Selected: Why Some People Lead, Why Others Follow, And Why It Matters

Paperback | January 3, 2012

byMark Van Vugt, Anjana Ahuja

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A groundbreaking, evolutionary science-based exploration of the history of leadership that explains how and why some men and women evolve into good or great leaders, and some do not.

We are all leaders or followers — or both. We can recognise leadership in almost every area of life: in the workplace, among friends, within families, in politics and religion. But what makes a good or bad leader, and what makes an outstanding one? Selected examines how and why leadership has evolved over tens of thousands of years, and presents a bold and compelling new "mismatch hypothesis": the slowness of evolution means that there is a mismatch between modern leadership and the kind of leadership that our Stone Age brains are still wired for. This makes for all sorts of tendencies, problems and solutions that no author has yet discussed but that affect all aspects of our lives.

Full of fascinating examples drawn from a diverse range of spheres, from politics and commerce to sport and culture, Selected explains why taller political candidates usually win, why women chief executives attract such hostility, why we like it when the boss asks after our children and what prime ministers and presidents can do to improve their chances of electoral success.

This is the first book of its kind — reaching into business, psychology, politics and current affairs — to explore how leadership affects us all. It also offers the first truly scientific theory of leadership: where previous books have provided anecdote, it details empirical evidence. Selected provides deep insight into our personal and professional lives at a time when the world urgently needs to acknowledge great leadership.

From the Hardcover edition.

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A groundbreaking, evolutionary science-based exploration of the history of leadership that explains how and why some men and women evolve into good or great leaders, and some do not.We are all leaders or followers — or both. We can recognise leadership in almost every area of life: in the workplace, among friends, within families, in p...

MARK VAN VUGT is professor of psychology at the VU University of Amsterdam and holds honorary positions at the Universities of Oxford and Kent in the UK.ANJANA AHUJA is a feature writer with a weekly science column in the Times, where she first introduced Mark's work to a wider audience, and holds a Ph.D. in space physics.From the Hard...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 7.93 × 5.16 × 0.73 inPublished:January 3, 2012Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307358631

