Leadership Education in Colleges: Toward a 21ST Century Paradigm

By Rost, Joseph C.; Barker, Richard A. | Journal of Leadership Studies, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Leadership Education in Colleges: Toward a 21ST Century Paradigm


Rost, Joseph C., Barker, Richard A., Journal of Leadership Studies


Executive Summary

The industrial view of leadership is inadequate for educational purposes because it does not address the nature of the complex social relationships among people who practice leadership, nor does it accurately accommodate their purposes, motives, and intentions. A distinction among the practices of training, development, and education provides a means to explore an understanding of these complex social relationships relative to the preparation of leaders for the future. The content of leadership education in the future will cover three broad categories: the evolution of social change and development, the processes that influence social development, and the dynamics of human nature in change processes. Leadership education is aimed at producing citizens for a democratic society.

Leadership is thought by most educators to be the result of the characteristics, abilities, or actions of an individual. Politicians are advocating self-reliance as the answer to problems of social and economic welfare. The media are full of themes that glorify self-directed rule breakers--the rogue cop, the unscrupulous but successful entrepreneur, and the bold outlaw--all of which celebrate the independence of will and of action that characterize "the one who stands alone." There are virtually no themes of teamwork in politics, in the media, or in education, and even when teams are portrayed, their success or failure is commonly attributed to one individual's actions.

Since the leadership role is presumed to originate in the leader's characteristics or abilities, leadership education, then, has been simply a matter of developing an individual's "leadership potential." The problem with this approach is, as Rost (1991) and Burns (1978) have suggested, the concentration upon the characteristics and role of the leader rather than upon the complex process of leadership itself.

Delivering leadership education has focused upon human development, and is commonly carried out in one of three ways: (1) by teaching liberal arts, (2) through leadership programs that use multidisciplinary approaches, and (3) through student affairs and non-academic (noncredit) programs that focus upon issues of governance. In addition to these approaches, leadership is addressed in single courses offered as electives, is stated as the central theme of seminars and retreats, and is used as a descriptive adjective to imply superior status--such as leadership dorms, leadership clubs, leadership councils, etc.

These 20th century approaches to the delivery of leadership education are not structured around clearly articulated constructs of leadership; they are management oriented, and focus on the superior/subordinate relationship as their central themes; they are individualistic and hierarchical, training only leaders as an elite class; and, they are didactic in their concept of leadership as a one leader/one follower (or small group of followers) relationship. These programs use leadership as a marketing device rather than apply a solid construct of leadership to the practice of leadership. They frequently offer experiential training, but the quality of the experience is suspect because the participants do management work, primarily in preparation for obtaining a job.

The 20th century approach to leadership education is industrial in concept because it has incorporated the values and assumptions that predominate in the industrial paradigm. Specifically, leadership education has presumed top-down, hierarchical structure; it is goal oriented, where the goal is defined by some level of organizational performance; it focuses on bureaucratic efficiencies; it is centered on self-interest; it is founded in materialism; it is male (or male characteristic) dominated; it uses utilitarian ethics; and, it uses quantitative methods to solve rational/technocratic problems. The industrial view of leadership can be defined as "great men and women with certain preferred traits who influence followers to do what the leaders wish in order to achieve excellence defined by organizational goals" (Rost, 1991, p. …

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Leadership Education in Colleges: Toward a 21ST Century Paradigm
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