The Rise of Leadership: Leadership in the 20th/21st Century

Written by James O. Rodgers

rise of leadership

I’ve never seen leaders and managers as separate people – rather, I believe that leadership and management are different roles. Leaders must often be managers, and managers must often be leaders.

Even though the business world is currently obsessed with leaders at the expense of managers, this was not always the case. In the early 20th century businesses emphasized management. Organizations valued their managers and saw them as integral sources of excellence for their overall business.

But all of that changed in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Rise Of Leadership

Originally, “leadership” and “strategy” were military terms. Now, however, we readily use these ideas in corporate settings.

Leadership entered the corporate lexicon when Abraham Zaleznik asked, “Are leaders and managers different?” Soon after, John Kotter suggested that most organizations were over-managed and under-led. This was the tipping point, and since then, scholars have put great effort into exploring leadership in corporate settings.

Leaders Need Managers (And Vice Versa)

The problem is that we have now gone too far in the other direction: we used to emphasize corporate management without even thinking about leadership. Now, everyone aims for the latter while glossing over the former.


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Management and leadership are two distinct, equally necessary roles. Leaders plan the company’s overall vision. They are big-picture thinkers. Managers, on the other hand, work on the level of individuals. They translate that big-picture corporate vision into expectations for individual employees, helping every member of the team to fully understand their role.

Leaders are important, but ever since the 1970s, leadership has come to eclipse management. The fact is, organizations need great people in both roles to truly succeed – and there can be severe consequences for the businesses that fail to put the appropriate time, energy and resources into training and retaining great managers.