Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paleo Leadership

I am reading a book that would appeal to anyone with an interest in the paelo diet / evolutionary fitness.  It is called :

Selected: Why Some People Lead, Why Others Follow and Why It Matters; What Evolutionary Psychology Tells Us About Leadership

It is a really interesting read and well drafted as well (I like the way that there is an introduction that tells you chapter by chapter what is coming).

The ideas are familiar if you have read arond hte ideas of evolutioanry fitness.  Two of the  basic ideas  put across are :

  • The savannah hypothesis - we are built as if we hunters living on the african savannah, living in tight tribes of 50-150 with really active life styles.
  • The mismatch hypothesis -  modern life does not align with this "ideal" context - i.e. we don't live or eat like hunters, we don't have active lifestyles and we don't live in tight tribes of 50 - 150.  Hence we face obesity, depression, etc etc
That is all pretty familiar stuff if you have hung around the sort of blogs (like Kurt, Methuselah, Matt Metzgar or Asclepius)  that I point to or read the interviews with people like Keith Thomas or Frank Forencich, or of course Mark Sisson.

What makes this interesting is that these ideas are applied to leadership.

We are not just physically built for the life of the savannah, we are psychologically wired for it to.  Without rationally wanting to we follow leaders who look like the Big Man who could protect us from attack or who could lead us in battle.  We follow those who are tall and fit, we don't naturally gravitate towards women leaders.

Our minds have been mainly sculpted during the Pleistocene era, spanning from around two million years ago until about 12,000 years ago, when we lived in small, isolated communities of about 150 people. In the absence of CVs and other objective ways of measuring competence, a fit, healthy, manly appearance was synonymous with leadership potential. In hunter-gatherer societies, conflicts were primarily settled by force, so being strong and tall were prerequisites. And sure enough, the taller candidates routinely triumph in American elections (for example, Obama, 6’1”, beat McCain, 5’9”). Another study found that CEOs rated as “stronger-looking” by observers tended to run higher-ranked companies than weaker-looking individuals; while children confronted with photographs of electoral candidates generally favour the eventual winner.

Here is the author talking about the ideas:

It is a really fascinating book and highly recommended.

There are some extracts and interviews available at:

The New Scientist

The Daily Telegraph


pieter d said...


Thanks for pointing out this book.

Maybe I'm biased, because I'm very fascinated and interested in Africa, so I read a lot about it, also about hunter gatherers. But HGs in Africa don't seem to have leaders. Indeed they have men that are highly respected for their abilities (especially hunting), but there seems to be a tendency to let the group decide.

Interesting books are 'the harmless people' and 'the old way' by E.M.Thomas (on bushmen), 'the forest people' by C.M.Turnbull (on Pygmies), and literature on Hadza.

Chris said...


that is something he touches on in the video - the democracy of paleo man

pieter d said...

I should have watched the video before commenting... ;(

Anonymous said...

Great, but what is this supposed to prove? Women lead now, short people win also. Me being both I might be sensitive to this topic but our society has moved away from that model and continues to do so

Chad said...

I haven't read the book, but thanks for the heads up. I can't wait to read it.
@ Anonymous: Even in primitive cultures around the world, women have led, and continue to do so. I believe we can evolve in an elightened way to let all people who show the skills of leadership to do just that, lead. It doesn't mean that part of what the book says isn't true. Our devolving from a closs knit group of friends, or tribe, has some drawbacks. Here in AMerica, there's a saying, "it takes a village to raise a child." I think we've gotten away from that...