Professor in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology


Leadership and status

Leadership in Organizations: An Evolutionary Perspective

Spsiak, B.R., Nicholson, N., Van Vugt, M. (2011). Leadership in organizations: An evolutionary perspective. In G. Saad (Ed).) Evolutiuonary Psychology in the Business Sciences, pp. 165-190.  Springer

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-92784-6_7



In this chapter we discuss the potential of evolution to serve as a frame work for unifying our understanding of leadership. From this perspective we consider the ultimate origins and functions of leadership, the role of co-evolution, and methods for testing evolution-based leadership hypotheses. To begin, we examine evolutionarily stable situation dynamics in the environment (e.g., intergroup conflict) that may have selected for (1) leadership behavior as well as (2) corresponding human traits intended to signal potential leadership ability and use this argument to support the notion of context-specific “cognitive leadership prototypes”. Particular attention is also given to the role of the follower and the specific pressures encouraging “followership investment”. In addition, co-evolution logic is used to examine the intricate relationship between the environment, human culture, and the emergence of certain leadership styles. Next, we discuss five methods for testing an evolution-based hypothesis of leadership and followership. Finally, we highlight practical implications which include appreciating the role of the follower, the impact of social constructs on modern leadership, the benefits of distributed leadership, and e importance of feminine leadership styles. Also, for consideration throughout the chapter, organizational examples are provided such as the homogenization of corporate culture and the current role of monarchies in Western society.

Copyright © 2012– Mark van Vugt