Leadership

excerpt from James MacGregor Burns, "The Power of Leadership", 1978

Leadership is an aspect of power, but it is also a separate and vital process in itself.

Power over other persons, we have noted, is exercised when potential power wielders, motivated to achieve certain goals of their own, marshal in their power base resources (economic, military, institutional, or skill) that enable them to influence the behavior of respondents by activating motives of respondents relevant to those resources and to those goals. This is done in order to realize the purposes of the power wieiders, whether or not these are also the goals of the respondents. Power holders also exercise influence by mobilizing their own power base in such a way as to establish direct physical control over others' behavior, as in a war of conquest or through measures of harsh deprivation. but these are highly restricted exercises of power, dependent on certain times, cultures, and personalities, and they are often self-destructive and transitory.

Leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers. This is done in order to realize goals mutually held by both leaders and followers, as in Lenin's calls for peace, bread, and land. In brief, leaders with motive and power bases tap followers' motives in order to realize the purposes of both leaders and followers. Not only must motivation be relevant, as in power generally, but its purposes must be realized and satisfied. Leadership is exercised in a condition of conflict or competition in which leaders contend in appealing to the motive bases of potential followers. Naked power, on the other hand, admits of no competition or conflict-there is no engagement.

Leaders are a particular kind of power holder. Like power, leadership is relational, collective, and purposeful. Leadership shares with power the central function of achieving purpose. But the reach and domain of leadership are, in the short range at least, more limited than those of power. Leaders do not obliterate followers' motives though they may arouse certain motives and ignore others. They lead other creatures, not things (and lead animals only to the degree that they recognize animal motives-i.e., leading cattle to shelter rather than to slaughter). To control things-tools, mineral resources, money, energy-is an act of power, not leadership, for things have no motives. Power wielders may treat people as things; leaders may not.

All leaders are actual or potential power holders, but not all power holders are leaders.

These definitions of power and of leadership differ from those that others have offered. Lasswell and Kapliin hold that power must be relevant to people's valued things; I hold that it must be relevant to the power wielders valued things and may be relevant to the recipient's needs or values only as necessary to exploit them, Kenneth Janda defines power as "the ability to cause other persons to adjust their behavior in conformance with communicated behavior patterns." I agree, assuming that those behavior patterns aid the purpose of the power wielder. According to Andrew McFarland, "If the leader causes changes that he intended, he has exercised power; if the leader causes changes that he did not intend or want, he has exercised influence, but not power."

I dispense with the concept of influence as unnecessary and unparsimonious. For me the leader is a very special, very circumscribed, but potentially the most effective of power holders, judged by the degree of intended "real change" finally achieved, Roderick Bell et al, contend that power is a relationship rather than an entity - an entity being something that "could be smelled and touched, or stored in a keg." While I agree that power is a relationship, I contend that the relationship is one in which some entity-part of the "power base"-plays an indispensable pan, whether that keg is a keg of beer, of dynamite, or of ink.

The crucial variable, again, is purpose. Some define leadership as leaders making followers do what followers would not otherwise do, or as leaders making followers do what the leaders want them to do; I define leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations - the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations-of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers' values and motivations.

Leadership, unlike naked power-wielding, is thus inseparable from followers' needs and goals. The essence of the leader-follower relation is the interaction of persons with different levels of motivations and of power potential, including skill, in pursuit of a common or at least joint purpose. That interaction, however, takes two fundamentally different forms. The first I will call transactional leadership. Such leadership occurs when one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things. The exchange could be economic or political or psychological in nature: a swap of goods or of one good for money; a trading of votes between candidate and citizen or between legislators; hospitality to another person in exchange for willingness to listen to one's troubles. Each party to the bargain is conscious of the power resources and attitudes of the other. Each person recognizes the other as a person. Their purposes are related, at least to the extent that their purposes stand within the bargaining process and can be advanced by maintaining that process. But beyond this the relationship does not go. The bargainers have no enduring purpose that holds them together; hence they may go their separate ways, A leadership act took place, but it was not one that binds leader and follower together in a mutual and continuing pursuit of a higher purpose.

Contrast this with transforming leadership. Such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another TO higher levels of motivation and morality.

Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, as in the case of transactional leadership, become fused. Power bases are linked not as counterweights but as mutual support for common purpose. Various names are used for such leadership, some of them derisory: elevating, mobilizing, inspiring. exalting, uplifting, preaching, exhorting, evangelizing. The relationship can be moralistic, of course. But transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led. and thus it has a transforming effect on both. Perhaps the best modern example is Gandhi. who aroused and elevated the hopes and demands of millions of Indians and whose life and personality were enhanced in the process Transcending leadership is dynamic leadership in the sense that the leaders throw themselves into a relationship with followers who will feel "elevated" by it and often become more active themselves, thereby creating new cadres of leaders. Transcending leadership is leadership engage. Naked power-wielding can be neither transactional nor transforming; only leadership can be.

Leaders and followers may be inseparable in function, but they are not the same. The leader takes the initiative in making the leader-led connection; it is the leader who creates the links that allow communication and exchange to take place. An office seeker does this in accosting a voter on the street, but if the voter espies and accosts the politician, the voter is assuming a leadership function, at least for that brief moment. The leader is more skillful in evaluating followers' motives, anticipating their responses to an initiative, and estimating their power bases, than the reverse. Leaders continue to take the major part in maintaining and effectuating the relationship with followers and will have the major role in ultimately carrying out the combined purpose of leaders and followers. Finally, and most important by far, leaders address themselves to followers' wants, needs, and other motivations, as well as to their own, and thus they serve as an independent force in changing the makeup of the followers' motive base through gratifying their motives.

Certain forms of power and certain forms of leadership are near-extremes on the power continuum. One is the kind of absolute power that. Lord Acton felt, "corrupts absolutely." It also coerces absolutely. The essence of this kind of power is the capacity of power wielders, given the necessary motivation, to override the motive and power bases of their targets. Such power objectifies its victims; it literally turns them into objects, like the inadvertent weapon tester in Mtesa's court. Such power wieiders, as well, are objectified and dehumanized. Hitler, according to Richard Hughes, saw the universe as containing no persons other than himself, only "things." The ordinary citizen in Russia, says a Soviet linguist and dissident, does not identify with his government- "With us, it is there, like the wind. like a wall, like the sky. It is something permanent, unchangeable. So the individual acquiesces, does not dream of changing it- except a few, few people. ."

At the other extreme is leadership so sensitive to the motives of potential followers that the roles of leader and follower become virtually interdependent. Whether the leadership relationship is transactional or transforming, in it motives, values, and goals of leader and led have merged. It may appear that at the other extreme from the raw power relationship, dramatized in works like Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and George Orwell's 1984, is the extreme of leadership-led merger dramatized in novels about persons utterly dependent on parents, wives, or lovers. Analytically these extreme types of relationships are not very perplexing. To watch one person absolutely dominate another is horrifying; to watch one person disappear, his motives and values submerged into those of another 10 the point of loss of individuality, is saddening. But puzzling out the nature of these extreme relationships is not intellectually challenging because each in its own way lacks the qualities of complexity and conflict. Submersion of one personality in another is not genuine merger based on mutual respect. Such submersion is an example of brute power subtly applied, perhaps with the acquiescence of the victim.

* * * *

For philosophers and kings, however, authority came to much more than expertise. It was the intellectual and often the legal buttress of the power of the father in the family, the priest in the community, the feudal lord in the barony, the king in the nation-state, the Pope in Western Christendom. Authority was seen as deriving from God or, later, from the innate nature of man. Authority was even more fundamental than the slate for it was the source and the legitimation of state power. In the tumultuous Western world the power of authority was the means of preserving order; it was necessary in an "unquiet world," Hooker said. It would compel men to regulate their conduct, Hobbes wrote. Church and slate combined to furbish authority. It carried formal legitimacy, religious sanction, and physical force.

Typically authority was perceived and used as a property. Rulers were symbolically invested with authority through things - crowns, scepters, maces, scrolls, robes, badges. Such rulers were objects of awe for their subjects, until rivals seized the armaments of office or substituted their own. To the extent that authority was a relationship between monarch and subjects it was a relationship of gross inequality, of the ruler and the ruled. But authority was sharply distinguished from naked power, force, coercion. Rulers must be legitimate. They must inherit or assume office through carefully established procedures; they must assume certain responsibilities under God, and for the people.

