The purpose of this study was to understand the types of texts currently being used and recommended within the field of leadership education. Data triangulation methods were used to identify academic and popular texts for a content analysis. Themes emerged relating to context, writing style, method, and content.
Thousands of books – more than 400,000 according to Amazon.com as of July 2008 – have been written on leadership from a myriad of positions. One important way people learn about leadership is through reading. The materials they learn from may be texts which they have been exposed to through a leadership
education course or simply a book they came across in a bookstore. Maybe it is a popular magazine featuring a political or business leader, or perhaps it is a trade publication. Leadership is virtually everywhere, and as leadership educators, it is imperative that we understand where people are getting their information and what that information looks like. In narrowing down the variety of materials where people get information only to textbooks, the authors discovered the potential for two diverse categories of leadership education books. On one hand, there exists academic texts, and on the other, popular culture texts. Textbooks tend to have a much smaller audience than do those books that find themselves the darlings of the New York Times Best Seller lists or Oprah’s Book Club.
Which lead these authors to question, “If what we provide our students in class is really what we believe people should know about leadership, what are people getting in those other books?” As leadership educators it is important to understand what kinds of information each of these types of texts present. As educators we need to analyze them for similarities and differences so that we may begin to understand the implications of the content being delivered by each.
There is a need at all levels of society for greater leadership (Gardner, 1990; Rosenthal, Moore, Montoya, & Maruskin, 2009). As issues and problems become increasingly complex the need for leaders will continue to grow. As leadership educators we believe that leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices (Kouzes & Posner, 1987; 1988). Huber (2002) tells us that the purpose of leadership education is as varied as its contributing disciplines. Further, it is the purpose of the leadership educator to engage learners in understanding the role of the leader and the key facets of leadership. According to Edgar and Cox (2010), a diversity of disciplines, concepts, and contexts is one of the strengths within leadership education.
Colleges and universities around the country are attempting to fill the leadership void via curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities. Of particular interest in this case are the opportunities students find for leadership development within the classroom. Several researchers have discussed areas of significant consequence including: (a) students’ comfort level with the concept of leadership,
(b) identification of leadership elements, (c) acceptance of leadership as a process,
greater awareness of the practice of leadership, (e) establishment of leadership purpose, (f) development of a personal leadership approach, (g) enhancement of analytical skills, and (h) sharing new and emerging leadership theories (Lewis, 1995; Watt, 1995; Wren cited in Edgar, Boyd, Rutherford & Briers, 2008).
The need for this research is grounded in several previous studies. Ball and Knobloch (2005) describe how critical it is for practitioners to study their respective fields in order to engage professional practitioners in reflective practice to improve the discipline. Doerfert (2003), Tucker (2004), and Whiting (cited in Edgar, Boyd, Rutherford & Briers, 2008) called on researchers to examine their discipline, focus research, create cohesion, and develop goal oriented visions.
Baker, Shinn, and Briers (2007) show us that there is a need to study and understand the core objects and knowledge domains of a discipline in order for its practitioners to move the discipline forward. Knowing this, as the development of leadership courses become more and more popular across the country, curriculum and course content is an imperative consideration for educators. The root of that curriculum is often the text used. It has become obvious that leadership is important and that good leadership is needed now more than ever. As a result the question becomes, “What are we teaching in our leadership courses?”
Purpose and Objectives
The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the types of texts currently being used and recommended within the field of leadership education. To accomplish this purpose, several objectives were established:
Develop working definitions of academic and popular culture as they are related to leadership texts.
Compile a list of the texts currently being used and recommended within the field of leadership education.
Using qualitative techniques develop an understanding of the content of the texts.
The researchers desired to explore and understand the texts being used to learn about leadership. In order to develop this understanding, a mixed methods investigation was undertaken.
The population of this study was a census of Association of Leadership Educators (ALE) members currently serving in faculty or program administrative or non-formal leadership education roles. The ALE current membership roster was the frame for this study. From the list, only those members listed as regular members (meaning faculty) were contacted. Eighty-four individuals were contacted; however, five contact emails were bounced back as unusable, making the total target population 79 individuals. Participants were asked to respond to a single request: to send the researchers a list of the top five academic texts that they use or would recommend
using in their leadership classrooms and a second list of their top five most used or recommended popular culture leadership texts. Both academic and popular press texts were included in the request because of the rising popularity of popular culture in the teaching of leadership. The researchers used Dillman’s (2000) strategy of five contacts to conduct this request. Thirty-three individuals responded to the request for a total response rate of 41.7%. Fraze, Hardin, Brashears, Smith, and Lockaby (2002) found that there was a significant difference in response rates depending on the delivery of the survey requests.
