Leadership and Transformative Ambition in International Relations

Leadership and Transformative Ambition in International Relations

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Mark A. Menaldo

This enriching book explores a theoretical gap in international relations and the role of leader ambition. It presents the idea that some leaders transcend political constraints and as a result, they fundamentally reshape their domestic polity while introducing change to the international system.

Chapter 4: Transformational leadership: a theoretical critique

Mark A. Menaldo

Subjects: politics and public policy, international relations, leadership


Transformative political ambition offers an alternative to the political science theories examined in the last three chapters, which posit that constraints and incentives in the external environment, as well as imperious demands of the personality, are the fount of leader behavior. Transformative ambition is specifically observed in leaders who seek to infuse ordinary politics with a higher purpose and fundamentally change their political conditions in order bring about their goals. My attention to political leadership and change builds upon the work of contemporary scholarship that has examined the independent role of leaders to explain institutional change (see March and Olsen, 1984); leaders as educators and moral guides who are capable of transforming the preferences of followers (Burns, 1978); leaders who practice the art of political manipulation and change their environments through the use of “heresthetics” in order to win (Riker, 1986). In this chapter, I pay special attention to James MacGregor Burns’ theory of transformational leadership because it shares in the view of this work that individual leaders can purposely change the moral lives and psychological dispositions of their polities.

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