- Series: Harper Perennial Political Classics
- Paperback: 544 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006196557X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061965579
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Leadership (Harper Perennial Political Classics) 1st Edition
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"...An impressive book. Although Burns is sophisticated about the frailties of people, Leadership is also an optimistic book..." -- Walter Johnson, The Washington Post
"...an important book..." -- Kenneth B. Clark, City News
From the Back Cover
One of America's leading historians on the role of leadership in American history.
Top Customer Reviews
Throughout the book, Burns discussed the leadership styles of political leaders to religious and social leaders. From Martin Luther King, Jr to Moses to Mahatma Gandhi to Napoleon, plus Machiavelli and even Adolf Hitler, Burns cited how these leaders made vital distinctions between wants and needs. According to Burns, "the process of leadership must be seen as part of the dynamics of conflict and of power; that leadership is nothing if not linked to collective purpose; that the effectiveness of leaders must be judged not by their press clippings but by actual social change measured by intent and by the satisfaction of human needs and expectations" (3).
This textbook has a number of stylistic problems that make it difficult to read, despite its interesting substance. Its organization is shaky and many of the chapters and sections have no clear intro or conclusion to tie his thesis together. The book is a dry, boring read that meanders between secondary sources, historical anecdotes, and the author's own biased perceptions.
Burns seems to be trying to place a lateral beam across several pillars with his leadership school. This isn't nearly as groundbreaking as the blurbs on the back of the book claim. Burns' conclusions are limited in scope, and don't leave a strong impression on the reader.
He overuses Sigmund Freud, conceding that psychoanalysis of historical figures is not particularly accurate or helpful, then goes forward and uses it anyway. He identifies few patterns, constantly going back to the same old "blame the parents" approach to psychoanalysis. His occasional delving into the sexual habits of famous leaders was purely conjecture and not worthy of this text.
Burns narration of historical events and the rise of certain leaders is mediocre. It isn't heavy on detail, yet the prose is still difficult to follow. The historical examples do not clearly demonstrate his thesis. He provides limit context, assuming the reader is fully apprised of the historical events. This is arrogant and lazy. I can only assume the book is meant for a graduate-level audience who have strong backgrounds in history and political science. It certainly wasn't marketed this way (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award).
Burns take on Mao Zedong was troubling to me. In Mao's case, his leadership ended when he took power at which point he became a tyrant. By Burns own admission, a tyranny is not leadership. He speaks glowingly of these revolutions despite the bloodshed, poverty, misery, and war it brought to the respective countries. His positive view of the Cultural Revolution in China is absolutely stunning, ignoring its atrocities and utter failure.
The book was published in 1978, so some of these events were contemporary. We know more today about the Soviet Union and the experiences of Communist China in the 20th century. It is fair to say Burns was very wrong in his opinion of these two political systems and their relevance to his school of leadership. The other sections are much better.
Why give it 3 stars with all these problems? Burns combines multiple disciplines for a fairly reasonable case against compartmentalizing social sciences (this was his implicit objective). His study of leadership became the basis for later works, especially those covering popular and business leadership. Finally, I for the most part agree with his primary thesis and the supporting definitions early in the book. So it gets an average grade from me.
Leadership, by James MacGregor Burns the Pulitzer Prize winning author, is the most important book I have read in the field of leadership. In it, Burns coined the term, Transforming Leadership, and distinguished it from its more mundane counterpart, Transactional Leadership.
In so doing, Burns catalyzed much of the theorizing and research into transforming leadership (also called transformational leadership, visionary leadership, and charismatic leadership, among others) from the latter part of the 20th century through today.
In this foundational book, Burns argued that there was a "crisis of leadership" because people did not understand the essence of leadership. Whereas traditional, transactional leaders concern themselves with exchanging money for services, the modern, transforming leader "seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower" in a "collective purpose," that is, a common vision or shared goal. The end result is leadership "that can produce social change that will satisfy followers authentic needs" (p. 4).
A classic, the message of this book is as meaningful and urgent today as it was when Burns wrote it. We need a new form of leadership to help us deal with the problems of an ever shrinking, interconnected world. Those who would be part of a collective effort to make the world a better place, would do well to read this book.
Robert E. Levasseur, Ph.D., author of "Leadership and Change in the 21st Century"