Bernard Bass is considered to be one of the foremost "giants" in the field of leadership. Not only was he seminal in the development of the theory of transformational leadership, but he is also founding editor of the Leadership Quarterly and is widely cited in a multitude of journals, books, presentations, and courses. Any student, professor, or practitioner interested in the field of leadership should acquire this text as it continues to be one of the most comprehensive books on leadership today. His introduction extends far beyond the average textbook by exploring the historical roots and universality of the leadership concept - everything from Plato to Primates. He then provides what is, perhaps, one of the most detailed examinations of the leadership definition that I have ever seen. While most authors simple lament that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are researchers, Bernard Bass actually considers and explains several of these concepts for the reader. These includes everything from leadership as a differentiated role, an exercise of influence, a personality, and even a symbol.
For the remainder of the book, Bass provides nearly 1,000 pages rich in content coverage and citation counts. For anyone desiring to augment their research paper with critical or important citations, Bass provides a rich array of research accumulated into one convenient text. Oftentimes I find that my general readings are greatly enhanced by additional research or insights provided by Bass. For instance, one of our readings on Fiedler's contingency theory provided a generally positive review of the theory's validity. However, upon consulting Bass, I found a more skeptical review regarding the theory published one year following our reading for class. Bass also offers two separate chapters for the widely known behavioral factors of the 50's and 60's: initiating structure and consideration from Ohio and task versus relations orientated behaviors from Michigan. Often considered together because of their similarity, Bass actually devotes two entire chapters to their development, instrumentation, and theoretical support. It was very helpful to learn how these concepts are actually distinct in subtle ways instead of considering them as completely identical. Another nice feature was the inclusion of several chapters which are rarely found in other textbooks. These included the leadership and handling the resolution of conflict, the role of values in leadership, and stress effects on leaders functioning.
The book is not perfect, however, for several of the following reasons:
1) I often find that the book, on account of the large integration of information, is sometimes poorly organized. Instead of grouping all information pertinent to one theory within that specific chapter, the information can easily be scattered anywhere throughout the book. For instance, there are nearly 400 pages in the beginning devoted solely to the trait based perspective of leadership. However, a lot of this trait research is not solely from a "great man" perspective but is couched within another theory (e.g., transformational, situational, behavioral). Instead of grouping this research with its respective theory it is testing, he has just amassed all research that seemingly relates to individual differences all into one section.
2) While comprehensive, it seems that many other important ideas or concepts of leadership are briefly touched upon or completely ignored all together. One example is the skills approach to leadership which conceives of leadership as being the capability to perform based upon refined and advanced expertise. This conceives of leadership as something that can be learned, is malleable, and develops over ones lifetime. Another theory which is almost entirely missed is implicit leadership theory. This perspective holds that individuals carry with them a mental prototype of what a leader looks like (e.g., charismatic, calm, sociable, confident, powerful) and these guide how we rate and choose our leaders. Another emerging approach is the role of leadership in affective and emotional experiences, something which is grossly underrepresented in this book.
3) Finally, and perhaps my greatest disappointment, is that this book does not seem to have changed much from the third edition. Despite nearly 20 years passing, many of the citations are from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. While many contemporary citations are included, I almost feel as if the book is beginning to feel a little dated and archaic. Arguably this may just reflect the nature of the field, but then it would appear that his chapters are not doing an adequate job of keeping up with current trends. While I am not fully certain about this, I don't believe there are any citations from 2005 or beyond and only a relatively few coming from 2004 and 2003. While the older research is not inherently bad, I sometimes feels like I might be missing current developments if I rely solely upon this text.
So, all in all, this continues to be an outstanding text and should adorn your shelf. However, you may find better organization, parsimony, and newer theories within other popular texts, such as Northouse or Yukl. These books are also slightly more accessible and provide more recent perspectives on the major leadership approaches (however, keep in mind that these texts also cite Bass, 1990).