Professor in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology


Leadership and status

Ecology, culture and leadership: Theoretical integration and review

Lonati, S., & Van Vugt, M. (2023). Ecology, culture and leadership: Theoretical integration and review. The Leadership Quarterly, 101749.(link)


Cultural and evolutionary explanations are often seen as rivals in the social sciences. It is therefore not surprising that these perspectives have also communicated little in leadership research so far. Yet, these two fields have many overlooked complementarities, which can be appreciated when examining the role of ecological factors in shaping variations in cultural leadership prototypes (CLPs) – that is, societally shared ideal attributes and behaviors that followers expect from their leaders. In this paper, we integrate and review multidisciplinary research that clarifies these complementarities. First, we discuss how different CLPs might emerge as responses to the specific threats and opportunities provided by the ecology where human groups live. Second, we review research on the link between CLPs, related cultural patterns, and specific ecological factors, ranging from more physical (e.g., climate, diseases) to more social factors (e.g., population density, warfare). Third, we highlight how CLPs might not only be evoked by current ecological conditions but are also culturally transmitted, resulting in potential mismatches between CLPs and present ecologies. Our review shows that a deeper integration of cultural and evolutionary approaches to leadership is needed to understand why variations in CLPs can emerge, and why they persist or change over time.


Copyright © 2012– Mark van Vugt