Further, they told us that the average response rate of email surveys, such as the one in this study, is approximately 27%. So while the response rate may seem moderate, the researchers felt confident that enough data had been collected and could go forward. To address the issue of non-response error, the researchers used method one of Lindner, Murphy, and Briers (2001) comparing early to late responders. No significant difference was found.
Once the final list of texts was identified, the research team began the process of content analysis. “Content analysis is a technique that enables researchers to study human behavior in an indirect way, through an analysis of their communications” (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2009, p. 472). When assessing written documents, in this case written texts, it is imperative for researchers to first decide at what level they plan to sample and what units of analysis will be counted (Berg, 2001). In the case of this study, the researchers decided to sample at the chapter level of each text. After unitizing the samples, the data were coded.
The researchers analyzed the data using the constant comparative method described by Glaser and Strauss (1967) by unitizing and categorizing of the data. Categories of content analysis can be determined inductively, deductively, or by some combination of both (Strauss cited in Berg, 2001). In the case of this study, the researchers used a combination of both. Two members of the research team coded the data collectively to ensure consistency of the coding. Researchers started with deductive categories formed based on common leadership theory then immersed themselves in the texts in order to use inductive reasoning to triangulate the deductively formed categories or add new categories. The classification of the types of texts that were analyzed, served as the categories of data. The categories of data were then sorted into emergent themes and theme titles were developed to distinguish each theme from the others (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993). Continual revision and modification were used until all data were classified into an appropriate theme. Two professionals familiar with leadership development texts served as independent peer debriefers, reviewing the researchers’ themes and suggesting revisions.
Findings of this study will be reported by objective.
Objective One – Develop working definitions of “academic” and “popular culture” as they are related to leadership texts. Academic was defined by Merriam-Webster Online as “of, relating to, or associated with an academy or school especially of higher learning” (2010). This definition was combined with the lists of leadership educators’ recommended academic texts to determine academic books for analysis. Dictionary.com defines popular culture as that which involves a contemporary lifestyle and associated items which are generally well- known and accepted patterns of culture over a wide spread population. For the purpose of leadership texts, this definition was used to determine which books qualified as popular culture. It is interesting that this definition appears on dictionary.com and was unable to be found in other, more traditional dictionaries. This is somewhat of a popular culture phenomenon itself.
Objective Two – Compile a list of the texts currently being used and recommended within the field of leadership education. As described above, the texts gathered were compiled into two lists, academic (see Table 1) and popular press and culture (see Table 2). The tables below show the texts and the frequencies with which they were reported by the leadership educators.
Objective 3 – Using qualitative techniques: explore and describe the content of the texts. When analyzing the content of the texts, several themes emerged including audience, writing style, method, and content. Similarities and differences between academic texts and popular texts are described as they relate to these themes.
The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes & Posner
Leadership: Theory & Practice – Northhouse
Leadership: Research Findings, Practice & Skills – DuBrin
The Bass Handbook of Leadership – Bass
Leadership in Organizations — Yukl
Exploring Leadership – Komives, Lucas, & McMahon
Leadership – Burns
Leadership Theory, Application & Skill Development – Lussier &
Now Discover Your Strengths – Buckingham
On Becoming a Leader – Bennis
Organizational Culture & Leadership—Schein
List of Academic Texts Identified by Leadership Educators (N=132)
List of Popular Culture Texts Identified by Leadership Educators (N=110)
Good to Great – Collins
Leadership Jazz – DePree
Servant Leadership – Greenleaf
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Lencioni
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — Covey
Leading Change – Kotter
The 5th Dsicipline — Senge
Adaptive Leadership – Heifetz
Crucial conversations – Patterson, et. Al
Developing the Leader within You – Maxwell
Emotional Intelligence – Goleman
Ethical Dimensions of Leadership – Kanugo & Mendonca
Leadership: enhancing the Lessons of Experience
Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership
Reframing Organizations – Bolman & Deal
Social Intelligence – Goldman
The Leadership Moment – Useem
Courageous Follower – Chaleff
The Essential Drucker –Drucker
Stewardship – Block
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There –Goldsmith & Reiter
The popular texts appeal to the reader by explaining how to become better leaders on an individual basis, whereas the academic texts were written about organizational leadership and teamwork. In fact, personal leadership was focused on to the extent that often whole chapters, and sometimes the entire book, were devoted solely to individual growth as a leader. An example of this is found in Covey’s (2004) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where chapter content includes Personal Vision, Principles of Personal Leadership, and Principles of Personal Management. This emphasis on personal leadership is echoed in Leadership Jazz by Max DePree (2008), in which the importance of keeping promises and reflection are accentuated. Popular press leadership texts seemed to have the goal of creating a personal do-it-yourself guide to becoming a leader.
