The Evolution of Superior Leadership

Technological change is creating a period of Super-Evolution. By understanding the evolution of leadership, you can better evolve your own capacity to lead in any environment.

Leadership is a fundamental and essential aspect of human society. Its evolution is a testament to the changing needs of organizations and the dynamic nature of human beings. From prehistoric times to modern-day civilization, leadership concepts have undergone significant evolution–reflecting the needs and values of each era. Historically, socioeconomic and political environments and ideologies have shaped and transformed the types of leaders we select. Within the past 30 years, leaders have become increasingly proficient at mastering the art of context, vision, wisdom, power, and outcome. This led to the unification of larger and larger groups. From the beginning, courageous individuals, unafraid to wield power, sought to benefit themselves and their followers through coordinated action. In this article, we will explore the evolution of humanity through the lens of prehistoric and modern-day leadership.

Primal Leadership: 

Approximately 300,000 years ago, Primal Leaders led small groups of 10 to 15 people with instinctual behavior and primitive interpersonal relationships. Group leaders were often the strongest and the most capable members who could ensure the group’s survival by providing food, shelter, and protection from predators. Typically, more aggressive alpha males dominated these groups–enforcing territorial boundaries and maintaining positional authority to ensure mating preference. (In many cultures, this behavior is still dominant) 

Their cognitive abilities and decision-making focused on a “kill it, eat it, or f*ck it” mentality. These primal groups recognized that living in small bands gave them the benefits of independence, agility, and freedom but frequently exposed them to periodic vulnerabilities. Living in small nomadic groups at the mercy of their environment was volatile, and violent clashes with other more powerful groups meant their potential demise. Unsurprisingly, Homo sapiens spent the vast majority of their evolutionary history being led by Primal Leaders in these small-scale societies. Leadership roles were informal, and their abilities and experience determined the group’s longevity.

Tribal Leaders: 

Approximately 30,000 years ago, Tribal Leaders became the norm as small groups banded together into groups of 100 to 150 to benefit from the enhanced safety in numbers and skill specializations. They leveraged a shared leadership model with confident leaders stepping forward with specialty skills for specific tasks or in times of crisis. As a result, these tribes were more extensive and stable and became the fundamental building blocks for larger clan formations. The ability to further unite multiple tribes meant the need for more sophisticated communication networks, a stronger group identity, and a common unifying purpose. Interestingly, most people are hardwired to have approximately 100 to 150 personal relationships today. 

Warlord Leaders: 

Next, Warlord Leaders came into existence over 3,000 years ago. These leaders’ ethos was that gaining and keeping territory through violence and taking what they wanted was the best way to thrive. They had a conquer-or-be-conquered mentality. These leaders viewed conquest through a cost/benefit analysis lens and an unadulterated might-makes-right mentality. 

The idea that attacking neighbors could enrich them via slaves, lands, and wealth caused their culture to solidify and grow. Warlords who could unify forces under a centralized, hierarchical command were more likely to succeed in their domination efforts. Later in this stage, leaders like Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and Vikings leaders like Ragnar Lodbrok recognized the power of a shared warlike group identity. Prosperity through conquest meant greater wealth and power for the leaders and their kingdoms. In a “winner-take-all” environment such as this, selecting strong and aggressive leadership and achieving critical mass was essential because of the competitive attritional nature of violent conflict.  

During this timeframe, pockets of leadership emerged in Greek and Roman cultures that emphasized leadership as a rational and intellectual pursuit. Education, knowledge, and reasoning became the basis for selecting leaders. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, argued that the best leaders were those who pursued virtue and were guided by reason. Hence, these classical leaders were passionate about learning and education and believed knowledge was essential to good leadership. With the advent of civilized societies, leadership became more formalized and more commonly associated with religion and mythology. 

The notion that the gods had a hand in selecting our leaders emerged. This granted significant divine authority that frequently didn’t benefit the people. The earliest recorded form of leadership is the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, who were considered political leaders and gods. Pharaohs were often driven by a divine mandate, and their followers by divine authority. Other ancient leaders, such as emperors and kings, were passionate about expanding their empires and gaining more power—trumpeting their conquests as having divine power.

Later in this period, Feudal leadership emerged during the Middle Ages, characterized by a hierarchical system of lords and vassals. The lords had absolute power over their subjects, and the vassals believed they owed loyalty and obedience, much like children. Feudal leaders instilled a sense of duty and devotion in their followers and manipulated their obedience through dependence.

Ideological Leaders: 

Subsequently, Ideological Leaders came into existence well over 300 years ago with the primary objective of fighting for various political or social ideas or economic systems. Rebels, revolutionaries, and imperialists pushed different ideological agendas and myths. During this period, leaders became fountainheads of propaganda. Toward the end of this period, humanity witnessed a long lineage of anti-social and radically driven leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, and a cast of other malevolent dictators. These leaders led through fear and treachery and caused tremendous human suffering. 

At the same time, some opposing leaders supported democracy, free markets, and liberty, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman. Late in this period, a growing social evolution began to take root where the virtue of equality and brotherhood replaced the idea of monarch/subject and master/slave. Each leader sought to propagate their ideological beliefs and felt threatened by opposing cultures. This insecurity culminated in the late 1930s and early 1940s with the most vicious war in humankind’s history—a clash of conflicting ideas and ideologue leaders. 

