A History of Leadership

The evolution of leadership into a widely accepted concept occurred without any shared understanding and acceptance of its meaning and relevance in contemporary society.

Why do some people become leaders? What is the source and legitimacy of leadership power?

This book journeys into the heart of the relationship between leaders and followers, the social space and the arena where both contest and collaboration take place and leadership itself is played out. In the book, Morgen Witzel moves beyond traditional traits and skills framing, offering a fresh, historical analysis that involves many different actors with different motives and needs.

By analysing the evolution of power relationships, the book analyses the interactions around how power is used and control is bargained for to illuminate the centrepiece of leadership. A wide-ranging history of a slippery subject, this book provides students, scholars and reflective practitioners with an empirical, historical base on which to test their own ideas and experiences.


E Book


‘Do not read this if you are looking for tips on running “happy organisations”, nor simplistic models taught in executive away days. Witzel analyses the essence of leadership, and of “followership”. In Iraq during the “Surge” we tried to understand “the elastic” of our strategic leverage over competing power brokers: we might have done better had we read this book. A thought-provoking serious study for thoughtful, serious leaders.’ — Lieutenant General (Retd) Sir Paul Newton

‘This outstanding book is a must-read. Witzel draws on a huge range of historical examples to offer genuinely new insights into an issue of central and enduring relevance. He reveals the complexity of leadership as it actually practiced for good or ill in different contexts. This is a timely warning against the simplistic formulaic models of leadership that still abound.’ — John Child, Professor of Commerce, University of Birmingham, UK and author of ‘Hierarchy: A Key Idea for Business and Society’.

‘It is all here: the history, culture, psychology, philosophy, politics and practice of leadership, set out in clear detail, with rich learning worn very lightly. Morgen Witzel has done us a service by showing how deep the roots of leadership are, even if we are sometimes too easily distracted by the noise and posturing of today’s “leaders”.’ — Stefan Stern, Visiting Professor in Management Practice, Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK.

‘A History of Leadership offers a unique perspective on the study of leadership. By looking at how leadership has been practiced in the past, Morgen Witzel cuts through much of the vagueness of leadership theory and looks at leadership in practice, warts and all. Some of the book is uncomfortable reading; all of it is fascinating.’ — Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner Emeritus, McKinsey & Company.

’Sometimes you come across a book that you wish you’d written: this is one of those – a critical, wide ranging and global survey of the history of leadership that I doubt will be bettered for many years to come’ — Keith Grint, Emeritus Professor, Warwick Business School