It became clear academic texts discuss leadership on a broader level whereas popular culture texts are primarily concerned with the personal development piece of the puzzle. This can be seen as academic texts were more concerned with leadership as it applied to organizations and teams. Evidence of this can be found in Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership (Bass, 1990) where a section of the text is devoted to Leadership, Environment, and Organization. This theme is proved again by Yukl (2005) through his discussion of Leadership in Teams and Self-Managed Groups and Leading Change in Organizations. Clearly, academic texts explained leadership on a wider spectrum when compared to the self- improvement popular press leadership books.
Popular texts seemed more interesting and engaging through use of a more relaxed writing style, where the academic texts used a more formal writing style to make known the research and theoretical foundations of leadership development and education. Popular culture texts were much more conversational in style of writing than were academic texts. This made popular books easier- reads in comparison to the academic books. In other words, the popular culture texts did not require the reader to have an extensive vocabulary or background knowledge in the subject in order to find the texts interesting, engaging, and informative. This was achieved through informal language such as, Confront the Brutal Facts (Collins, 2001), Put First Things First (Covey, 2004), and Lighting the Fire (Lencioni, 2002), all content areas of various popular culture leadership texts which were analyzed. DePree’s (2008) Leadership Jazz provides another example by titling a chapter Ropes or Bathrooms. In it he relates a story about choosing a hotel room with a bathroom or one with a fire escape to making choices in life. This relaxed writing style was common in popular texts.
Academic texts, on the other hand, made use of field-specific language as opposed to the terminology which is more commonly used in everyday language. The technical terminology found in academic texts includes contingency theory, situational leadership theory, transformational leadership, and so on. To contrast the language used in academic texts with the aforementioned popular culture content areas, content areas in academic texts included such titles as Dyadic Role- Making Theories and Followership (Yukl, 2009) and Leader-Member Exchange Theory (Northouse, 2007). Another example of this language is seen in Northouse’s (2007) Leadership: Theory and Practice which speaks of subordinate characteristics, supportive leadership, institutional collectivism, and gender egalitarianism. These all serve as evidence that academic texts were prone to use a technical writing style with terminology and jargon specific to the leadership education field.
Several popular texts relied heavily on story-telling to demonstrate tenants of leadership. DePree (2008) relies heavily on recollections of personal stories and events to drive home his points. Covey (2004) also utilized personal experiences as a means to convey his thoughts about leadership. For example, he wrote, “At the final session of a year-long executive development program in Seattle, the president of an oil company came up to me and said ‘Stephen, when you pointed out the difference between leadership and management in the second month, I looked at my role as the president of this company and realized that I had never been into leadership. I was deep into management, buried by pressing challenges and details of day-to-day logistics. So I decided to withdraw from management. I could get other people to do that. I wanted to really lead my organization’” (p.
Examples of this can also be found throughout Lencioni’s (2002) The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He even goes as far as to dialogue conversations to tell the stories. In fact, this text is presented as A Leadership Fable. Popular culture texts’ use of stories differed from the use of those found in academic texts in that the stories served as the primary means for transferring information to the reader. Academic texts, on the other hand, used the stories to reinforce the theory and data presented in the chapters.
In the case of academic texts, stories served as a support mechanism rather than a primary means of conveying information. In doing so, academic texts tended to state the theories and research in the chapter first and then make use of case studies to provide examples, if they made use of stories at all. Northouse (2007)
used several case studies at the end of each chapter to strengthen the connection between research, theory, and practice. However, Northouse (2007) was more prone to use situational and hypothetical stories such as Can This Virtual Team Work?, Andy’s Recipe, and A Shift for Lieutenant Colonel Adams to fortify his content than using stories about actual leaders. Each of these stories was at the end of a chapter and described in great detail background information to create a situation in which the reader could see the theory, which was previously discussed, in action in a real-world context. Stories were a supplementary item in academic texts rather than being critical to the conveyance of ideas.