Diplomatic Leaders: 

Next, approximately 30 years ago, Diplomatic Leaders started to dominate at the top of societies. These leaders realized that all-out war was undesirable and unprofitable, and ideological differences didn’t need to end in a global conflict. Ideological disagreements still resulted in limited proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, humanity avoided an all-out-global war. More recently, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Syria were an effort to neutralize Islamic terrorists but were more limited in scope.

Diplomatic Leaders were mainly interested in preserving the status quo and started cooperating globally to combat issues regardless of history or cultural differences. Examples of diplomatic leaders who used reason to negotiate peaceful transitions included Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev. 

Unified Leaders: 

Today, Unified Leaders are beginning to take root in the Western world. These leaders represent the current evolution of leadership as they seek cooperation and propagate the idea of oneness—taking a human-first approach to leadership. Recognizing that governing countries and regions with a billion or more people require an increasingly sophisticated approach, these leaders aim to integrate their efforts with other nations to help address global challenges and foster humanity’s interconnectedness. Leaders who have progressed toward Unified Leadership recognize that creating a shared group identity solidifies larger and larger populations. The ability to unite diverse groups behind an inspiring vision, execute with insightful wisdom and power, and broadly foster cooperation is state-of-the-art leadership.

Globalization, technological advancements, and changing socioeconomic and political environments continue to change the nature of leadership. The expectation is that contemporary leaders have a global perspective, be adaptable, and embrace diversity. The concept of servant leadership emphasizes empathy, social responsibility, diversity, and serving others and has gained popularity in recent years. In many Western domains, the expectation is that professional leaders provide psychological safety to all subordinates. This human-first approach creates a culture of openness and loyalty but is not universally embraced.   

Model Unified Leaders are passionate about creating a more just and equitable society, and their passion for change has been instrumental in shaping modern-day leadership. The state of current leadership values collaboration and teamwork—recognizing that their success depends on the collective effort of their team. The expectation is that leaders inspire and motivate others and create a shared vision that everyone can work toward—often pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. 

While no leader or person is perfect, Unified Leaders are values-oriented, moralistic, and insightful. They seek to unify humanity by fostering social and technical progress while connecting and unifying diverse groups of people. The only downside of Unified Leadership is that it frequently fails to drive sufficient change—often resulting in stagnation. 

As humanity approaches 10 billion people on Earth, our sustainable future once again requires leadership evolution. Thirty years from now, Universal Leaders will dominate the highest levels of leadership. A new generation of Gen Z and Gen Alpha leaders will focus on actively transforming society toward a more prosperous, sustainable, and peaceful world—bringing out the best in humanity. 

Universal Leaders: 

Solving global challenges requires creative turmoil and complex system-level thinking—balancing the needs of today’s stakeholders with those of future generations. Eventually, global shared leadership will result in a cohesive governance singularity that encourages progressive disruption while preserving common core principles. Universal Leaders recognize that humanity is like a moving caterpillar, undulating forward in a wave-like motion. The front lunges forward while the rest of the body consistently plays catch-up. Hence, there is always a need to balance disruptive progress with sustaining behavior to foster stability and unity.    

Wise post-ideological thinking seeks mutual understanding and focuses on benefiting the most significant number of people. The ability to visualize multiple possible versions of the future, understand derivative effects, and govern for the overall good of humanity requires leaders who excel at each of the 24 ULM attributes. These leaders are committed to transforming society and creating a new world order to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Simply mimicking the past will not work.

Accelerating globalization, technical advances, and climate interdependence magnifies the need for leaders who promote a unified group identity. Balancing the ideas of unification and disruption while facilitating a smooth societal transition is no easy task. As summarized in Figure 50, these opposing principles require great wisdom in the form of pragmatic post-ideological thinking. 

Figure 1: The Last Book Of Leadership

Universal Leaders think holistically about challenges, value the free exchange of ideas, and seek to unite people for common causes. These insightful leaders have emotional and intellectual intelligence and recognize the need to ensure that swathes of society do not get left behind. Moving forward, these enlightened leaders will play an essential role in our society’s development—bridging psychological gaps between fragmented groups to create a shared worldview. As futuristic leaders, they will not be members of the Chinese Communist Party, Indian People’s Party, Republican Party, or Democratic Party—they will be members of the Humanity Party, building the institutions that foster a Goldilocks environment for human progression. In short, Universal Leaders embrace our interconnectedness and accelerate us toward a progressive and abundant future. 


The concept of leadership has evolved significantly over time—driven by each era’s environments, population needs, and changing ideologies. From prehistoric times to modern-day civilization, socioeconomic and political environments have influenced how leadership is perceived and practiced. From the need for survival in prehistoric times to the passion for social responsibility in contemporary leadership, the motivation behind leadership has been instrumental in shaping human society. While the definition of leadership may change over time, the essence of leadership remains the same – to inspire, motivate, and guide others toward a brighter future.

Because leadership is no longer just about authority and power, it requires true wisdom, a passion for change, and a desire to make a difference. Excellent leaders inspire, organize, and motivate others, making leadership essential to human society. One thing is for sure, pragmatic and ethical leadership becomes more critical as we move toward an uncertain future.

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