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Leadership (Harper Perennial Political Classics)

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Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James MacGregor Burns’s definitive look at the power of transformational leadership, from Moses to Machiavelli to Martin Luther King Jr. Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns has spent much of his career documenting the use and misuse of power by leaders throughout history. In this groundbreaking study, Bur Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James MacGregor Burns’s definitive look at the power of transformational leadership, from Moses to Machiavelli to Martin Luther King Jr. Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns has spent much of his career documenting the use and misuse of power by leaders throughout history. In this groundbreaking study, Burns examines the qualities that make certain leaders—in America and elsewhere—succeed as transformative figures. Through insightful anecdotes and historical analysis, Burns scrutinizes the charisma, vision, and persuasive power of individuals able to imbue followers with a common sense of purpose, from the founding fathers to FDR, Ghandi to Napoleon. Since its original publication in 1970, Leadership has set the standard for scholarship in the field.


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Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James MacGregor Burns’s definitive look at the power of transformational leadership, from Moses to Machiavelli to Martin Luther King Jr. Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns has spent much of his career documenting the use and misuse of power by leaders throughout history. In this groundbreaking study, Bur Pulitzer Prize–winning historian James MacGregor Burns’s definitive look at the power of transformational leadership, from Moses to Machiavelli to Martin Luther King Jr. Historian and political scientist James MacGregor Burns has spent much of his career documenting the use and misuse of power by leaders throughout history. In this groundbreaking study, Burns examines the qualities that make certain leaders—in America and elsewhere—succeed as transformative figures. Through insightful anecdotes and historical analysis, Burns scrutinizes the charisma, vision, and persuasive power of individuals able to imbue followers with a common sense of purpose, from the founding fathers to FDR, Ghandi to Napoleon. Since its original publication in 1970, Leadership has set the standard for scholarship in the field.

30 review for Leadership (Harper Perennial Political Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    READ SEP 2009 Seminal work that introduced the idea of transformational leadership. Best quote; "The function of leadership is to engage followers, not merely to activate them, to commingle needs and aspirations and goals in a common enterprise, and in the process to make better citizens of both leaders and followers" (p. 461).

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Park

    Read it in 2011. A seminal work on leadership, especially on transforming leadership as opposed to transactional leadership. Although it is a pretty thick book, I didn't skip a word. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    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 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was the largest book assigned for my leadership class this semester. I really liked it though!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barry Davis

    It is not surprising that this book was described as the seminal work on political power. The depth of research on leadership is exceptional. Indeed, the book begins with quotes from Machiavelli, Frankin D. Roosevelt, and Mao Tse-tung. The author begins by presenting the source of power in leadership, noting that the primary leadership essentials are motive and resource (Burns. P. 12). The strength of this book can also be its weakness. The extraordinary depth of examples, both in history and po It is not surprising that this book was described as the seminal work on political power. The depth of research on leadership is exceptional. Indeed, the book begins with quotes from Machiavelli, Frankin D. Roosevelt, and Mao Tse-tung. The author begins by presenting the source of power in leadership, noting that the primary leadership essentials are motive and resource (Burns. P. 12). The strength of this book can also be its weakness. The extraordinary depth of examples, both in history and politics, employ real world situations but at the same time can become unwieldly. Before addressing the origins of leadership, the author invests some time in reviewing how moral leadership is formed, providing insights on the power and sources of values, beginning with Plato and progressing to the 2oth Century. Burns continues by discussing the origins of leadership as developed from psychological and social sources. As is the case throughout the book the detail is extraordinary. The psychological matrix of leadership starts with primates and other biological studies, moving on to the work of Freud, Bandura, Maslow, and other research. Each area of focus includes numerous historical references to demonstrate the author’s points. In considering the social sources of leadership, attention is given to parents and family, the politics of school, and the influences of self-esteem, social role, and empathy (Burns, p. 94). The social resources are described through more historical references, including Gandhi, Kennedy, and Wilson. The final chapter on origins focuses on the political environment as a “crucible” for the leadership experience. The author continues his treatise on leadership by citing examples of both transformational and transactional examples of leadership. Transforming leadership is addressed through four approaches: Intellectual, Reforming, Revolutionary, and through Heroes and Ideologues. Historical narratives are provided throughout to support these themes, recounting events from Great Britain, Russia, America, France, and China. In dealing with transactional leadership, Burns identifies five key approaches: Opinion, Group, Party, Legislative, and Executive Leadership. The diverse topics presented include voting, bureaucracy, power and change, consensus, and the American presidency. The depth of examples presented is almost overwhelming, but serves to elucidate the influences present in each area. Burn closes the book by discussing how leaders approach decisions, suggesting a theory of leadership that builds on collective purpose, causation, and change (Burns, Chapter 16). Describing leadership as “practical influence,” he references Woodrow Wilson’s thoughts in stating the intent of this extraordinary book: “that people can be lifted into their better selves” by transforming leadership. This, he stated, is ”the moral and practical theme” of his work (Burns, p. 462. The challenge of this book is the extent of the resources provided. It is also its strength. The time spent in learning from Leadership will be well spent by those seeking authority.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hakeem

    An absolute scholarly tome on leadership. Well-researched and laden with examples from Machiavelii to Mao, Jefferson to Nixon, and King to Gandhi. In the end, the advice can be summarized for good transformative leaders to treat people as people and to lift those people and themselves out of their everyday self and into their better selves. That journey is not without its pitfalls and this treatise is a first-rate guidebook.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anthony W.