Academic texts were much more comprehensive or all-inclusive than were popular books. Inasmuch as nearly every theme which emerged in the popular texts was also found in the academic texts, the opposite was not true.
The main emerging theme in academic texts was leadership theories, specifically transformational, contingency, situational, strategic, and charismatic. Popular texts rarely made reference to leadership theory, but when they did it was strategic or charismatic theory. Interestingly, these two theories are the least of the aforementioned theories referenced in the academic texts. Evidence of the inclusion of leadership theories is also found in the academic text, Leadership: Theory and Practice (Northouse, 2007). Northouse almost exclusively uses leadership theories as chapter titles (Psychodynamic Approach, Transformational Leadership, and Path-Goal Theory). Similarly, DuBrin (2009) uses chapter titles such as Charismatic and Transformational Leadership, Contingency and Situational Leadership in his book, Leadership: Research, Practice, and Skills.
Ethics is a valued tenant within the academic texts, as each academic text analyzed contained specific content areas specifically addressing ethics. Ethical Leadership (Northouse, 2007) and Leadership Ethics and Social Responsibility (DuBrin, 2009) serve as examples of the emphasis placed on ethics as it applies to leadership in the academic texts. Meanwhile, ethics was not focused on in popular culture texts in the same manner as it was in the academic books.
Popular culture books were focused on personal development and issues relating to morality which was cited throughout the texts, but there was not the same level of direct emphasis. An excerpt from Leadership Jazz (DePree, 2008) illustrates this point, “Integrity is the linchpin of leadership. Where integrity is at stake, the leader works publicly. Behavior is the only score that’s kept. Lose integrity, and a leader will suddenly find herself in a directionless organization going nowhere” (p. 220). Herein the author addresses some of the same issues found in the ethics
sections of academic texts, but these homilies are spread throughout the text rather than focused on as their own section or chapter.
Academic texts also placed emphasis on diversity, a rare theme in popular culture books. Other academic texts have portions of their books devoted to culture and diversity as well, such as: Diverse Groups (Bass, 1990), International and Culturally Diverse Aspects of Leadership (DuBrin, 2009), and Culture and Leadership and Women and Leadership (Northouse, 2007). It is evident that academic texts place a high value on diversity and multiculturalism by devoting portions of these texts to these topics. Conversely, popular press texts did include the same level of emphasis on diversity.
Both genres called attention to communication and teamwork, which definitely emerged as themes for leadership texts of both academic and popular domains. Topics ranged from the definition and types of communication, to Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood (Covey, 2007), to Admitting Weaknesses and Mistakes (Lencioni, 2002). An example of this in the popular culture realm is seen in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Lencioni as he depicts the importance of communication through showing solutions to avoiding the first two dysfunctions of a team, Absence of Trust and Fear of Conflict. Here we see attributes of a trusting team and a team that engages in conflict, which include things such as: Ask for Help, Accept Questions and Input, “Offer and Accept Apologies Without Hesitation, Extract and Exploit the Ideas of All Team Members, and Put Critical Topics on the Table for Discussion. All of these things relate to communication as well as teamwork. A parallel example in an academic text is seen in DuBrin’s (2009) Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, with a content area labeled Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills. Further evidence of the emphasis of teams in academic texts is found as Northouse (2007) includes a chapter written by Susan E. Kogler Hill entitled Team Leadership in his book. Communication and teamwork were important facets of leadership for both realms of leadership texts.
Conclusions and Implications
The results of our content analysis provide some thought-provoking conclusions. As previously alluded to, leadership educators are facing two general categories of people interested in learning about leadership. First, leadership educators must consider those who have enrolled in leadership courses that they teach. Another emerging group consists of the general public and the industry of educational tools, including texts, which they learn from. As Brungardt (1996) states in regards to the interest of the general public in leadership education opportunities,
“Although it is definitely not a new phenomenon, it has only been recently that a growing industry has emerged to meet an interested and enthusiastic public” (p. 87). The disconnect between the education and information students receive in leadership education courses taught by experts and the education and information they receive from popular culture texts and educational opportunities serve as a foundation for many interesting topics of discussion.
First of all, as personal leadership development was a very common topic in popular press texts it can be concluded that those who are interested in learning about leadership, but who are not involved in college leadership courses are receiving information about how to become better leaders and develop their personal leadership skills. Hereby, these readers may not be learning much about theory and leadership as it relates to organizations and teams. This is concluded from the fact that the popular culture texts analyzed emphasized personal leadership development while the academic texts placed more of an emphasis on leadership theory, ethics, and diversity. Implications of this raise some interesting questions. Are the readers really getting what they need from these popular press texts? Are leadership educators teaching to the needs and desires of their pupils?
