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Leadership studies is a multidisciplinary academic field of study that focuses on leadership in organizational contexts and in human life. Leadership studies has origins in the social sciences (e.g., sociology, anthropology, psychology), in humanities (e.g., history and philosophy), as well as in professional and applied fields of study (e.g., management and education). The field of leadership studies is closely linked to the field of organizational studies.

As an academic area of inquiry, the study of leadership has been of interest to scholars from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Today, there are numerous academic programs (spanning several academic colleges and departments) related to the study of leadership. Leadership degree programs generally relate to: aspects of Leadership, Leadership Studies, and Organizational Leadership (although there are a number of leadership-oriented concentrations in other academic areas).


Leadership in Higher Education

Leadership has become one of the fastest growing academic fields in higher education [1][2][3][4] At all levels, undergraduate through doctoral, an increasing number of colleges and universities have begun developing not only individual courses, but entire degree programs specifically devoted to the study of leadership.[5]

Even among some of the more established and traditional academic disciplines such as engineering, education, and medicine, specialization and concentration areas have been developed around the study of leadership. Most of these academic programs have been designed to be multidisciplinary in nature—drawing upon theories and applications from related fields such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, and management. Such an approach, Rost (1991) has argued “allows scholars and practitioners to think radically new thoughts about leadership that are not possible from a unidisciplinary approach” (p. 2).[3]

History of Leadership as a Field of Study

The study of leadership can be dated back to Plato, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli; however, leadership has only become the focus of contemporary academic studies in the last 60 years, and particularly more so in the last two decades. Contemporary leadership scholars and researchers have often been questioned about the nature of their work, and its place within the academy, but much of the confusion surrounding leadership as a field of study may be attributed to a lack of understanding regarding inter- and multi- disciplinary academic fields of study in general.

The discipline (which encompasses a host of sub-fields) is filled with definitions, theories, styles, functions, competencies, and historical examples of successful and diverse leaders. Collectively, the research findings on leadership provide a far more sophisticated and complex view of the phenomenon than most of the simplistic views presented in the popular press.[6][7]

Some of the earliest studies on leadership include:

  • The Ohio State Leadership Studies which began in the 1940s and focused on how leaders could satisfy common group needs. The findings indicated that the two most important dimensions in leadership included: "initiating structure," and "consideration." These characteristics could be either high or low and were independent of one another. The research was based on questionnaires to leaders and subordinates. These questionnaires are known as the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LDBQ) and the Supervisor Behavior Description Questionnaire (SDBQ). [8] By 1962, the LDBQ was on version XII.
  • The Michigan Leadership Studies[9] which began in the 1950s[10] and indicated that leaders could be classified as either "employee centered," or "job centered." These studies identified three critical characteristics of effective leaders: task oriented behavior, relationship-oriented behavior, and participative leadership.
  • McGregors Theory X & Theory Y developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s at MIT Sloan School of Management. These theories described employee motivation in the workforce. Both theories begin with the premise that the role of management is to assemble the factors of production, including people, for the economic benefit of the firm. Beyond this point, the two theories of management diverge.
  • Blake & McCanse Leadership Grid[11] developed the orientation of "task orientation" and "people orientation" in leader behavior. They developed the leadership grid which focused on concern for results (on the one axis) and concern for people (on the other axis).

In addition to these studies, from an academic perspective leadership has been studied from several theoretical lenses:

  • Functional Leadership theory: Suggests that a leader’s primary responsibility is to see that whatever is necessary in relation to group needs is taken care of.
  • Self Leadership theory:[13] Although behaviorally oriented, the essence of self leadership theory is that behaviors are directed toward the attainment of super-ordinate goals.

The first doctoral program in Leadership Studies[14] was established at the University of San Diego in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences in 1979.[15] The first undergraduate school of Leadership Studies was established at the University of Richmond (The Jepson School) in 1992.[16] The growth of transpersonal psychology means that this field has relevance to Transpersonal business studies.

