The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Georgia L.J. Sorenson

In this compelling book, top scholars from diverse fields describe the progress they have made in developing a general theory of leadership. Led by James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning author of the classic Leadership (1978), they tell the story of this intellectual venture and the conclusions and questions that arose from it.

Chapter 5: Leader–Follower Relations: Group Dynamics and the Role of Leadership

Crystal L. Hoyt, George R. Goethals and Ronald E. Riggio

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


Crystal L. Hoyt, George R. Goethals and Ronald E. Riggio ‘Man is by nature a social animal.’ – Aristotle Tom Wren’s chapter detailing the deliberations of the general theory group quotes Burns as suggesting that one way of moving toward an integrated theory of leadership would be to examine the key ‘elements’ of leadership: power, motivation, leader–follower relations, context, and values (p. 17). Although the group has varied in its belief about the utility of concentrating on these elements, at our final joint meeting in May, 2004 we agreed that we needed to have chap­ ters addressing power and leader–follower relations. Thus the previous chapter on power by Michael Harvey and the present chapter are included. Of course the story of Professor Burns’s interest in the dynamics of leader– follower relations, and the closely related topic of human motivation, goes back much further than the initiation of the general theory project. It can be traced to his earliest thinking about leadership more than 30 years ago and his insight that understanding psychology was essential to understanding leadership. In his 2003 book Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness Professor Burns describes the action stemming from this insight. He went to talk to a colleague in the Williams College psychology department who was interested in leadership – Al Goethals, one of the authors of this chapter (Burns, 2003, p. 9). After their conversation Burns delved into the psychology of motivation and other relevant topics. All three authors of this chapter fully...

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