Leadership ability is abundant, but its perfection is rare.
Nearly every person has led something at some time. Ask any manager to describe any significant leadership periods they have experienced over the course of their lives and they readily recount them.
Episodic, temporary, project-oriented leadership has never been difficult to observe. Acting as an individual leader is very common, and the lessons from these episodes have a striking degree of similarity.
Organizational leadership complexities, however, are more difficult to observe. Although both oral and written histories have heralded the great deeds of organizational leaders, generally the emphasis in these stories has been upon the individual. From the agricultural aristocracy of the Sumer delta to the technologically adept of Silicon Valley, humans have strained to sift the notions of organizational leadership from the deeds of the individual leader.
Leaders of Sumer theocratic city-states used the word lugal for king. Some lugals enjoyed kingship for the sake of having personal power. Some had more cooperative concern for the general welfare. Near the end of the Old Sumerian period, some 4500 years ago, Urukagina declared himself lugal of Lagash, a city in Southern Mesopotamia. He enacted laws concerning usury, theft, property disputes, and murder. He encouraged many freedoms that were unknown before his consolidation, such as supporting widows and orphans, and sought to ensure a positive future for all who lived in his lands. Some historians suggest that his code in particular supported women’s issues to a greater degree than did the later, more famous codes of Hammurabi, Lipit Ishtar, or others associated with Assyrian or Babylonian governments.
Under Urukagina’s rule, Lagash was prosperous and thus became an appealing takeover target. Eventually, Sargon I, a Semitic ruler from Akkad, conquered this Sumerian empire along with those operating out of Ur and Umman. Historians suggest that Sargon I was the first leader to consolidate a multiethnic society or empire. Records indicate that he too, worked for general prosperity and enacted state level legal codes, learning from Urukagina and other organizational leaders before his time.
Text evidence suggests that Urukagina and Sargon I were admired both as individual or personal leaders and for the quality of their organizational leadership skills. Political scientists might consider them as being effective statesmen, not just beloved, or perhaps feared, politicians.
The reforms initiated by these two leaders helped promote a prosperous society - one that invented and used wheel technology in several applications, starting with the potter’s wheel. Sumerian cuneiform was used by these political leaders to maintain an accurate commercial accounting and appears to predate Egyptian hieroglyphics. These societies engaged in astronomy, and their division of time into sixty-minute and sixty-second periods is still in use today. They grew Emmer wheat and barley with sophistication for their age, and were perhaps the first Asians to raise sheep and cattle on a grand scale.
These brief examples shed light on a repeated historical reality: lasting leadership is experienced not just by the individual leadership efforts of a great person, but also by the lasting impact of the organizational system that is created through organizational leadership efforts. Studying the personalities of Sargon I, Qin Shi Huangdi, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, George Washington, and other famous leaders, one can see that personal leadership abilities may immortalize a person, but organizational leadership abilities stimulate a significance others desire to emulate.