Customer Reviews: Leadership
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on November 23, 2005
The world of leadership is examined through a sweeping assessment on its power and purpose to its origins in James MacGregor Burns's book, Leadership. This book is a very comprehensive overview of the study of leadership as it distinguishes not only what are the two basic styles of leadership: transforming and transactional, but evaluates the theory and practice of leadership skills as well. Burns stated in Leadership, "I define leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations¬-the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations-of both leaders and followers" (19).

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).
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on December 31, 2013
Leadership is a secondary source history/political science book drawing on historical examples, psychology, and some philosophical concepts on governance. Burns goal with the book is to establish a foundation for the study of leadership, combining the studies of the leaders themselves and the followers. It covers the individual traits of leaders, their relationship to followers, and how they managed to accomplish great things or have such great impact.

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.
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on April 22, 2007
When I was a doctoral student, I wrote my dissertation about transforming leadership. As a full-time doctoral faculty member at one of America's leading online universities, I now mentor students in leadership and organizational change, among other specializations.

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"
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on February 11, 2002
This is the definitive book on leadership. It is long, dense with historical facts, sparkling with insights, and is essential reading for the leadership scholar. Few other leadership books merit a place on the essential reading list for this field.
Burns's accomplishment of recognizing the taxonomy of leadership is unmatched to this day. He distinguishes, for example, intellectual leadership from executive leadership, and explains how each is forged in the "crucible" of circumstances.
Rather than serving as a "how to" guide on leadership, Burns provides the reader with a framework for understanding his or her leadership role, and the requirements that accompany each role. Finding one's own reflection in this catalog of leadership roles can be an exciting and satisfying moment for the reader.
Burns is best known for developing the concept of "transforming" leadership, or "transformational" leadership as he calls it in this book. It stands in contrast to "transactional" leadership, which holds that every leader-follower encounter is an isolated event.
Whether the reader perseveres through the whole book, or just reads the introductory chapters, he or she will be in the presence of some of the best thinking to date on leadership.
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on September 9, 2016
Although I purchased this book because it was required reading for a Doctoral program (Ed.D in Educational Leadership with a focus on Transformative Leadership, in particular) it is by no means simply a "text book".

It is an interesting read that covers countless types of leaders and theories on leadership in general. It is insightful and thought provoking, and the fact that many consider it a classic is no surprise to me.

I am pleased that it was required reading, as I am unsure if I would have purchased it otherwise. As someone who is fascinated by human interaction, and society as a whole, I have become more interested in how leadership plays into that with each chapter I complete.
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on April 3, 2015
I like the author's books but I found this book to very dry and in the end boring. This could perhaps result from the fact that I was not that interested in reading that much about the subject. Others may feel differently.
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on April 19, 2012
This book was a required reading for me for my MBA program in which one of my concentrations is in Leadership Development. When I requested it from Netgalley, I thought it looked familiar, but when I saw the edition above, I recognized it as the book I had used.

What stood out most to this book was that the "lessons" from the author could be used in multiple sectors. From non-profit to for profit. He, excellently, used "real life" lessons that in the work I have done tends to work better than in simple dicatating of expectations. Also, although the author used many historical figures in his lesson, the lessons "taught" were timeless, as should be the case in true leadership development.

As I am writing this from a business perspective, I could easily see this used with new leaders, as well as in a HR/OD setting.

I wish I could give it more than 5 stars..I truly believe, as I believed then, this book has alot of life lessons for our young adults all the way up to corporate leadership on the "tenets" of what makes someone an ethical leader in society.

Also, I must make a note that the person who reviewed this book as anything but practical, must not have been using this book right. I think with the way that the book is written, it would keep a person whose normal position isn't in leadership development interested. One of the challenges with leadership books is that they get bogged down, written dryly and get very wordy which will detract readers and make the consultant's job more difficult. I did not find this with this book.
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on August 6, 2014
An exciting journey through leadership from the guru's perspective. I have not completed reading this book as yet but it is certainly helping me with my research. More after I have completed reading it
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on February 17, 1999
This book is THE classic, set-the-bar book on leadership. Professor Burns has produced a masterful, beautifully written, historically based view of leadership behavior. In this book, he first introduces his idea of 'transforming leadership.' Now in his 80s, he is Senior Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at University of Maryland. A true classic.....
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on April 6, 2014
this book will go a long way in addressing the problem of political leadership in Africa and other developing countries. anyone who is interested in making a difference should get a copy of this book.
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