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Naturally Selected: Why Some People Lead, Why Others Follow, and Why It Matters

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Groundbreaking and timely, Naturally Selected unravels the mystery of leadership—why some lead, why some follow, and why it matters to every one of us. Evolutionary psychologist Mark van Vugt and science journalist Anjana Ahuja upend the accepted wisdom about leadership and, following in the tradition of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Noel Tichy’s The Leadership Engine, deliver a book with the power to change ordinary lives. Naturally Selected teaches leaders to avoid pitfalls and tells followers how to negotiate the foibles of overbearing managers, giving readers a crucial path to achieving happier lives and greater successes.

272 pages, ebook

First published August 1, 2010

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Mark Van Vugt

14 books7 followers

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Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews
628 reviews11 followers
November 15, 2011
Why do leaders and followers exist? Many theories exist attempting to describe what makes a good leader, but none of them discuss what makes a leader necessary. This book proposes a new theory, evolutionary leadership theory or ELT, that does.

Clearly written and easy to understand. Good background on other theories. A little slow and repetitive, but that's much better than assuming I know things I don't. Great job!

Do make sure to take everything with a grain of salt - some of the 'reasons' that are suggested for various current events seem to suffer from the 'I'm a cardiologist, so everything's a heart attack' problem.
Profile Image for Rohmatikal Maskur.
Author 2 books64 followers
August 18, 2018
Kepemimpinan adalah hal yang paling sering diamati, tapi paling sedikit dipahami.

Buku ini mengajak kembali menelisik pada sejarah kelompok-kelompok manusia serta pola kepemimpinan di dalamnya untuk menjelaskan teori Natural Leader. Meski saya agak kontra dengan teori Darwin yang acap kali dijadikan pembahasan dalam buku ini, ada banyak poin penting yang ga jarang bikin kepala saya ngangguk-ngangguk. Belum lagi beberapa teori kepemimpinan buku lain yang dijadikan bahasan penelitian, bikin ruang lingkup semakin luas. Ibaratnya naik kereta, tapi bisa ngeliat pemandangan kereta lain juga.

Btw, saya ngerasa setiap halaman buku ini padet banget. Belum bisa mencerna semua makna, jadi nampaknya perlu ngebaca ulang. Buku bagus sih, ga bisa langsung habis :)
Profile Image for Umar Riaz.
28 reviews28 followers
June 20, 2019
The second book in my leadership series is on lesser used but most significant field of evolution. What we do is because of the traits being internalized over centuries and becoming what we call as our nature. Over the range of thousands of years, our minds and the psychological behavior have evolved into where we are now. Book authors are an interesting mix of a Professor of psychology and science journalist who herself is a PhD in space physics. This trend of joining hands of scientists and journalist is very popular in subjects which are of technical nature but need to be transmitted to wider audience in accessible language. The scheme seems to be working effectively for this book as the style is easy and the technical concepts conveyed in comprehensible sequence.

The book takes leadership definition similar to all other normal books i.e “to exert social influence on others to achieve a common goal” but answers the why question through evolution and develops an evolutionary leadership theory (ELT) which is different than the prevalent theories. There has been discussion in books from psychanalytical leadership models based on Freud’s work on family and the need for authority but none takes the evolution as starting point. The evolutionary theory suggests that leadership evolved as problem solving technique driven through division of labor but leadership is sought and coveted because of leadership perks. These perks have been called three Ss , which are status , salary and sex. The status is a social benefit , salary is material benefit while the sex has not been taken merely as physical pleasure but as the innate desires of homo sapiens to enhance reproductive faculties. A closer look at the leaders around and their exploits indeed indicates a nexus of power and promiscuity which is disproportionally high as people rise the leadership ladder. It should however be kept in mind that what is considered promiscuity today was normal in the age of Kings and Monarchs and no wonder when Bill Clinton was asked about the reason of his infidelity , he just said “because I could”.

The evolution of leadership was more due to circumstances than by choice. The first driver of leadership has always been dominance, whether physical or resources. The same cane be observed amongst kids in school and goes upto a super power in United Nations. The dominance did not solve all problems. A leader needed willing and cooperative followers. How was that cooperation achieved ? The answer came from game theory. The evolution is about the adaptability as the Darwin’s “fittest” is the one who adapts the most and fastest. The adaptation of cooperation was achieved only when the players realized that the competing games will be harmful for each one. The same lesson can be extended to managerial positions. The leader and followers are locked in a game ; those that end up collaborating also end up reaping the most benefits. Since conflict and competition was natural so evolution dictated that leaders have certain qualities or “traits” which help them persuade the followers to trust them. Intelligence was the first and foremost quality and is even now. Same goes for generosity , vision and oratory. The modern day emphasis on the traits indeed confirms the evolutionary hypothesis.

