The Evolutionary Anthropology of Political Leadership




Existing approaches within leadership studies often share a bias towards industrialized societies and lack broader cross-cultural and ethological reference. Meanwhile, cross-cultural and evolutionary approaches within anthropology are actively working to unify research on leadership and followership across the biological and social sciences. This review provides a novel and thorough view of political leadership as investigated by evolutionary anthropologists and highlights the benefits of incorporating findings from the evolutionary social sciences into leadership studies generally. We introduce the anthropological approach to leadership; describe evolutionary anthropology, its subdisciplines (including primatology, paleoanthropology, paleogenetics, human behavioral ecology, and gene-culture coevolution), and its complementary disciplines (particularly evolutionary psychology); review leadership and hierarchy in nonhumans, including our extinct hominid ancestors; review female leadership and sex-differences; and, primarily, discuss the relationships between evolution, ecology, and culture as they relate to the observed patterns of political leadership and followership across human societies. Through evolutionary anthropology's diverse toolkit, a deeper insight into the evolution and cross-cultural patterning of leadership is realized.

Document Type

Post-print Article

Publication Date



Refer to Dr. Christopher von Rueden's website for further information.

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2019 Elsevier B.V.

DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2018.09.001

The definitive version is available at:


Full Citation:

Garfield, Zachary H., Christopher R. von Rueden, and Edward H. Hagen. “The Evolutionary Anthropology of Political Leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly 30, no. 1 (February 2019): 59–80. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2018.09.001.