Authority, in short, was legitimated power. But it was legitimated by tradition, religious sanction, rights of succession, and procedures, not by mandate of the people. Authority was quite one-sided. Rulers had the right to command, subjects the obligation to obey. Only a few complained. The fundamental need of the people was for order and security; obedience seemed a fair exchange for survival. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, the concept of authority was undermined. Thinkers and preachers, riding new intellectual currents of innovation and iconoclasm, rebelled against the old canons of authority that were founded so often in the past, the dead, or the patriarchs. Spreading through Europe and America, powerful new doctrines proclaimed the rights of individuals against rulers, set forth goals and values beyond those of simple order or security, and called for liberty, equality, fraternity, even the pursuit of happiness.

Authority did not crumble under the impact of these forces; revolutionary disturbances and excesses like the French terror confirmed its importance. But it could not be re-established on the old foundations, for now it was supposed to be derived from the people and hence ultimately lie in their hands-at least in the hands of those people who were not poor, slaves, or women. A new secular basis of authority was needed. In response, the old "substantive" authority gave way to procedural. Since the citizenry now embodied authority, since the people had to be protected against themselves, and since authority had to be protected against shifting majorities and volatile popular movements, constitutions were adopted to safeguard the people against themselves. Under the constitutions, authority was concentrated in judges, legislative upper chambers, local governments, in doctrines of due process, protection of properly, and in judicial review.

The upshot was this: the doctrine of authority came inio the modern age devitalized, fragmentized, and trivialized; it became a captive of the right, even of fascism. Mussolini substituted authority, order, and justice for liberty, equality, fraternity. Hannah Arendt in this century could mourn that the entire concept of leadership had lost its validity: almost everyone could agree that the concept had been emptied of meaning and definition. The loss was not simply of a stricken concept-doctrines, like empires, grow. nourish, and decline- but of authority that was not transformed into a doctrine suitable for the new age. No new, democratified, and radicalized doctrine arose to salvage the authentic and the relevant in authority and link these strengths to a doctrine of leadership that recognized the vital need for qualities of integrity, authenticity, initiative, and moral resolve. Max Weber, Carl Friedrich, and others tried to pump new vitality and relevance into the concept, without marked success.

Vilfredo Pareto's famous concept of the "circulation of the elites" focused chiefly on the problem of bringing fresh talent or expertise to the top. They, like the shapers of the grand tradition in earlier centuries, typically looked at the ruler-ruled relationship from the top down, not upward from the peasant's sward or the worker's bench. In the end, in a more democratic age, authority was never turned on its head.

The resulting intellectual gap - that is, the absence of a doctrine of leadership with the power and sweep of the old doctrine of authority but now emphasizing the influence of followers on leaders - was especially evident in America. The pilgrims' voyage to Plymouth in 1620 has been contrasted with Plato's parable of the ship most arrestingly by Norman Jacobson. The goal of the settlers was Virginia but they lost their way. Facing rebellion, and with their authority undermined, the leaders had to grant the demands of the rest of the party for a compact among ail the members. Under this declaration no person or group was empowered to assume authority, nor was any one person seen as commanding special expertise. The compact idea was restated in the Declaration of Independence. By the time of the constitutional convention of 1787, however, in the wake of Shays' rebellion in Massachusetts, the Federalist leadership had become fearful of popular unrest and of electoral majorities that represented the turbulent masses. Under the new constitution, authority was derived from the people, but direct popular action was frustrated by an elaborate system of federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.

What would happen in a nation that made the people sovereign, that elevated Jeffersonian and Jacksonian and Lincolnian leaders who orated about government by the people, but a nation that hedged in popular majorities and their leaders with checks and balances that constituted probably the most elaborate and well-calculated barriers in constitutional history? As usual, the Americans tried to have the best of both ways. They maintained their system of restraints on leaders almost intact, but they encouraged the emergence of a powerful executive, especially in the twentieth century. American Marxists contended that not leaders but technicians - simple administrative functionaries, in Engels' words, "watching over the true interests of society"-would run the state. American Progressives looked on leadership as "bossism" and sponsored successfully such anti-leadership devices as the initiative, referendum and recall, and the destruction of parties. The failure was also intellectual. Historians and political scientists admired individual leaders, especially Presidents, who could break through legislative and judicial barriers. Some of them - notably Woodrow Wilson - moralised about the need for leaders in education and politics. No one advanced a grand theory of leadership.

