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Book Review: Pathways to Outstanding Leadership
Book Review: Leadership 101

Pathways to Outstanding Leadership


Pathways to Outstanding Leadership: A Comparative Analysis of Charismatic, Ideological, and Pragmatic Leaders by Michael D. Mumford, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2006, 336 pp. ISBN 0-8058-5111-9, $52.50

Pathways to Outstanding Leadership is based on Mumford’s theory of outstanding leadership which classifies leaders as charismatic, ideological, or pragmatic. The book provides a comprehensive comparison of these three types of leaders.

Charismatic leadership:
Characterized by leaders ability to articulate a positive vision of the future, are highly self-confidant, and attracts followers who are loyal to the leader rather than the leader’s views or organization.

Ideological leadership: Characterized by leaders who express a vision that is framed by values and standards that must be maintained. Ideological leaders attract followers with values similar to the leader.

Pragmatic leadership:
Characterized by leaders who emphasize knowledge, management expertise, and problem solving. Followers are attracted by consensus building rather than loyalty or ideological positions.

Pathways to Outstanding Leadership is organized in three parts:

Part I: Examining Distinct Pathways to Outstanding Leadership. Chapters 1-3 provide information on the general theoretical model, Mumford’s theory of outstanding leadership and discussion of the characterizing behaviors covered in Part II.

Part II: Behaviorally Distinct Pathways to Outstanding Leadership. The chapters in this part, 4-8 provide depth into the characterizing behaviors that distinguish each of the types.  Five areas are examined: Performance, Creative problem solving, Leader follower interactions, Political tactics, and Communication strategies each of these behaviors are covered in a chapter.

Part III: Early Distinct Pathways to Outstanding Leadership. Chapters 9-11  look at how early life experiences and career development experiences shape leaders and leadership types.Chapter 9 presents event types that are fundamental to shaping leaders and leadership style. These are originating events: turning point events, anchoring events,analogous events,redemption events, and contaminating events.

Each of the parts is compelling in its own way.  Part I provides an excellent introduction to Mumford’s model of outstanding leadership, the three leader types, and as well as characterizing behaviors. Mumford does an outstanding job of building the foundation for his theory. Each point, connects to the next, resulting in a response of, “this makes sense.” Pat II adds depth, and therefore further builds support for the theory as well as further thoughts on the situational strengths and weaknesses of each of the leadership types. Part III moves into different territory by looking at formative life and career development events. The implications of the career development work show that the formation of the characteristic behaviors can be consciously developed.

Research for Pathways to Outstanding Leadership reviewed  the life and career development histories of one hundred twenty leaders from government, military, business, religion, and politics through the lens of the five domains covered in Part II. Mumford transforms these relevant biographies into scholarly analysis to with his conclusions supported by illustrate quantitative analyses.

Considering Professor Mumford’s areas of research focus, we see two of them prominently on display in this book, those skills that leaders must possess to perform well in dynamic organizational settings and applications of life history path as a tool for understanding career development.

This is an important book for the study of leadership. This work has implication for organizations, in terms of selecting leadership based on a type appropriate for a particular situation as well compensating for the weaknesses of particular leadership styles. For this reason it is particular important for those interested in leadership and organizational development.

“Mumford's book contributes significantly to the literature by articulating in fine conceptual manner the distinctions among different forms of outstanding leadership and providing a framework for thinking about and researching these different pathways.”

Stephen Zaccaro

Department of Psychology, George Mason University