    This was a very insightful and transformative read on leadership. The middle got a little slow as it took a deep dive into political leadership, but the first 1/3 and last 1/3 of the book provided a great perspective of leadership styles, and their impact on the leader vision and purpose. I would definitely put this on a must read list.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ed Barton

    The Book on Leadership Nearly 40 years old, the book is still the gold standard for leadership and power studies. Looking at multiple leaders and leadership styles, Burns brings a readability and scholarly rigor to the topic. A must read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick Jordan

    *Leadership* is virtually an encyclopedia of leadership, with a level of fine detail embedded in historical accounts. Yes, it’s dry and long. It’s also very good. Almost anybody interested in the subject would at least benefit from the final chapters.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David

    I had a rough time with this book at first but glad I continued to read it as it is a wonderful book touching so many different areas. The book has been so influential which accounts for slow going in the beginning as the concepts he introduced are so pervasive today. Highly recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    Insightful! Actually haven't read it all but parts and will return to it at a later time. Intro and prologue particularly applicable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Wesley Fox

    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. Burns divides leadership into three types: t 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. Burns divides leadership into three types: transactional, transformational, and moral. Transactional is simply a leader fulfilling the needs and desires of a group of followers or supporters. Transformational is more or less defining needs and desires or giving voice to such demands where none existed before. It is more potent, creative, and dangerous. I'm not clear on how moral leadership is distinct. Burns also distinguishes between leadership and brute power. A tyrant is not exercising leadership when he orders people to obey or die. He is threatening force to get obedience. I'm glad Burns makes this distinction, otherwise the whole idea of studying leadership breaks down. The study should not be about power and authority, but about getting things to move without acting on them directly with brute force. This textbook has a number of stylistic problems that make it difficult to read, despite its substance. It's 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. I wouldn't dismiss psychoanalysis as part of the study of leadership, but Burns' doesn't use it persuasively. Burns narration of historical events and the rise of certain leaders is weak. 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 also betrays several serious ideological biases that are troubling. In his discussions on revolutions and transformational leadership, he spends 7-9 pages on the American Revolution and other enlightenment era transformations while going 15 pages deep into the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Communism in China. Burn's section on Lenin doesn't paint him as a leader, but merely someone who was extraordinarily lucky. Communism triumphed due in large part to the dramatic weakness of the Czars and the decaying feudal system of Russia. It wasn't a victory of leadership, but one of a lack of alternatives. 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. His discussions of Gandhi, FDR, and Wilson are far more relevant. 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. Still, unless you are a nerdy student of political science, I would NOT recommend this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Bogue

    The title is simple. The book is long. However, Leadership is a comprehensive look at political leadership that James MacGregor Burns executes well. I’m not personally much of a fan of political books. However, as I read Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, it became clear that Rost derived a great deal of his thinking from Burns’ work, and thus it was important that I read it to understand more clearly Rost’s thinking. Read more The title is simple. The book is long. However, Leadership is a comprehensive look at political leadership that James MacGregor Burns executes well. I’m not personally much of a fan of political books. However, as I read Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, it became clear that Rost derived a great deal of his thinking from Burns’ work, and thus it was important that I read it to understand more clearly Rost’s thinking. Read more

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Mulitalo

    Leadership writing is loaded with philosophical frills and gadgets. This carefully considered look at leadership takes a careful and analytical look at some historical figures. Instead of just giving us a comparative analysis, Burns brings to the surface stipulations of leadership that have a fairly legitimate application in leadership development or understanding. Anyone who is really serious about leadership should give this book a read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Drick

    A classic work on Leadership drawn from the authors study of politi9cal leaders. Burns first introduced the concept of transforming leadership and was one of the first to link the effectiveness of leadership to the relationship the leader has with his/her followers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jason ON

    Kind of dry and long winded, but a great introduction to true leadership.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mello

    Originally read in college in 1976 when book first came out. Currently re-reading as research for leadership development program I am designing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Earl Noble

    This was the most difficult book I ever read and finished. Moby Dick was worse but I never finished it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    L. Beachy

    More academic than many will prefer, Burns is unequivocally an expert and this work is a standard that is not soon likely to be replaced.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pirkka

    Loved some of this book but other parts were pretty tedious to wade through.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Harless

  22. 5 out of 5

    Patty

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  24. 4 out of 5

    William

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Tanel

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jo McDermott

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael Sondag

  28. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brandt Bjornsen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chen

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