The leadership traits are not hard to come by. A sizeable portion of population has traits like intelligence and communication and so on. Yet very few people make it to the top group. The best takeaway from the book is about followers. Why some rather majority of people end up as followers, while having similar traits ? The writers find the answer in uncertainty and conformity. The uncertainty entails a cognitive burden. It is stressful and taxing. The other alternative is trial and error, which breeds more instability. Then there is pressure to conform and the best mode to conform is to follow the majority. This is the reason we see sports celebrities selling air conditioners and people believing in them in the false hope that success in one genre means expertise in other. The outside group is a lonely place to be. This is where the divide between leaders and followers become starker. Those who are bold enough to challenge the group also end up leading it. The leaders ranging from Mandela to Jinnah and from Donald Trump to Imran Khan are examples of outsiders who end up leading.

The type of followers is also interesting. It starts with the “isolated” those who don’t care and alongside are the “bystanders” those who are looking but are not interested. In the middle are the “participants” those who align with leader’s task but not so much with his personality. Then comes the “activists” who ae ready to go an extra mile. These are mostly fans and disciples. The last category are the “diehards”. These are the blind followers who are ready to go to any limit for the leaders. The terrorists and those ready to resort to violence are drawn from this group. A successful leader converts isolated and bystanders into participants and activists and activists into diehards. Looking at the political parties in our country, one can see that the PTI has been able to convert the participants into activists. The religious cults also ultimately aim to convert every follower into a diehard.

Leadership is being studied but still 65-70 percent managers in developed countries fail the leadership test. What is the reason behind the failed leadership? The book finds the answer in the “evolutionary mismatch”. The egalitarian leadership model of hunter-gatherers became dictatorial after the advent of agriculture. The leader was now a feudal; exploitative, ruthless and materialistic. Charisma, an elusive and superficial became more important than utility. The STEPs (strategies to enhance power) through nepotism, violence and manipulation becomes order of the day. This has landed us to the dark triads of narcissism , micheavillianism and psychopathy. Leaders either have those and successfully hide them or they develop after rising the ladder of power. What is the solution ? The book concludes with ten qualities of natural leadership and the first principle of natural leadership is not to overate the romance of leadership. The answer is in distributed leadership in which followers are on board and the leader earns prestige through a niche and not just through charisma i.e to be popular for just being popular. And finally not to judge leader by his cover no matter how shining that is. 

Profile Image for Faith Wood.
Author 16 books22 followers
July 7, 2015
If you don’t have followers than, let’s face it, you are not leading (regardless of your title). This book sought to answer the question of not only why some people lead but why most choose to follow.

Taking an anthropological view of leadership styles through modern evolution, I thought the authors posed a few great questions: Is our current love affair with charismatic leaders actually working? Does our ancestral preference for tall chiseled men at the helm still ring true in a modern era which appears
to require a more social and relationship oriented approach to leadership? If we are desirous of social emphasis, why then do we resist putting women in high profile positions? Is gossip actually good for an organization?

The book was an interesting and relatively easy read which summarized ten recommendations for a modern leader-follower relationship:

1. Don’t overrate the romance of leadership. We celebrate leaders when things are going well and blame them when situations feel direr. But in today’s modern world, leaders are usually figure heads who have to work with committees and coalitions to effect change. Thus, they deserve less credit and less blame for their actions than our ancestral leaders ever did.

2. Find a niche and develop your prestige. Do you have a skill that can benefit the group? It helps to develop it and become somewhat indispensable in your work place. The more you are relied on for your expertise, the more freedom and long term stability you have.

3. Keep it small and natural. Apparently we work more cohesively in groups that do not exceed 150. This allows us to maintain our ancestral desire for tribal like belonging. Apparently our followers want to feel like they are part of a family unit.

4. Favor followers. “Dominance is a part of our primate history and there is always the risk that people in leadership positions will coerce and exploit their followers.” The authors give modern day followers many suggestions in Chapter 5 of how to stop this exploitation.

5. Practice distributed leadership. In ancestral times, leadership was fluid, situational and distributed. Leaders were chosen for roles in which they were most qualified. Bureaucracy has adjusted that over time and, in today’s modern world, often the fate of an organization rests on one person’s shoulders. The authors recommend a rethink of this type of top down leadership. The burden should be shared among qualified individuals. Followers need to feel they can aspire to higher level positions.

6. Mind the pay gap. We have entered an era where leaders need to curb the culture of excessive pay and bonuses. “When institutions favor leaders at the cost of followers, something has to give eventually”. There are many investors who refuse to support organizations where the disparity between pay is too immense. We expect some perks for our top leaders, but mind the

7. Look for leaders from within. We used to appoint leaders from within the clan for their skill and talent. Today, leaders are appointed in one’s own image from the top echelon who often favors those who appear like-minded. This style of hiring often undermines the group and prevents skill development and growth within the followers. Keep it up and you may find you are leading
no one.

