The Concept of Leadership in Historical Perspective

The concept of leadership can be understood as quite multifaceted and transforming over generations. The leader as a whole is a figure capable of leading other people, a kind of shepherd if one can draw an analogy from Christian imagery. The culture of modern mankind seems to be both extremely modern and preserving in itself all the layers of the past history. Therefore, historical concepts not only change, but also retain their old meanings in addition to new ones. With that in mind, one might have to consider that there are other, much more vital and relevant definitions of this term, which were already prevalent centuries ago. This essay makes an attempt to trace the key characteristics of the term “leader” throughout Western history, relying to a number of examples.

The Middle Ages are distinguished by both a high position of state sovereignty and extreme piety and religiosity. A leader in the Middle Ages is someone with a unique worldview, so original that it is capable of infecting the attention of others. The primary quality of a leader has been and remains charisma, that is, the ability to attract attention and cause resonance and evaluation. That is why the figures of leaders remaining in the history of those centuries are influential religious figures who turned the perception of Christianity and ethics. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther are thus presented as real figures of the leader since they turned the course of history by changing the worldview of people.

These were people who were able to convey their teachings to the world, that is, they had a specific ideological concept that was new to the society. Despite the fact that the Protestant concept of Martin Luther was contrary to numerous tenets of the Catholic Church, his teaching caused a great resonance. By overcoming the persecution and restrictions applied to his preaching work by the authorities and the church, he was able to become the leader of a new religious movement. Consequently, the one who fights for the freedom of other people can be considered a leader both in the Middle Ages and to this day.

In modern realities, a leader may be a person who influences a large number of other people. Leadership lies beyond ethical or political motives at the moment. This is due to the prevailing secular values ​​in society, a variety of points of view, and a culture of tolerance. In this aspect, it should be noted that real leadership qualities are inherent in human rights fighters, activists, and human rights defenders. These are the people who, despite the pressure from society, can side with those who deserve it. The African American freedom and equality fighters in the 1960s remind of the leaders from the Middle Ages history (Teixeira et al., 2020). Their charisma, ability to articulate and emotionally speak, and their true belief in natural human rights have managed to really shift the paradigm of the modern world.

Thus, not only charisma and persuasion but also the struggle for truth really expresses the immutable characteristics of a leader. Despite many other possible concepts of the word leader, for example, political, it is this reading of this term that seems eternally relevant. A leader in a modern world can be considered a person who is not afraid to fight not only for their own but for other people’s rights, as they consider it to be a necessary struggle for justice and truth.


Teixeira, C. P., Spears, R., & Yzerbyt, V. Y. (2020). Is Martin Luther King or Malcolm X the more acceptable face of protest? High-status groups’ reactions to low-status groups’ collective action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(5), 919–944. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "The Concept of Leadership in Historical Perspective." September 22, 2022.

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PsychologyWriting. "The Concept of Leadership in Historical Perspective." September 22, 2022.