June 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT3
Leadership for the 21st Century
This book provides an important critique of leadership studies. Rost contends a majority of leadership studies are about management rather than leadership. He challenges the industrial paradigm of leadership as management and calls for a new school of leadership. He offers a new post-industrial definition of leadership as "an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes." Rost believes the dynamic interaction between leaders and followers has been overlooked. The author's concepts can provide new directions for the study and practice of leadership.
Joseph C. Rost (1991). Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Praeger, 220 pages. $45.00 hardcover.
This book presents a biting critique of leadership studies and offers a new paradigm for leadership theory for scholars and practitioners. Rost systematically outlines the problems with leadership studies beginning with an overview of studies from an assessment of 450 books, chapters, and journal articles. He examines definitions of leadership from 1900-1979 and how they were used in the literature in the 1980s, the nature of leadership, leadership and management, leadership and ethics for the 1990s, and leadership in the future.
Rost indicts scholars for not defining or even attempting to define leadership in many of their works. He concludes that the literature presents leadership as being all things to all people, which is unacceptable for the study of leadership, much less for addressing practical problems facing our society in the future. Rost criticizes the field of study for accepting fads in the study of leadership dominated by great man/woman theories, group theory, trait theory, situational and behavioral theories, and most recently excellence theory.
On the surface, at least, leadership studies since 1910 are confusing and disorganized. Rost, however, looks at the literature on a fundamental level and makes sense of it as reflecting an industrial paradigm. He contends that the majority of leadership studies are not about leadership but management. He suggests these authors' perceptions of leadership mirrored what they saw as the reality and that they saw no need to define leadership differently from management.
While Rost's critique of leadership studies is important, his most significant contribution is a "post-industrial" concept of leadership. He challenges the industrial paradigm of leadership as management and calls for a new school of leadership. He credits MacGregor Burns' work for laying the groundwork for this transition (Burns, 1978).
Rost offers a new definition for leadership and explains the four essential elements of his new definition. He defines leadership as "an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes." He believes the dynamic interaction between leaders and followers has been greatly overlooked. Also crucial to his new definition is the importance of ethics within the process of leadership. He believes scholars and practitioners need to give more attention to this aspect of the subject.
In the foreword of the book, Burns notes that he believes Rost is underestimating the influence of the roles of values and ethics as variables in leadership. Burns also notes the role of conflict in leadership has been overlooked. My own experience suggests Rost may not have fully developed the role values and ethics play in influencing leadership. The role of conflict may also need to be explored further.
Rost concludes his book by presenting ideas on how the new paradigm can influence the study and practice of leadership in the future. He suggests a transformation needs to occur in universities, centers for leadership, professional development programs, and software, as well as among practitioners, before the teaching the new post-industrial paradigm of leadership can begin. Rost also encourages more collaboration among educators, practitioners, and scholars. He argues the transition from an industrial paradigm to a post-industrial paradigm of leadership is crucial to serving societal needs.
In sum, Rosts' book provides an important critique of leadership studies which is invaluable for students, scholars, and practitioners. I think it offers Extension professionals theoretical and practical linkages for developing leadership. His new concept of a post-industrial paradigm of leadership will surely provide new direction for the study and practice of leadership in the future.
Burns, M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.