Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Leadership through the Ages
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 19, Issue 6
Ronald D. Sylvia, Waveland Press, 2010, ISBN: 9781577666219
Leadership through the Ages is less an historical overview of leaders and leadership than an introductory book about leadership. The characters quoted from history are simply illustrative of various ideas about leadership. Sun Tzu and Confucius are frequently cited, and other historical figures include Napoleon, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Hitler and Abraham Lincoln, but there is no detailed analysis or integration of viewpoints from these sources.
The book begins with a consideration of the traits of leadership but does not rise much beyond this. The list of leadership skills to be cultivated seems endless and somewhat arbitrary – a command presence, energy and enthusiasm, purposefulness, personal magnetism, organizing skills, concern for followers and personal warmth.
Still, a helpful insight is about how to engage in leadership development. Apart from the obvious strategies of systematic training and mentoring, the author extols the virtues of building a network and of engaging in volunteering. He rightly recommends developing the habit of thinking strategically – but provides little insight about how to do that.
The quotations and illustrative examples, however, are well done. The various stories, many from the author’s own experience, help to bring the concepts to life. In fact, these quotations and case examples are often more interesting than the text itself.
The reader obtains glimpses of different approaches to leadership, even though most of these are American and many are about either presidents or generals. The constant citation of military examples becomes predictable: where are other discourses such as a feminist critique, a multi-cultural viewpoint or some consideration of sustainability, or the dangers of leadership? Other contemporary voices on leadership are lacking.
The book is indexed with a short, five-page bibliography. Sylvia cites himself only three times – which is reassuring. Throughout, there are references to the expected classic theorists such as Bennis, Burns, Drucker, Herzberg, Goleman, Stogdill and Vroom, but surprisingly few references after the year 2000 and no mention of more recent experts on leadership such as Marcus Buckingham, Gary Yukl, Manfred Kets de Vries or Rob Goffee. Generally, the sources are somewhat dated. Overall, the book does not advance our body of knowledge about leadership very much; it simply summarizes more traditional approaches – admittedly, in a light and attractive way.
The small font size and the A5 size of the publication became annoying. While it is clearly part of a series from Waveland Press and this is the publishing format, the presentation became rather hard on the eyes.
The readership for this book would be undergraduates or those new to the task of leadership. It lacks scholarly depth but is, nonetheless, an accessible and readable little book.
Reviewed by Greg M. Latemore, of UQ Business School, the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, and Latemore & Associates Pty Ltd, Brisbane, Australia.
A longer version of this review was originally published in Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 32 No. 2, 2011.