With most subjects, if you are going to grow in your knowledge, understanding, and application, you should begin with some background knowledge of its history and basic theory. A study of leadership is no exception, and Peter Northouse’s Leadership: Theory & Practice is a good place to start.
The first chapter sets the stage with a particular definition and approach to leadership. Northouse takes a process approach – “ Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 5) – rather than a trait approach. The implication is that leadership is something that can be observed and learned, as opposed to simply a set of inborn or innate set of traits and characteristics. He differentiates between leadership as a position and emergent leadership, or leadership that emerges and develops throughout the process, and also differentiates between leadership and power, coercion, and management.
The next ten chapters each highlight a specific and notable theory of leadership from the last century, progressing from the earliest (Trait Theory) to the most recent (Authentic Leadership Theory). Between these two are chapters on Skills Theory, Style Theory, Situational Theory, Contingency Theory, Path-Goal Theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory, Transactional and Transformational Leadership Theories, and Servant Leadership Theory. These chapters provide a brief summary and explanation of the history and main ideas, and therefore give a basic background of these predominant and influential theories of leadership. They also provide illustrations and examples to assist in showing what they look like in practice.
The last five chapters address leadership issues and applications. These include chapters on team leadership, personality traits and their relationship to leadership, women and leadership, culture and leadership, and leadership ethics. These chapters describe leadership issues in relation to current organizational and social factors, explore those issues, and discuss their effect on leader behavior and development.
This book is not a single-topic leadership book, or a specific leadership “new idea” book. It is a textbook on leadership theories, with a broad overview and perspective on leadership approaches, and their application to leadership in practice. As such, it is a great resource to have on your bookshelf as a go-to guide to give you a basic knowledge base. I personally have referenced it numerous times, and it has helped with my internal framework understanding of leadership as I read other leadership books.
Northouse, Pete3 (2012). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Edition). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.