A River Runs through It: A Metaphor for Teaching Leadership Theory

By Burns, John S. | Journal of Leadership Studies, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

A River Runs through It: A Metaphor for Teaching Leadership Theory


Burns, John S., Journal of Leadership Studies


Executive Summary

Leadership educators are some of the best teachers around when it comes to creating exciting, effective experiential learning opportunities, which teach students leadership skills. Where the curriculum and instruction falls short is when we try to teach leadership theory. Some courses and programs even omit theory as part of the curriculum. This article explores a new instructional metaphor for teaching leadership theory. The metaphor has been an effective tool for helping students understand the historical development of leadership theory as a foundation for the leadership skills they are learning.

To despise theory is to have the excessively vain pretension to do without knowing what one does, and to speak without knowing what one says.

Fontenelle

Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God, he directs it to whatever ends he Chooses.

Proverbs 21:1 The Message

Theory is not a Four-letter Word!

Students who take leadership courses are excited about the various practical skills they are likely to learn, and the experiences both in and out of class they will have to reinforce their learning. Indeed the leadership educators I know are some of the best teachers I've ever observed, creating experientially based courses which generate incredible energy and motivation for learning. Most students however, do not want to explore the theoretical underpinnings of leadership. Who can blame them? Our culture is geared to the pragmatic. Outcomes are what matter most. Students have little interest in learning about our scholarly debates over definitions of leadership and they similarly discount the importance of theory.

It is not just college students who act as if theory is a four-letter word, something to be avoided in pleasant company. Professional development programs and workshops often deliver training in immediately useful and practical leadership skills without placing those skills in a theoretical framework. Theory is not perceived as important or useful.

Leadership educators may be partially responsible for this perception. Many leadership educators have risen to our positions because we have been excellent practitioners who can enthusiastically and effectively communicate about our skills, not because we have demonstrated we have a thorough understanding of leadership theory. Either because we may have little theoretical training ourselves, or because we know students intensely dislike this "dry" part of our curriculum, the leadership courses we design often slight instruction about leadership theory.

The challenge then for the leadership educator is to teach not only leadership skills but to inform those skills with leadership theory. When skills are wed to theories that inform them, students have the opportunity to continue to make theory driven refinements to the application of their skills in our constantly changing environment. Indeed theory is not a four-letter word! Knowledge of theory is crucial for those who desire to conduct leadership in a world that is in a constant state of change. Understanding the theoretical context of leadership may be the most important "skill" we can offer students, even if it is presently the least glamorous element of our curriculum.

A New Instructional Metaphor

Throughout history various philosophical, political, and social influences have forged schools of thought or theories about how we think about the interaction between leaders and followers. These schools of thought have each influenced our contemporary definitions of management and leadership. Organizing this literature and helping students make sense of it is a pesky, but rewarding task.

Over the more than 15 years I have been teaching leadership studies I have experimented with several different instructional methods to organize and teach students about the historic influences on the evolution of leadership theory. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A River Runs through It: A Metaphor for Teaching Leadership Theory
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.