Notable Leadership Scholars



Academic Journals

  • The International Journal of Leadership Studies: Representing the multidisciplinary field of leadership, the IJLS publishes theoretically grounded research that enhances knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon of leadership at all levels within a variety of industries and organizations and seeks contributions that present leadership from different perspectives unique to different cultures, settings, and religions around the world.
  • The Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies: The Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies is the Official Journal of the Midwest Academy of Management. The Journal publishes articles to advance the theory, research and practice of all aspects of leadership and organizations. Research results are preferred, but theoretical contributions and new applications are also appropriate. Although leadership topics are emphasized, any area of interest in organizational behavior, human resource management, strategy, international management, or entrepreneurship is also encouraged.
  • Journal of Leadership Studies: The mission of the Journal of Leadership Studies is to publish leadership research and theoretical contributions that bridge the gap between scholarship and practice and that exemplify critical inquiry into contemporary organizational issues and paradigms. The journal promotes interdisciplinary and interorganizational theory, fostering dialogue that transcends industry specific contexts and that explores leadership's role in improving organizational practices and human life. Published material in the journal will include research-based and theoretical papers that explicitly address leadership on various social, cultural, and organizational contexts.
  • Leadership: Leadership is an international, peer-reviewed journal designed to provide an ongoing forum for academic researchers to exchange information, insights and knowledge based on both theoretical development and empirical research on leadership. It will publish original, high quality articles that contribute to the advancement of the study of leadership. The journal will be global in orientation and focus.
  • Leadership and Organization Development Journal: The Leadership & Organization Development Journal explores behavioral and managerial issues relating to all aspects of leadership, and of individual and organization development, from a global perspective.

Associations and Organizations

Research Centers

Educational Materials

Research Methods in the Study of Leadership

Leadership has been studied using quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (a combination of quantitative and qualitative) research methodologies. From a quantitative psychology orientation, statistical and mathematical modeling has been used in the development of leadership scales and in testing established leader evaluation tools. Survey methodology has also been widely used in leadership research. As such, traditional methods of analysis in survey research have also extended to the analysis of survey research within the study of leadership (e.g., cross-tabulations, ANOVAs, regression analysis, log-linear analysis, factor analysis, etc.). From a qualitative orientation, leadership research has included a host of research techniques: phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory, interviews, case studies, historiography, etc.

Online Searchable Directory of Leadership Education Programs

The International Leadership Association has received a grant from the C. Charles Jackson Foundation to create an online searchable directory of leadership education programs. The resource is expected to be launched before the end of 2010.

Academic Programs

The following is a list of doctoral, masters, and undergraduate degree programs related to the study of leadership. With some notable exceptions (particularly in regard to the list of doctoral programs), this list does not include programs related to specific sub-areas of leadership (e.g., educational leadership, health care leadership, environmental leadership). The programs listed primarily focus on leadership, leadership studies, and organizational leadership.[46]

Given that the study of leadership is interdisciplinary, leadership-related degree programs are often situated within various colleges, schools, and departments across different university campuses (e.g., Schools of Education at some universities, Business Schools at other universities, and Graduate and Professional Schools at still other universities). As such, at the doctoral level leadership related degree programs primarily include: Ph.D., Ed.D., and executive doctoral degrees (depending on the situation of the program within the university). At the masters level leadership related degree programs primarily include: Master of Science, Master of Arts, and executive Masters degrees. At the undergraduate level leadership related degree programs primarily include: Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees as well as leadership certificate and minor programs.

