James MacGregor Burns on Transformational Leadership

This book left an impression on me in grad school because it made the case that leadership was ethical and a positive force.  As noted in Bruce Weber’s recent NYT obit:

“That people can be lifted into their better selves,” he wrote at the end of “Leadership,” “is the secret of transforming leadership and the moral and practical theme of this work.”

Burns was a biographer, political scientist, and Pulitzer Prize-winner whose 1978 book, Leadership, is a biggie in the field. International relations is concerned with power.  MacGregor wrote that “power is different. Power manipulates people as they are; leadership as they could be.” He got to the crux of the issue, looking at the examples of presidential leadership:

The nature of leadership was his fundamental theme throughout his career. In his biographies of Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, among others, and in his works of political theory — including “Leadership,” a seminal 1978 work melding historical analysis and contemporary observation that became a foundation text for an academic discipline — Mr. Burns focused on parsing the relationship between the personalities of the powerful and the historical events they helped engender.

via James MacGregor Burns, Scholar of Presidents and Leadership, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com.


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