The New Face of Leadership: Implications for Higher Education

Curtis L. Brungardt
Leadership Studies
Fort Hays State University

The desire to understand, define, and explain the essence of leadership has interested researchers and scholars for most of the twentieth century. In their efforts to find an "accurate and precise" definition of leadership, thousands of studies have been published in the last several decades alone. Most of these explanations have focused on a single person and his or her personal qualities and skills. Social scientists have tried to identify what abilities, traits, behaviors, sources of power or aspects of the situation determine how effective a leader will be able to influence others.

Contrary to popular thinking, the term "leadership" is a recent addition to the English language. In fact the word did not come into usage until the late 19th Century. Although the words "lead" and "leader" have a much longer history, they usually referred only to authority figures. The birth and evolution of the idea of "leaderSHIP" focuses on a much more complex concept that reaches beyond the single leader. In fact, contemporary definitions most often reject the idea that leadership revolves around the leader's ability, behaviors, styles or charisma. Today, scholars discuss the basic nature of leadership in terms of the "interaction" among the people involved in the process: both leaders and followers. Thus, leadership is not the work of a single person, rather it can be explained and defined as a "collaborative endeavor" among group members. Therefore, the essence of leadership is not the leader, but the relationship (Rost, 1993).

One result of this transformation in the concept of leadership has been the rethinking of leadership definitions. Joseph Rost of University of San Diego is one of the most popular writers in recognizing the shift from the industrial concept of leadership (leader-centered view) to a paradigm he calls the post-industrial concept of leadership. In his book Leadership for the Twenty-First Century (1991), he articulates a definition of leadership based on this post-industrial perspective. A definition he believes is more consistent with contemporary organizational life. Rost's definition says that leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.

This contemporary definition is composed of four basic components, each of which is essential and must be present if a particular relationship is to be called leadership. (1) The relationship is based on influence. This influence is multidirectional, meaning that influence can go any which way (not necessarily top-down), and the influence attempts must not be coercive. Therefore, the relationship is not based on authority, but rather persuasion. (2) Leaders and followers are the people in this relationship. If leadership is defined as a relationship, then both leaders and followers are doing leadership. He does not say that all players in this relationship are equal, but does say all active players practice influence. Typically there is more than one follower and more than one leader in this arrangement. (3) Leaders and followers intend real changes. Intend means that the leaders and followers promote and purposefully seek changes. Real means that the changes intended by the leaders and followers must be substantial. (4) The changes the leaders and followers intend reflect their mutual purposes. The key is that the desired changes must not only reflect the wishes of the leader but also the desires of the followers (Rost, 1991).

Rost reminds us that leadership is not what leaders do. Rather, leadership is what leaders and followers do together for the collective good. In today's society, leaders operate in a shared-powered environment with followers. No longer does a single leader have all the answers and the power to make substantial changes. Instead, today we live in world where many people participate in leadership, some as leaders and others as followers. Only when we all work together can we bring about successful changes for our mutual purposes.

Many organizational theorists would agree that Rost's definition is more consistent with the type of leadership needed in contemporary society. Slowly scholars and practitioners alike are giving up on the old ways of leadership, the industrial paradigm. This traditional approach to leadership is characterized by a top-down philosophy, where the leader is decisive, efficient, unemotional and in-control. The changes in the way we view leadership can also be found in other disciplines where descriptions of our world are objective, single, mechanical, hierarchical and controllable. The post-industrial leadership paradigm, on the other hand, is characterized by collaboration, power-sharing facilitation and empowerment. This new view of the world is more complex and diverse, mutually shaping and spontaneously changing (Rogers, 1992).


A recent study by Howe and Freeman (1997) shows that an increasing number of institutions of higher learning are offering programs that prepare students for leadership. Nearly 600 colleges and universities now provide their students with leadership training opportunities ranging from short one and two hour workshops to full bachelor and master degree options. Although leadership educators see this growth as encouraging, research from the Center for Creative Leadership (1996) tells us that many of these programs are teaching the "old way" of leadership. While there are a few exceptions, many of the leadership development programs have failed to change their educational approach to reflect the new view of leadership and organizational behavior.

Rost reminds us that leadership development programs that are synonymous with the development of leaders are no longer appropriate. We know that today leaders are not the only people involved in the leadership process. Therefore, our developmental models (including both content and pedagogy) must accommodate the changing post-industrial paradigm of leadership. This means that leader development is no longer sufficient for the 21st century. If leadership is what leaders and followers do together, then it is logical that our educational environments reflect this collaborative perspective.

Rost (1993) provides several recommendations for those who are responsible for the operations of collegiate leadership development programs. (1) Stop concentrating on the leader. Leadership programs that only attempt to produce leader qualities among students are less useful. Programs must reach well beyond emphasizing leader traits, behaviors, and personal characteristics. (2) Prepare students to use influence within noncoersive relationships. Program activities should train students to use persuasive and rational strategies of influence. Students should be encouraged to work in leadership relationships that are based on mutual influence and that seek mutually beneficial outcomes. (3) Help students understand the nature of transformational change. Leadership development programs should illustrate the key role organizational change plays in the post-industrial view of leadership. As change agents, our graduates should learn to challenge the status quo, create new visions, and sustain the movement. (4) Reconstruct students' basic view toward a collaboration orientation. Encourage students to challenge the basic assumptions about life that are based on self-interest and competition. Leadership in the new millennium will be much more collaborative, and therefore, our leadership program should encourage consensus, cooperation, and collaboration rather than competition and conflict.

If our goal is to prepare young people for leadership in the next century, it is imperative that our leadership development programs reflect this new paradigm. Our students will need the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the post-industrial view of the 21st century, not the leadership skills that served the 20th century. Thus, our programs should emphasize leadership development learning activities that truly foster the collaborative spirit.

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Freeman, F.H., Knott, K.B., Schwartz, M.K. (1996). Leadership Education: A Source Book 1996-1997 – Volume 1 Courses and Programs. Greensboro, N.C.: Center for Creative Leadership.

Howe, W., Freeman, F. (1997). Leadership Education in American Colleges and Universities: An Overview. Concepts and Connections: 5-7.

Rogers, J.L. 1992). Leadership Development for the 90's: Incorporating Emergent Paradigm Perspectives. NASPA Journal: 243-251.

Rost, J.C. (1993). Leadership Development in the New Millennium. The Journal of Leadership Studies: 91-110.

Rost, J.C. (1991). Leadership in the 21st Century. New York: Praeger.


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