8. Watch out for nepotism. When you appoint CEOs simply on the basis of family bloodlines, you set up your organization for corruption both perceived and realistic. Natural leaders should recruit people who have the best qualifications rather than relying on a small circle of relatives and friends.

9. Avoid the dark side. Domination is part of our ancestral coding and is often the swiftest method of gaining compliance from our subordinates. However, it is often more advantageous for a natural leader to seek consensus within a group and avoid the tendency to dominate as the primates do.

10. Don’t judge a leader by his or her cover. Chapter 6 reveals the psychology behind who we choose to follow and under what conditions. And as for gossip….these authors believe you should not prevent it. Flaws within an organization are often revealed through this primal activity. Listen to it and adjust your style and approach when gossip proves a point.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our instinctual inclination towards leadership. Choosing the right person for the job may take a little more evolution in these modern times.

At the back of this book, the authors give readers a chance to assess their own unique leadership preferences. Are you brave enough to take the test? I did!
Profile Image for Izwan Zakaria.
33 reviews33 followers
December 25, 2013
This book has been an absolute joy to read. It gives insight on how we make decisions on how we subconsciously choose leaders based on prehistoric times. It also tells you how you could position yourself (or at least brace yourself) in a position of power or the lack thereof. Amazing read.
Profile Image for Dan McDowell.
Author 4 books61 followers
April 29, 2021
It's a lot of good food for thought for professionals and leaders alike. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Gianto Sibarani.
13 reviews1 follower
October 6, 2016
Buku yang bagus, dijelaskan mengapa ada seseorang yang menjadi pemimpin dan yang lainnya menjadi pengikut. Serta mekanisme antara pemimpin dan pengikut, masing2 mempunyai kekuatannya masing - masing
Profile Image for Rani Musa.
12 reviews
August 13, 2016
Pembahasannya lebih mengacu kepada teori evolusi (penulis menyebut teori yang dijabarkan sebagai Evolutionary Leadership Theory).

Awalnya dari evolusi secara fisik yang disebutkan oleh Darwin, kemudian konsep kepemimpinan-kepengikutan yang sudah ada perlahan-lahan berubah bentuk sesuai kemajuan peradaban. Dimana manusia--Homo Sapiens--belajar beradaptasi secara sosial.

Penulis menggunakan perbandingan pada hewan; dimana menurut teori evolusi, manusia adalah kerabat dekat dari primata. Jadi tidak mengherankan akan banyak penjelasan contoh uji coba dari perilaku hewan seperti simpanse, gorila, babun, dll. Diasumsikan perilaku manusia akan mempunyai banyak kesamaan dengan primata.

Buku ini ingin menyampaikan bahwa kecenderungan kita saat ini, harus dipelajari dari awal mula manusia muncul. Bagaimana nenek moyang kita berperilaku. Bagaimana cara mereka berpikir atau bagaimana cara mereka merespon keadaan tertentu. Tentu saja dalam lingkup bagaimana seorang pemimpin bisa muncul.
Profile Image for Darby.
40 reviews
December 17, 2022
While an interesting overview to evolutionary psychology, the book quickly became redundant. I would have appreciated a stronger stance on the need to fight these natural inclinations, a topic that did not appear until the end of the book. In the end, I walked away with a good introduction to evolutionary leadership theory and some interesting fun facts around our ancestral wiring and the way it hinders modern leadership.
Profile Image for Gauchoholandes.
66 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2014
Evolutionary theory applied to leadership (and follower-ship): what explains their existence on Darwinian grounds, the different kinds and treats and how does all this reconcile with the various schools of leadership thought (of which a great historical overview). Original and enlightening in equally high measure.
Profile Image for Nancy.
7 reviews
April 27, 2012
I found it interesting to learn about the evolution of leadership, as well as the hard science behind why some are leaders.
35 reviews
December 29, 2012
Interesting at times but also written a little less "smart" than expected. Some good points on leadership and leadership styles.
Profile Image for James Hart.
3 reviews3 followers
June 2, 2015
Useful primer on a nascent area

Well written, clear and not too jargon laced.
Looking forward to more work and research in this slowly developing area.
46 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2019
This book does not preach. Though the title words are tired, the key word in the title is "Evolutionary". No, the authors are not primatologists or anthropologists. One is a space physicist and the other a psychologist. Heavy hitters. But rest assured the reader will not be led astray into a black hole of psycho bauble. Instead, the content is amusing and engaging.
\n To those perplexed by the tarzan boys of corporate jungle, here's one more book to prove that the 6 billion strong 'intelligent, sophisticated' species is not really very different from a group of chimps or capuchin monkeys- though man and primates supposedly 'parted ways' more than 8 million years ago.
\nThis book can be better summarized by the title of another book written by an anthropologist. Its called "Why we are 98% chimpanzees".
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