Professor in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology


Leadership and status

Leadership in small-scale societies: some implications for theory, research, and practice

Von Rueden, C., & Van Vugt, M. (2015). Leadership in small-scale societies: Some implications for theory, research, and practice. The Leadership Quarterly, 26, 978-990.



Leadership studies concentrate on large-scale societies and organizations with formal hierarchies, large power differences, and diverse membership. Much less is known about leadership in small-scale, homogeneous, and relatively egalitarian societies in which humans have spent most of their existence. We summarize the anthropological literature on leadership from traditional, small-scale societies in terms of (1) the functions and roles of leaders; (2) the traits and behaviors conducive to leader emergence and effectiveness; and (3) the motivations and incentives to assume leadership positions. We address how studies of leadership in smallscale societies inform theory development. By viewing leadership and followership in light of our evolutionary history in small-scale societies, we shed new light on outstanding questions in leadership research and on challenges for leadership practice

Copyright © 2012– Mark van Vugt