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The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

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.
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Chapter 2: Leadership and the Human Condition

Michael Harvey


Michael Harvey I’d shape one impulse through the contraries Of vain ambitious men, selfish and callous … . … All that’s low I’ll charm; Barbaric love sweeten to tenderness. Cunning run into wisdom, craft turn to skill. Isaac Rosenberg, Moses In June 2002 a dozen scholars met at Williams College’s auspiciously named Mount Hope retreat to think and talk about leadership. Amid the wild profusion of leadership theories and topics, and notwithstanding the epistemological di­ versity of modern academics, we hoped to find common ground in our thinking about leadership. We began with two simple but in our opinion fundamental questions: ‘In the human condition, what makes leadership necessary? And what makes leadership possible?’ We broke into three groups, and each group wrote a short essay seeking to answer these questions. These papers displayed all the richness of thinking that typifies modern interdisciplinary approaches to leader­ ship – signs of psychology, anthropology, history, political science, sociology, ethics, philosophy, religious studies, and cultural and literary studies. But some thoughts or suppositions about leadership could be traced throughout the essays. What follows is a loose synthesis or free translation of these three short essays – a meditation on the place of leadership in the human condition. * * * Leadership is part and parcel of the human condition. A mystery as modern as the nation-state and as ancient as the tribe, it brings together the best and worst in human nature: love and hate, hope and fear, trust and deceit, service and selfishness. Leadership draws on who we are,...

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