of a system. We look to the study of leadership theories as a process of learning the nature of responses from individuals and organizations with regard to specific actions.
Timeline of Leadership and Organizational Theory
The view of leadership and organizations has evolved. Using the timeline above, we find three distinct eras of time in which we can observe the evolution of leadership and organizational theory. The first era, Organization 1.0 focused predominantly on the Great Man theory and the emergence of Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management approach to production. The Scientific Management approach naturally moved us into Organization 2.0, in which we find the emergence of the Classic Theories of leadership and organizations. Finally, with increased complexity, globalism and emerging demographic trends we moved swiftly into the newest era of Organization 3.0 in which leadership and organizations are flattening and decision making is driven by members of the organization through self-leadership methodologies. Within the structure of Organization 3.0, the traditional top-down hierarchy is replaced with structures such as matrix, star, and open systems.
It is through the constructs of a theory we begin to better analyze a set of facts and thereby create changes from said process. Therefore, the need to understand so many leadership theories is a result of the process of analysis and learning. In the end, the purpose of leadership theory is simply to find understanding of human nature as it relates to the system knows as an organization.
As Millennials move toward leadership roles, it becomes important that they have a strong grasp of where we have come from and a sense of where we are going. Our ability to mentally stand in the future and imagine it will make us all much more competitive in the here and now. More importantly, leaders of all ages must come to grips with a reality that we can no longer afford to run a 21st century world class organization with 19th and 20th century ideas. The more we understand where we came from and have a sense of where we want to go, we can stand in the present and direct ourselves toward an idea future destination. In time, other theories will replace Organization 3.0 and perhaps it will be the millennial generation that does just that.
Question: As you view the world through your lenses and filters – what do you believe the organizations of the future might look like?