Doctoral Programs Related to the Study of Leadership

Masters Programs Related to the Study of Leadership

Undergraduate Programs Related to the Study of Leadership


  1. ^ Brungardt, C. L. (1996). The making of leaders: A review of the research in leadership development and education. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 3(3), 81-95.
  2. ^ Brungardt, C. L., Gould, L. V., Moore, R., & Potts, J. (1997). The emergence of leadership studies: Linking the traditional outcomes of liberal education with leadership development. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 4(3), 53-67.
  3. ^ a b c Rost, J.C. (1991). Leadership for the twenty-first century. New York: Praeger Press.
  4. ^ Rost, J. C. & Baker, R. A. (2000). Leadership education in colleges: Toward a 21st century paradigm. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(1), 3-12.
  5. ^ Guide to College Majors in Leadership (n.d.). What is Leadership and Organizational Management?
  6. ^ Doh, J. P (2003). Can leadership be taught? Perspectives from management educators. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2(1), 54-67.
  7. ^ Daloz Parks, S. (2005). Leadership can be taught: A bold approach for a complex world. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.
  8. ^ The Ohio State University (n.d.). Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ)
  9. ^ Boje, D. (2000). The Isles Leadership: The Voyage of the Behaviorists. The Leadership Box (Northern Michigan State University)
  10. ^ Katz, D., Maccoby, N., and Morse, N. 1950. Productivity, Supervision, and Morale in an Office Situation. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.
  11. ^ Mind Tools (n.d.) Blake Mouton Managerial Grid: Balancing Task- and People-Oriented Leadership
  12. ^ Lord, R. (1994). Leadership and Information Processing: Linking Perceptions and Performance (People and Organizations)
  13. ^ Neck, C. P., & Houghton, J. D. (2006). Two decades of self-leadership theory and research: Past developments, present trends, and future possibilities. Journal of Managerial Psychology
  14. ^ University of San Diego (n.d.). Ph.D. in Leadership Studies. School of Leadership and Education Sciences website
  15. ^ University of San Diego (n. d.). History and Facts. School of Leadership and Education Sciences.
  16. ^ University of Richmond (n. d.). Jepson School of Leadership Studies
  17. ^ Avolio, B. (n.d.). University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty webpage
  18. ^ Avolio, B. (n.d.). University of Washington-faculty webpage
  19. ^ University of Nebraska-Lincoln (n. d.). Gallup Leadership Institute
  20. ^ University of Washington (n.d.). Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking
  21. ^ Bernard Bass (books listed on
  22. ^ Academy of Senior Professional organizational website
  23. ^ Leadership Quarterly academic journal. Elsevier Publishing
  24. ^ The Leadership Institute in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California
  25. ^ Lipman-Blumen, J. (n. d.). Claremont Graduate University faculty webpage
  26. ^ Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership website at Claremont Graduate University
  27. ^ Achieving Styles Institute organizational website
  28. ^ James McGregor Burns Academy of Leadership website at the University of Maryland
  29. ^ Burns, J. M. (2006). Roosevelt, the Soldier of Freedom: 1940-1945. History Book Club
  30. ^ Eagly, A. (n. d.). Northwestern University faculty webpage
  31. ^ Hersey, P. H., & Blanchard, K. H. (2007). Management of Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall
  32. ^ Robert J. House (books listed on
  33. ^ Global Leadership And Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Program website
  34. ^ Jim Kouzes full biography
  35. ^ a b Posner, B. (n. d.) Santa Clara School of Business faculty webpage
  36. ^ Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (1996). The Leadership Challenge. Jossey Bass
  37. ^ Mainly through his essay The Scientific Study of Political Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 1977).[1]. Significant reviews include: Landmark among Decision-Making and Policy Analyses and Template for Integrating Alternative Frames of Reference: Glenn D. Paige, "The Korean Decision", James A. Robinson, Policy Sciences, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 301-314. JSTOR 4532466; Political Leadership as a Causative Phenomenon: Some Recent Analyses, Chong-Do Hah and Frederick C. Bartol, World Politics, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Oct., 1983), pp. 100-120. JSTOR 2010177; The Scientific Study of Political Leadership by Glenn D. Paige, John C. Courtney, Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Jun., 1980), pp. 393-395. JSTOR 3229733; The Scientific Study of Political Leadership. by Glenn D. Paige, Francis E. Rourke, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. 262-263. JSTOR 2129617; The Scientific Study of Political Leadership by Glenn D. Paige, James S. Bowman, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Apr., 1979), pp. 307-309. JSTOR 257793
  38. ^ Reed, G. (n. d.). University of San Diego. School of Leadership and Education Sciences faculty webpage
  39. ^ Riggio, R. (n. d.). Claremont McKenna College faculty webpage
  40. ^ Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College
  41. ^ Sorenson, G. (n. d.). University of Maryland faculty webpage
  42. ^ James McGregor Burns Academy of Leadership website at the University of Maryland
  43. ^ Ralph Stogdill (books listed on
  44. ^ Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and Motivation. John Wiley & Sons Press
  45. ^ Vroom, V. H., & Yetton, P. W. (1976). Leadership and Decision Making. Pittsburgh University Press
  46. ^ McDougle, Lindsey (2008). Leadership in Colleges and Universities. Leadership as a Field of Study Blog

See also



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