Secondly, the finding that popular culture texts used a more relaxed conversational writing style while the academic texts made use of formal dialogue and jargon specific to the leadership field spurred some thought about which writing style is better for leadership educators to use. In the realm of education, there is a basic tenant of teaching that states that they instructor should meet the learner where they are. This is evident by examining Vygotsky’s theory (see Daniels, 1996) of the zone of proximal development which discusses providing scaffolding to provide support to get learners from where they are currently and where they need to be. Therefore the research team concluded that the academic texts examined may not use the optimum writing style to achieve the goals of many leadership education courses. An implication of this is that learners’ may not comprehend the principles conveyed in the academic texts because the jargon and technical language decreases the ease with which the text can be understood.
As both types of leadership books tended to include stories and examples, it can be concluded that the authors of these texts as well as leadership educators feel that readers benefit from these stories. This could mean that readers like to learn from examples. Therefore, readers may view these examples and stories as a way to visualize how to apply the theories and skills in the real world. This could have an implication for the way leadership educators teach. If readers benefit from the stories found in leadership texts, students surely would value the use of stories to facilitate learning in the classroom as well as in the course text.
A final conclusion from the results of this study is that readers of popular culture texts may not be getting the complete gamut of leadership from these texts. The results showed that academic texts covered a wider range of topics than did the popular press texts. Specific topics that were emphasized in academic texts, but were rarely found in popular press texts were leadership theories, ethics and diversity. Because these topics were found in nearly all of the academic texts analyzed and since the books analyzed were chosen based on the opinions of leadership educators, we can assume that leadership education experts see them as important. However, readers of popular press texts may not perceive these topics as significant because they are not emphasized in the same manner as is seen in academic texts. Readers of the popular texts may be missing out, so to speak, because such topics are not included with the same intensity in the books they are reading in an effort to learn about leadership.
From these conclusions and implications we are able to make recommendations for practice and for further research. First, leadership educators should choose texts which offer a synthesis of the personal development found in popular books and the broader view approach to leadership found in the academic texts. For institutions which a plethora of leadership courses are offered, such as a personal leadership course and a team leadership course, the content should be focused on the best resources for the subject matter. A text which describes theory, discusses topics that pertain to leadership as a whole (such as ethics and diversity), and provides insight to personal application and development would have the best of both worlds. A good example of this is The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). Though analyzed as an academic text, this book shared similar properties of both academic and popular texts. Another example is Northouse (2007) who typically used the pattern of introducing and explaining leadership theories and technical terminology first in the chapter and then moved on to use case studies to provide real world examples of how those theories are seen in action. These case studies were written with a more relaxed writing style whereas the content of the chapter utilized a more formal and technical approach. Thus, Northouse used a variety of techniques, writing style, and methods to accomplish his goal and thereby created a hybrid-type text of academic and popular culture.
It is suggested that leadership educators choose texts which use a relaxed writing style. Because many readers buy books which use informal language, students, like readers, are more likely to enjoy and learn from texts which employ the same writing style as found in popular culture books. Efforts should be made to use
jargon and technical language sparingly in order to increase understandability, especially for entry-level courses.
Another recommendation for practice is that leadership educators continue to use stories, both in the texts they choose to teach from and in their classroom instruction. As discussed previously, readers value these stories and therefore students are likely to benefit from them as well.
An additional recommendation for practice is that leadership educators continue to teach from texts which emphasize theory, ethics, and diversity which were common themes for the academic texts analyzed, but rare for the popular press texts.
One recommendation for future research would be to analyze leadership texts used in leadership courses taught in colleges of agriculture versus those used in other colleges such as business, management, and liberal arts. It is important for leadership educators to stay informed about each other’s teachings. In doing so, a broader view of leadership texts, and education in general, might be gained.
Along the same lines, leadership texts used in the teaching of undergraduate courses should be compared against those used in graduate courses to see if any themes emerge.
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Justin Harris is a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education at North Carolina State University. Justin currently teaches high school Agricultural Sciences.
Dr. Jackie Bruce is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education at North Carolina State University. Jackie teaches courses in leadership development and extension education methods.
Dr. David Jones is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education at North Carolina State University. David teaches courses in leadership development and coordinates the leadership development minor in the department.