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- Published on Amazon.com
This innovative book breaks new ground in leadership studies. Academic research has demonstrated repeatedly how difficult it is to isolate the essence of leadership and demonstrate how and why it matters to organizational performance. Conclusions about leadership that seem operative in one context have no relevance in others.
This problem raises the issue as to whether there really is one thing called "leadership" as opposed to a series of simple but clever adaptive behaviors that work under some circumstances but not others. Put differently, does the concept of "leadership" have any real intellectual ballast? Or are there multiple kinds of "leadership?"
Dr. Newell's text elegantly implies there may well be multiple phenomena we subsume under the rubric of "leadership" for want of an ability to categorize and discriminate among them. His book, for example, makes a strong case for the centrality of the notion of "statesmanship" to leadership in the public sector.
Statesmanship, as Newell understands it, involves 6 continually interacting factors: context, personal character, and 3 skills(politics, persuasion, and purpose) that the statesman uses to shape national character. His focus on the neglected concept of statesmanship is most welcome. For a concept so ancient (Plato, after all, wrote a dialog called The Statesman) there has been surprisingly little scholarly attention paid to it in the literature of either the history of ideas or leadership studies.
There are many interesting questions the book poses but I will raise one here in particular. If we accept Newell's idea that statesmanship, as he defines it, is central to leadership in the public sector, does it have anything to tell us about leadership in the private sector? On this point the author (whose background is in public sector leadership) remains laudably agnostic.
Certainly we see elements in his definition of statesmanship (context, personal character, purpose, persuasion, and politics) that have attracted the attention of scholars who have studied leadership in the private sector. But do these 5 elements really mean the same things in both contexts? Certainly Newell's sixth element shaping "national character" does not seem to have a direct analog in the private sector.
The ideals and motivations that drive leaders in the public and private sectors appear to differ toto caelo. Public sector leaders traditionally have been motivated by the desire to maximize the common good and by the ideal of public service as a contribution to a stronger Republic. With some exceptions, private sector leaders appear motivated chiefly by the desire to maximize returns to shareholders and personal gain. There is nothing wrong with either; they are just different. That leads one to suspect that what we call by the common name of "leadership" in both contexts are actually 2 quite distantly related phenomena if they are even related at all.
My final observation concerns the book's innovative methodology and structure. The author deploys a series of well chosen historical case studies to examine the concept of statesmanship in action, specifically, events from the careers of George Washington, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, George C. Marshall, and Gerald Ford. Moreover, the book has a novel structure that makes excellent use of these case studies. The concept of statesmanship is the "red thread" that lends the entire effort strong internal cohesion.
Each chapter sets the historical context of the event, provides an original text that allows the reader to study the leaders' actions from their own words, supplements the text with an analysis that focuses on the character and competence the leaders displayed at the time, and an assessment of the historical impact of the decisions they made. Creative professors will surely find multiple ways to use this book in their courses. But equally important, this structure makes for a rattling good read for specialists and non-specialists alike. Newell's style is fresh, jargon-free, and vivid.
In sum, the book is highly recommended for its refreshingly innovative approach to the study of leadership and its ability to shed new light on well known chapters of American history.