WMU News

Northouse text on leadership used by military, others

June 5, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Dr. Peter Northouse says leadership should be simple.

A Western Michigan University professor of communication and researcher of leadership principles, Northouse recognized that when it came to teaching leadership, a prevalence of heavy scholarly materials existed but nothing that summarized leadership theories in a clear and straightforward way that students could grasp.

So he wrote "Leadership: Theory and Practice" in 1997 to meet that need and watched as his book has gained national and international recognition, had a second edition printed, and been translated into several languages including Chinese, Korean, French and Arabic. A best-selling book for Sage Publications, "Leadership: Theory and Practice" is in use at more than 250 colleges and universities, including West Point Military Academy, and by the Canadian Armed Services. Northouse is currently penning a third edition of the text.

Apparently, Northouse's philosophy of clarifying complex theories has resonated with those teaching leadership around the globe. In his text, Northouse seeks to bridge the gap between simplistic popular approaches to leadership and more abstract theoretical approaches.

"Underneath it all, I would argue that the leadership field has suffered from the notion that everything is leadership and it's a highly valued process exemplified by important people in society and the like," says Northouse, a resident of Ann Arbor, Mich. "However, not much time has been given to the substantive theories and all the literature that is out there.

"My purpose is to explore how an understanding of leadership theory can inform and direct the way leadership is practiced."

Marquita Flemming, acquiring editor for Sage Publications, says Northouse's book appeals to many who teach leadership because of its ability to clarify complicated topics.

"Many colleges and universities are not sure how to handle teaching leadership, whether to couple it together with other courses, or have it as a stand-alone course," she says. "Many people like the book because it presents the theories in an even-handed quality which ties real world examples to the job environment. The self-assessment sections at the end of the chapters provide a good avenue for the students to stay in touch with what is happening in the classroom."

Dr. Robert Colvin, coordinator of leadership studies and professor of government and public affairs at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., agrees.

"The book provides a tour along the winding trail of leadership research and practice," says Colvin. "The critiques of each approach to leadership theory and practice offer insights on strengths and weaknesses. The case study and questionnaire-type instrument help the reader bring the material to life."

In developing the book, Northouse, who has been at WMU since 1974, recognized the importance of including different opinions and views from experts in the leadership field. He enlisted the help of a number of colleagues who contributed chapters to the book on topics including women and leadership and the psychodynamic and team approaches to leadership.

"I looked for people that I knew were experts in their area and could write in the style that I thought would be useful," says Northouse.

In the next edition of "Leadership: Theory and Practice," Northouse is planning to include chapters on leadership skills and community leadership, areas he believes haven't been thoroughly explored elsewhere.

Northouse is pleased that his efforts have resulted in a text used by so many. He says he remembers the day that the Canadian Armed Services called him to interview him about the book and how it could be used in their operations training.

"They did a survey of all the leadership books looking for one that they thought would be the best to give their generals," he says. "They are interested in how leadership theory can help improve the way the work is done in the armed forces. I am thrilled that my book is what they were looking for."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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