The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns
- New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn
Chapter 4: Transforming motives and mentors: the heroic leadership of James MacGregor Burns
We are fortunate that James MacGregor Burns had become interested in psychology when he was developing his groundbreaking 1978 book called, simply, Leadership. During his first year as a member of the Psychology Department at Williams College in 1970–71, George Goethals, one of the authors of this chapter, introduced himself to Burns and asked him to speak to a psychology class that Goethals was teaching which considered US presidents. Burns introduced Goethals to the work of two psychologically minded political scientists studying presidential leadership, James David Barber and Fred Greenstein. Both were interested, in one way or another, in the successful management of emotions as a key “presidential difference,” to borrow Greenstein’s term. One afternoon not long after, Burns showed up at Goethals’s office and asked if they could talk about psychology, particularly human motivation. Burns mentions this conversation in his 2003 book Transforming Leadership, and so it was a memorable discussion to both of them. At that point Burns was not familiar with the name Abraham Maslow or his work on a hierarchy of needs. Subsequently, Maslow’s work figured prominently in Burns’s approach to understanding leadership. More particularly, it was central to the concept of “transforming leadership.” Maslow argued that once lower level motives such as hunger were satisfied, higher motives would be engaged, all the way up to the highest motive in the hierarchy, self-actualization.
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