The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns
- New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn
Chapter 2: Leadership without leaders, followers, or causality: tribute and tribulation for the intellectual legacy of James MacGregor Burns
Burns’s 1978 book Leadership subtly challenged the leader-centric theories in the field of leadership studies. Burns thought the then current paradigm of leadership bred mediocrity in our knowledge about leadership by its focus on the actions, behaviors, and traits of those with explicit, positional authority within formal organizations. Collective action for social change, the primary concern for Burns, required more rigorous, scholarly paradigmatic features. His concern brought followers and values—moral values—to the forefront of leadership studies. After Leadership there was a noticeable shift in the study of leadership to incorporate values and followers. Twenty-five years later in another work, Transforming Leadership, Burns continued to move the needle away from leaders and towards values and followers. He specified the values of transforming leadership as “lofty public principles such as order, liberty, equality (including brotherhood and sisterhood), justice, the pursuit of happiness.” This work suggested some of the more critical perspectives on leadership and the dissatisfaction with the old but still dominant paradigm. For example, the notes of empowerment crescendo in this later work. Transforming leadership, Burns explains, liberates and empowers followers to envision, energize, and enable the pursuit and practice of these lofty principles. Power with others replaces power over them. Burns provided further direction for a new paradigm for leadership studies in a critique he made of Leadership. Starting with the most obvious, Burns pointed out the reductionist and oversimplified dichotomy of transactional and transforming leadership.
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