The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn
Chapter 3: Real, intended change: business movements?
We are well aware that the economy, environment and organizations in today’s global context are highly interdependent and interconnected. This interdependence contributes to the blurring of lines among business, nonprofit and government entities to the extent that new forms of organization are emerging to tackle socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues that only the political system and social movements confronted in the past. James MacGregor Burns proclaimed in his groundbreaking book, Leadership, that the effectiveness of leaders “will be tested by the achievement of purpose in the form of real and intended [emphasis added] social change.” Burns explained that social change means real change that brings about a substantial transformation in the institutions, behaviors, attitudes and norms of our daily lives. His theory of transforming leadership included an imperative to link leadership with “collective purpose and social change.” He envisioned this leadership coming from the political and social sector, but definitely not from business leadership. Can we actually bring about the societal transformations that Burns called for in an interdependent global society without private sector participation? There is an emergent group of leaders from private sector organizations who may be challenging Burns’s notion of which leaders and sector can bring about real intended change. Private sector leaders intend to generate business and social change through entities and movements such as benefit corporations, B corporations, the Conscious Capitalism movement, collaborative communities and sustainable leadership, among others.
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