Education Empirical Perspectives in Education Leadership
James W. Guthrie, Patrick J. Schuermann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0022


Leaders ensure for an organization that it does the right things, and they pay equal attention to ensuring that, within an organization, things are done right. “Leadership” refers to the traits and behaviors of those who direct collectives of human beings, be they formal organizations such as religions, nations, tribes, or clans, or informal groups such as families. A leader is one who pursues personal or group purposes by organizing and motivating the actions of others. Leaders have as potential tools dynamic interactions and conditions such as a vision of an organization’s future, the accumulation and allocation of resources and rewards, the recruitment and training of followers, and the manipulation of incentives. The “inherent quality” of a formal or informal organization will always be further improved by extraordinary leadership—and will not, in the long run, survive unusually poor leadership. In this article is a summary set of references regarding generalized leadership. Subsequent sections provide citations to specific topics within educational leadership. However, there is a caveat here. There are literally thousands of popular books and articles focused on leadership and leadership-related matters such as management, motivation, personal appearance, and how to use one’s time. This bibliography omits references to most of this body of writing because the tendency is for these popular publications to be highly normative and lacking an empirical grounding. The following listings emphasize research and objective reports. There is general expert consensus regarding the scientific or technical part of leadership. Leaders routinely perform a consistent set of functions, no matter which organization they lead: They contribute to shaping an organization’s purposes, create a vision or a roadmap of means for achieving these purposes, select and motivate followers to follow this roadmap, obtain and allocate resources consistent with the plan for achieving organizational purposes, continually evaluate the success of the organization and its members’ performance in pursuing an agreed-upon path, guide midcourse corrections when information suggests such are in order, and represent the organization to its external audiences.

General Overviews

Early leadership studies concentrated on individual traits of successful leaders. These usually produced a laundry list regarding identifiable characteristics, such as physical size, strength, energy, intelligence, education, early training, childhood and family background, ethnicity, and psychological disposition. A historical summary of “trait theory” is important for an understanding of the operating frameworks in the field today (Bass 1990). Bass 2008 and Bennis 2009 provide foundational overviews, including among them the historical evolution, methodologies, and strategies within the field. Core challenges to the ideology and practice of leadership further the reader’s understanding of the field (Kotter 1999). Personal and organizational leadership development that furthers continual community learning can be found in Senge 2006. These texts provide the reader with a robust overview of the historical framework, practice, and challenges in the broad field of educational leadership.

  • Bass, Bernard M. 1990. Traits of leadership: A follow-up. In Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, & managerial applications. 3d ed. By Bernard M. Bass, 81–88. New York: Free Press.

    This article provides a summary of the “Trait Theory” of leadership and is important for historical purposes.

  • Bass, Bernard M. 2008. Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research and managerial application. 4th ed. New York: Free Press.

    This is a comprehensive publication on leadership, providing an overview of the field of study and chapters that explain to readers the historical evolution of the field and crucial writings en route to contemporary research and understanding.

  • Bennis, Warren G. 2009. On becoming a leader. 4th ed. New York: Basic Books.

    This book has served for fifteen years as a classic publication regarding leadership issues, describing qualities that define leadership, people who exemplify it, and strategies that can be pursued to become an effective leader. This recent edition features an introduction on the challenges and opportunities facing 21st-century leaders.

  • Kotter, John P. 1999. John P. Kotter on what leaders really do. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

    This book describes core issues that reside at the heart of leadership and enables a reader to rethink one’s own relationship to the work of leaders.

  • Senge, Peter M. 2006. The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Rev. ed. New York: Doubleday.

    This book advocates construction, by a leader, of an organization where people expand their capacity to create results they desire, where new patterns of thinking are nurtured, where aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.

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