Perhaps such a theory was impossible in any event, in the absence of hard and detailed data about the people, the public, the masses, the voters, the followers. Earlier thinkers had by no means ignored the psychology of the ruler's subjects. Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau and Bemham, and others, had offered some remarkable insights into human nature. These insights were based on observation and speculation, not on scientific data. In recent decades advances in theories of opinion formation, the revolution in the technique and technology of analyzing public attitudes, aspirations and goals in depth, and above all the impressive work of psychologists in analyzing the formation, structure, qualities, and change in persons' opinions, attitudes, values, wants, needs, and aspirations, have made possible an understanding of followers' response to leadership impossible only half a century ago. Cross-cultural research and analysis in popular motives and values at last permits us to avoid parochial notions of authority and power and to identify broad patterns of leadership-followership interaction as part of a broader concept of social causation. At last we can hope to close the intellectual gap between the fecund canons of authority and a new and general theory of leadership.

Such a general theory demands the best of several disciplines. Historians and biographers typically focus on the "unique" person with more or less idiosyncratic qualities and traits confronting particular sets of problems and situations over time. Psychologists scrutinize genetic factors, early intrafamily relationships, widening arcs of personal interaction, changing constellations of attitudes and motivations. Sociologists view the developing personality as it moves through a series of social contexts-family, school, neighborhood, workplace-and undergoes powerful socializing forces in the process. Political scientists emphasize the social and political institutions impinging on developing leaders, changes in political leaders as they learn from their experience, the eventual impact of leadership on policy and on history. And most of these various investigators wander into one another's fields, pouncing on insights, borrowing data, filching concepts.

We, too, will poach as required, but the initial emphasis wilt be heavily dependent on theories of personality development. As a political scientist I am sensitive to the impact of social and political entities-of homes, schools, regimens. constitutions, and political systems. I see that leaders operate in many contexts for many purposes. Why then is my central emphasis on "psychology"? The principal limitation of institutional or systemic analysis is that the kind of transferability of power or leadership that we can assess in gross terms (the influence of Indian Brahmins, the electoral power of a steel union, the discipline of the British Labour party) is not directly transferable to the calculating of influences on, or the influence of, particular leaders at particular times in particular circumstances. The power of the institution must he translated into discernible forces that immediately influence the behavior of leaders. In the past the exercise has often been fruitless because we lacked deep understanding of motivational forces. Modern developmental theory and data can help us to grasp the psychological forces immediately working on or in leaders and the dynamic psychological factors moving persons to new levels of motivation and morality.

The study of leadership in general will be advanced by looking at leaders in particular. The development of certain leaders or rulers is described not in order to "solve" leadership problems or necessarily to predict what kind of leader a person might become, but to raise questions inherent in the complexity of leadership processes. In singling out, among others, four twentieth-century "makers of history," Woodrow Wilson. Mahatma Gandhi, Nikolai Lenin, and Adolf Hitler - the first two of these leaders in my sense, the third a leader whose theory of leadership had a fatal flaw, the fourth an absolute wielder of brutal power - we can compare the origins and development of four men who took different routes to power and exercised power in different ways. We will note in these cases and others mat authoritarian rulers can emerge from relatively benign circumstances, and democratic leaders from less benign ones. This will only enhance our sense of humility. complexity, and mystery (useful intellectual inhibitions in the explorations of leadership).

We might also note, in shunning simplistic theories, that the German crown prince who was endlessly mortified and savagely punished by his wrathful father grew up to Frederick the Great, one of the most masterful - by contemporary standards - constructive and successful rulers in recent times. He who had been abused by power bore it with equanimity. "The passions of princes," Frederick wrote toward the end, "are restrained only by exhaustion."


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Last Updated on September 9, 2006