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Thinking about leadership - a brief history of leadership thought

The Centre for Leadership and Learning (the Centre for Leadership and Learning) at the Australian Public Service Commission aims to improve talent management and expand and strengthen learning and development across the Australian Public Service (APS).

The APS Leadership Development Strategy, launched in 2011, observed that approaches to developing leadership capability are inevitably informed by the underpinning leadership theory. This paper is designed as a practitioner resource, providing readers with background information on key leadership theories preceding and including those underpinning the APS Leadership Development Strategy (2011) and the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy (2012-13).

Our APS colleagues have a wealth of expertise in the areas of leadership, learning and development, and we welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions.

A note on sources

The National Library of Australia contains almost 12,000 items on leadership (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013); the Amazon catalogue includes over 45,000 paperback and 20,000 hardback volumes on the topic (Amazon.com, 2013); the journal articles and books on leadership identified by Google Scholar numbers almost 1.8 million (Google Scholar, 2013). With such huge numbers it is unfeasible to review even a small percentage of these sources, and unreasonable given others have completed extensive reviews covering much of this material. Citing approximately 8500 sources, the Bass Handbook of Leadership has been particularly useful in completing this paper. Heavy use has been made of this source, although effort has been made to extend and complement Bass' work where necessary and appropriate.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018