ISBN - 13:9780307358639

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The Nature of Leadership"It is clear that once the question ‘Who should rule?’ is asked, it is hard to avoid some such reply as ‘the best’ or ‘the wisest’ or ‘the born ruler’ … But such a reply, convincing as it may sound – for who would advocate the rule of ‘the worst’ or ‘the greatest fool’ or ‘the born slave’ – is quite useless."— Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its EnemiesCyril Richard Rescorla lived his life according to the principle of the eight Ps: ‘Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.’ Rescorla, born in Cornwall, England, and later a naturalised American citizen, learned the maxim in the army, and it would serve him well in active service, first on behalf of the British military in Cyprus and later commanding men from his adopted country in Vietnam.  Both stints earned the soldier, nicknamed the Cornish Hawk, decorations for gallantry.But Rescorla, who preferred to be called Rick, did not earn his place in history through his bravery on the battlefield. It was later in life, as a security officer for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter at the World Trade Center, that he would leave his mark. And he did it by insisting, against the advice of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which managed the WTC, that his employer’s 2,700 staff evacuate the building on 11 September 2001, when the first plane hit the Twin Towers.  With a seamlessness that came from six-monthly evacuation drills carried out at his insistence, Rescorla ensured that 2,694 of his charges made it out of the building before the centre collapsed. In a moving interview given to the New Yorker in 2002, Rescorla’s widow, Susan, revealed that the hardest thing to cope with was knowing that he could have made a decision to save his own skin and didn’t: ‘I know he would never have left until everyone was safe, until his mission was accomplished.  That was his nature.’Rescorla’s closest friend, an army buddy called Dan Hill, recalled the indomitable spirit of the rugged young soldier he fought alongside in Vietnam: ‘I knew him as a hundredand-eighty-pound, six-foot-one piece of human machinery that would not quit, that did not know defeat, that would not back off one inch. In the middle of the greatest battle of Vietnam, he was singing to the troops, saying we’re going to rip them a new asshole, when everyone else was worrying about dying. If he had come out of that building and someone died who he hadn’t tried to save, he would have had to commit suicide.’ In March 2009, Rescorla’s two children accepted the Above and Beyond Citizen Medal on behalf of their father. The award is the highest civilian honour that can be bestowed in America; its recipients are chosen by the surviving holders of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the country. Rescorla embodies, in two distinct ways, what it is to be a leader. If we detach ourselves emotionally, we can see that he fulfilled the textbook definition of a leader, which goes something like this: a leader is someone able to exert social influence on others in order to accomplish a common goal.  The Vietnam veteran was able to persuade those employees to leave their desks, despite official advice that it was safe to stay, and goosestep in pairs down through more than 40 storeys.  But if we put dry definitions aside and measure his achievement against what we believe, in our hearts, leadership to be about, we also find that he comes up to scratch. He used his considerable security expertise to make a sound judgement call (the minute the first plane hit, he rang a friend saying he was sure the building would fall down), calmly marshalled employees to the exits, sang Cornish songs through a bullhorn to keep morale high on the stairwell, and selflessly kept returning to make sure nobody had been left behind. It was not just what Rescorla did on that particular day which made him a leader; it was something deep in his character. Most of us would say he was made of the ‘right stuff’, and this helped him to flourish both on the battlefield and, on 11 September 2001, in the truly terrible situation he found himself in.  We often hear about leadership in atrocities like 9/11, in natural disasters, on the battlefield, or in collective civil campaigns, such as that against racial segregation. But, once you start noticing it, you find that leadership is, in fact, everywhere.  It appears to be a human universal.2 The most obvious form is political and national leadership: every nation on earth has a single person at its helm, whether it is a democratically elected politician, a monarch or a tyrant. We have business leaders, such as the Bill Gateses and Jack Welches of this world. But people who influence others to achieve a common goal – who, in fact, conform to our textbook definition of a leader – can be found in every corner of human existence: the schoolchild who seems to set the playground agenda during free play; the can-do manager who motivates his team to set sales records; the football hooligan who recruits fellow thugs to terrorise supporters of rival teams; the exasperated customer in the slow-moving bank queue who starts a mutiny; the gregarious friend who seems to end up as chief architect of your social life; the witty celebrity whose outrage on Twitter prompts 20,000 followers to sign a petition.  All lead in the sense of persuading others to assist in the accomplishment of a shared objective. Some, like Rescorla and the can-do sales manager, are made of the right stuff.  They lead their subjects towards the realisation of a mutually beneficial goal. But certain types of leadership, as we’ll see, are exploitative and malign, and it’s worth remembering that people can lead without being morally competent (such as the hooligans’ ringleader or the school bully).  Often, the shared objective is the leader’s objective. So becoming a leader is a good way of achieving whatever it is you want to achieve, whether it is building a well or building up support for an ideology. Not only that, but leaders reap benefits, both financial (top executives get paid more than middle-ranking ones) and sexual, because (generally male) leaders appear to get their pick of (female) followers.  They also enjoy an elevated social status. We will call these perks the three S’s – representing salary, status and sex – and we will see, in later chapters, that this triumvirate of factors drives power-seeking behaviour, because they enhance the reproductive potential of the (usually) men who pursue them.  Political leaders, for example, have a long and ignoble history of polygamy and infidelity. In fact, the three S’s have a clear relationship to each other, and to ELT: the ultimate evolutionary aim is reproductive success, which must be achieved through sex, which means catching the eye of sexual partners, which means being a man of status. And how is status signified today? Through salary. And so, thanks to evolutionary leadership theory, we have a thread linking money to power to sex.  This has to be one explanation for the preponderance of books about leadership: people buy them in the hope they can achieve leadership positions, and an accompanying helping of the three S’s. This would suggest there are hundreds of authors who understand what leadership is about. If this is true, why do we still have so many leaders in business and politics made of the wrong stuff? Why do half of chief executives fail in their jobs? Why do political leaders lead us into unwinnable wars? Why do incompetence and immorality so often come as part of the whole human leadership package? For the answers, we do something that no other students of leadership have yet done: travel back in time to explore the origins of human leadership. Selected is about how and why leadership evolved in our species. The ‘why’ of leadership is very rarely addressed: despite the trillions of words on the different forms leadership can take, and whether people are born to lead or can be schooled for greatness, few have paused to ask why we bother with leaders at all. Why is it that almost every social grouping – from countries to companies, councils to cults – has a figurehead out in front? Why don’t individuals break from the crowd and do their own thing? This gaping hole must be plugged if we are to truly understand the human instinct to lead and the accompanying instinct to follow.  From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“A fascinating and eminently readable book, full of information you will want to share and arguments you will want to debate.”   — Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, RSA “An intriguing and subtle account of the clash that results when old instincts meet new conditions.”  — Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist “A really novel book on one of the most important human topics of our time . . . well written, innovative and fun!”   — Professor Cary L. Cooper, CBE, Lancaster University Management School “The book’s practical suggestions are worth taking seriously.”  — Nature “Head and shoulders above most management books.”  — Jeremy Hazlehurst, City A.M.From the Hardcover edition.