What kind of ancestral leader are you most like? Are you most similar to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Sir Winston Churchill and Diego Maradona, Hillary Clinton and Pele, Angela Merkel and Howard Schulz, or Oprah Winfrey and Bono? Evolutionary Leadership Theory identifies six leadership functions carried out in ancestral groups that serve as leadership prototypes today. Complete the anonymous questionnaire and post a comment below with what you found out about your leadership style.

So how did I come upon Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT) and the Ancestral Leadership Prototypes Questionnaire? My wife is always telling me to "read something fun." And I always tell her that I usually read fun stuff. As a great example, I just finished Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja's fantastic book, Naturally Selected: The Evolutionary Science of Leadership.

Do you want to know why the height of presidential candidates matters? (That is, if you have forgotten since reading my previous posts on this: "Do we really...?" and "Are you sure...?".) Why women executives attract hostility? Or why people do not like working for huge companies or under middle managers? More importantly, do you want to know more about your own leadership style? Naturally Selected explains that these predilections are related to our "Stone Age" brains.

In their book, Mark and Anjana contend evolutionary forces affect the actions of leaders and followers in both the human and non-human animal worlds. In particular, they argue that certain "if-then rules" or attitudes toward leadership and followership emerged over two million years of human evolutionary history to enhance human survival and reproduction. And, interestingly, these rules play a role even today in business, sports, pop culture, and, of course, politics. This is a perspective I also share that is completely consistent with my work on evolution and political leadership.

Based on research from evolutionary biology and psychology, Mark and Anjana argue successful followership in human ancestral times meant greater survival and reproduction. When hungry, following the best hunter increased the probability of survival more than finding food alone. When under threat of physical attack, following the strongest person increased the probability of survival more than fending off aggressors alone. Given the heritability of personality and behavior, those individuals who followed well were more likely to pass on their genes, including those "follower" genes, than those who did not. This made followership a common feature of the human brain, which resulted in a demand for leaders and a modern society full of followers and their leaders.

In ELT, followers follow because they are more likely to thrive. But what do leaders get out of this social structure? Based on our Stone Age brains, men in particular are motivated to pursue leadership because leadership signals high status, and high status is associated with greater salary. And what does greater salary indicate for men in terms of evolution? It indicates greater resources, which mean more sex partners. Given males' primary evolutionary objective to maximize reproduction, men are strongly motivated to pursue leadership.   

Another consequence of our primitive brains is that we prefer leaders with traits that would have made them successful in the small and egalitarian hunter-gather groups our ancestors found themselves in over the millennia but that do not seem rational in the large and fast-paced society we find ourselves in today. This mismatch signals difficulty when selecting leaders. For example, our evolutionary predilections mean we may trust a leader more just because that leader looks like us (our in-group); is tall, fit, and masculine; and is highly competent in one narrow activity (versus the many competencies required of most modern leaders).

I really like Mark's research. It is extremely interesting, and I regularly cite him in my own research. He and Anjana also write the "Naturally Selected" blog for Psychology Today, which is definitely worth visiting. So I had to complete their Ancestral Leadership Prototypes Questionnaire. I found out my dominant ancestral leadership role is as the "Manager": a technocrat who focuses on allocating resources and organizing group activities and often is found in governments and universities. Sounds reasonable for a political science professor. Honey, this is fun!

What type of ancestral leader are you most like? Take the anonymous Ancestral Leadership Prototypes Questionnaire and let us know.

For more information: van Vugt, Mark, and Anjana Ahuja. 2011. Naturally Selected: The Evolutionary Science of Leadership. New York: Harper Business. 

This file contains more information on the questionnaire and details about the leadership types.  

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Image source: http://www.istockphoto.com/ 

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