Books

Book Review: Leadership: Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northouse

Leadership: Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northouse can be considered the Bible of Leadership theories. The author is Professor Emeritus of Communication in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University. This work now has over 25 years of history and has now landed in its 8th edition. I had first read the 5th edition some years ago, but now re-read the book, in its 8th edition, as I was writing the article on Leadership Models published recently on this blog.

This book is very much a compendium of Leadership theories. It very much feels designed for the University student as all the chapters follow the same structure very much, focused on the main explanation of the model(s), a chapter about its application, a list of strengths and criticisms, a summary, a few case studies and a sample of diagnostic tools.

As you read through the book, this structure becomes familiar. It also allows a fast read of the book itself, becoming an excellent handbook that walks you through the main leadership theories, ordered in a substantial chronological order, and a few transversal topics, such as Ethics, Culture, Gender, and Teams. These last topics are not really around specific models, but rather explain how the different theories apply and react to the concepts.

I found this book a well-documented guide to the way Leadership theory has been developed and researched. Despite the academic focus, the author does not avoid mentioning also practitioners’ studies and publications. Plus, the case studies and the application chapters in each section give a sense of pragmatism to the entire work. In this last edition (as opposed to the previous one I read), the issue of Gender applied to leadership is more evident, as many theories and studies had a definitely “masculine” view over the topic. Plus, specific for this 8th edition, there is a chapter on Followership. In the chapter, Northouse develops an opinion on the more recent theories focused on followers’ characteristics, rather than leaders, in the Leadership process.

The only remark that I can make, probably, is that the book itself doesn’t give clear guidance on each model’s relative weight. By providing the same value to all (in terms of chapters), the reader might be tempted to give all of them equal attention, whereas we know that some models have received more practical applications than others.

The book confirms what I have already written: defining leadership is a genuinely complicated endeavor. Northouse provides his definition of leadership in the first chapter.

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.

Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice

This view of leadership as a process (that I can very well relate to) is often tested in the various chapters when Northouse challenges some of the different models that have appeared over time. But he also accepts many of the other dimensions, challenging them mostly on the absence or inconsistencies of validation, rather than from an ideological point of view. His communication expertise is recognizable in how he writes about the topic and how the entire book is constructed (including excellent graphs and tables).

This review does not provide a lot of content from the book. The reason is simple: I have already spoken of the different Leadership Models elsewhere. A second version of the article will consider more some of Northouse’s book’s content. Plus, as a Handbook, it is difficult to identify areas worth extrapolating from the context, without losing sight of the whole book.

Leadership: Theory and Practice is a book that every practitioner should have on their bookshelf, as it truly offers an enormous richness in content, not just theoretical but also practical, offering a thorough understanding of how the world of leadership has evolved. Due to the immense scale of the topic, there will always be something missing. I primarily refer to those theories of leadership that were born at the sides of the academic world. But it is a price to pay, to have a substantially holistic view of the history around this topic.

If you have read the book, I would be grateful to get your feedback in the comment section below.

Leadership: Theory and Practice
Genre: Leadership | Rating: 4.5/5
By Peter G. Northouse
Paperback | 528 pp. | Sage | 16/03/2018 | 8th Edition
ISBN: 9781506362311
Buy on Amazon

Leadership: Theory and Practice Reviews on Goodreads

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Sergio Caredda

Digital Knowmad | Multipotentialite | HR Leader | Transformation Agent | Future of Work thinker | On a mission to re-embed Human into HR.

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