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Leadership in Small-Scale Societies: Some Implications for Theory, Research, and Practice

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Document pages: 13 pages

Abstract: 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 small-scale 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.

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