The one-sentence summary

Leadership has evolved over tens of thousands of years, and we still operate at home and work as if we are on the savannah.


  • This is another in a long line of books about leadership, which looks at why some people lead, why others follow, and why it matters.
  • It takes a new slant by exploring how leadership has evolved over tens of thousands of years. We operate at home and work as if we are still on the savannah, leading to a ‘mismatch hypothesis’, in which there is a crucial difference between modern ideas of leadership and the kind our Stone Age brains are wired for.
  • There are many different theories about why people become good leaders. They include:
  • Great Man theory – true leaders are born, not made
  • Trait theory – analysis of common traits in leaders reveals the formula
  • Psychoanalytic – the boss takes the role of a father figure to a ‘primitive clan’
  • Situational – leaders emerge in specific circumstances that make them shine
  • Distributed – leadership works best when it is spread around
  • Leaders often possess the Dark Triad of personality attributes: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy – they tend to be selfish and economical with the truth. It’s a strategy that works because they get the money and the women.


  • It is more interesting than most leadership books, because of its historical and anthropological take, along with a reasonably light writing style
  • It looks in detail at followership, and suggests that this can be a great survival strategy. Backing the right person to follow has reaped great benefits over the millennia. Kellerman’s taxonomy of followership shows 5 types:
  1. Isolates – they are apathetic, but can be dangerous to the leader if ignored
  2. Bystanders – little or no commitment to anyone
  3. Middling – reasonably satisfied participants
  4. Activists – highly engaged and consistently work hard
  5. Diehards – they’ll do anything for the boss
  • Where leaders become too powerful, or even corrupt, followers develop strategies to overcome them (gossip, public discussions, satire, disobedience).
  • It’s amusing to think that we still vote for tall politicians, and bosses who look athletically stronger than others, but it appears to be true.
  • Lessons in natural leadership:

    1. Don’t overrate the romance of leadership

    2. Find a niche and develop your prestige

    3. Keep it small and natural

    4. Favour followers

    5. Practice distributed leadership

    6. Mind the pay gap

    7. Look for leaders from within

    Leadership types:

    1. Warrior – defends the group

    2. Scout – adept at seeking new resources and opportunities

    3. Diplomat – a natural affinity for liaising with other groups

    4. Arbiter – the peacekeeper

    5. Manager – efficient at allocating resources and getting things done

    6. Teacher – enthusiastic and effective transmitter of knowledge


  • There are ten recommendations which pretty much amount to common sense – no bad thing, but not that new either.