by: Ram de la Rosa
James MacGregor Burns authored the legendary book titled, Leadership in 1978. In it Burns outlines the importance of leadership and power, the significance of purpose, and the relationship between leader and follower. This paper outlines Burns’ basic ideas, his theories, his contributions to the field of leadership, and a comparison of his work to John W. Gardner’s 1999 book titled On Leadership.
What are Burns’ basic ideas?
James MacGregor Burns wrote his legendary book titled Leadership in 1978. In it Burns describes three basic ideas of leadership, which include power, purpose and relationship.
Burns’ first basic idea of leadership is making a distinction between power and leadership. According to Burns (1978), power is an aspect of leadership and all leaders are power holders; however, he goes on to say that not all power holders are leaders. The difference is quite simple as Burns describes it. The difference between leaders and power wielders is that leaders take followers’ goals, motives, feelings, and needs into consideration. They do this by engaging their followers and by getting to know the followers. That is what good leadership is all about; using power in a good way. On the other hand, power wielders do not take followers’ needs and goals into consideration. As a matter of fact, they use followers as things instead of people and that is not good leadership.
The second main idea which Burns describes in Leadership is purpose. If genuine leaders do leadership right and power wielders do leadership wrong, then the difference between the two is purpose. If the purpose of the leader is to have power over followers and to make them do what they would not normally do, that is leadership done wrong. If the purpose of the leader is to engage followers to do things that elevates each other to new heights, then that is leadership done right (Burns, 1978). The genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers’ values and motivations (Burns, 1978, p.19).
The third main idea Burns covers in his book is relationship. The relationship between the leader and the followers can either be transformational or transactional in nature. In transformational leadership, leaders and followers engage in a way where they raise each other to higher levels of motivation. The power of this type of elevating, mobilizing, inspiring, exalting, uplifting, preaching, exhorting, evangelizing relationship is used for the sole purpose of accomplishing common goals (Burns, 1978).
"Transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leaders and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both" (Burns, 1978, p.20).
Transactional 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, political or psychological. It’s a swap of goods for money, votes between candidates and voters, or hospitality for the willingness to listen to troubles (Burns, 1978). Transactional leadership is exactly that, a transaction of one thing for another without further expectations from either party. There is no expectation for elevating each other to a higher purpose.
What is Burns’ theory?
To sum it up in one sentence, Burns’ main theory is about the relationship and purpose between power holders and their use of transformational and transactional leadership styles. In essence, Burns defines transactional leadership as leaders using power over followers to do things they would not normally do and transformational 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 the leaders and followers (Burns, 1978, p.19). Leadership is an engagement between the leader and the follower. In transformational leadership, the followers essentially transform into leaders through the engagement of the relationship. As the follower rises to higher need so does the leader. Transformational leaders shape, alter and elevate the motives and values and goals of followers through the vital teaching role of leadership (Burns, 1978).
What body of work does Burns add to the field of leadership?
Burns contributed to the field of leadership in an extraordinary ways. He began by adding to the existing works of Stogdill and Blake and Mouton. He furthered the study of leadership by building the foundation for many of the leadership theories we study today. For example, his work on transformational leadership was further developed by (Avolio, Bass & Jung, 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006, Gardner, 1990), and many more.
Just as R. M. Stogdill in 1948, Burns identified a group of leadership traits that could specifically be tied to certain type of leader and that certain traits could only be related to a particular situation (Northouse, 2007). For example, military leaders with certain leadership traits would use transactional leadership style when directing troops in a military mission. On the other hand, educators would use transformational leadership style to ensure that students feel that their needs are being met. Leaders who are able to identify which leadership style fits which situation are better able to lead followers towards a common goal.
In Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid (1964), leaders help organizations reach their goals through concern for production and concern for people. In concern for production, leaders focus on getting the goals accomplished with little or no regard to the leader / follower relationship. While in concern for people, the leader takes the individuals’ concerns and needs into consideration (Northouse, 2007). One can say that concern for production is like transactional leadership in that both theories rely on the leaders and followers performing a transaction to meet a certain goal and then disengage. One can go on to say that transformational leadership is like concern for people, where the leader takes the followers’ needs and concerns into consideration. While this was a breakthrough in leadership theories during the early 1960’s, Burns sets the stage for future leadership authors.
Most notably Burns sets the foundation for transformational leadership and the authors Bernard M. Bass and Bruce J. Avolio. They further develop transformational leadership by dividing it into four critical components. The four components of transformational leadership include Idealized Influence, Inspirational Motivation, Intellectual Stimulation, and Idealized Consideration (Avolio, et al. 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006).
Idealized influence, the first component of transformational leadership, describes the leaders who are respected, admired and trusted by their followers. Followers can identify with the leader and emulate the leaders’ behaviors. The morals and values of the leader are consistent with the leaders’ conduct (Avolio, et al. 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006).
Inspirational motivation is the second component of transformational leadership and pertains to leaders who provide meaning and challenge to the work of the followers and create individual and team spirit. The leader is optimistic and enthusiastic and encourages followers to envision a positive influence (Avolio, et al. 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006).
Intellectual stimulation is the third component of transformational leadership and describes leaders who encourage innovation and creativity in their followers through the questioning of assumptions and the ability to reframe problems. Mistakes are not criticized and followers are included in problem resolution (Avolio, et al. 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006).
Individual consideration is the forth component of transformational leadership and describes a leader who is a coach and mentor to followers and one who pays attention to the individual needs of followers (Avolio, et al. 1999; Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggo, 2006).
How does the work of Burns and Gardner compare and contrast?
John W. Gardner also writes about leadership and power in his 1999 book titled, On Leadership. Gardner distinguishes between leadership and power holders in one critical way. He writes that leaders always have a measure of power but power holders do not necessarily have a measure of leadership. This is inline with Burns’ writings in his 1978 book titled Leadership. Gardner goes on to write that leadership and the exercise of power are distinguishable activities but interweave in important ways.
"Leadership and power are not the same thing. But they interweave at many points. Power is the capacity to ensure the outcomes one wishes and to prevent those one does not wish" (Gardner, 1999, p.55).
Both Gardner and Burns agree that leadership and power are interrelated but not the same. However, Gardner goes on to say that individuals with power have the power to undertake specific actions as it pertains to their own leadership position. Leading to the fact that even the most power people do not have all the power to do everything they desire. Gardner also notes that leaders could, in fact, be power holders and exercise their power yet not necessarily become corruptive in the process. In other words, Burns draws a clear distinction between good and bad leaders based on power while Gardner does not. For example, Gardner mentions that a leader is someone that inspires, motivates, lifts spirits, is visionary, and yet still has the power to enact a new process or new funding. Gardner gives us examples of great charismatic leaders who were also power holders. In this group he included Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. It can be concluded that Gardner echoed the great writings of Burns’ but added his own body of knowledge.
James MacGregor Burns build on the works of such leadership authors as Stogdill, and Blake and Mouton. Many consider James MacGregor Burns the father of leadership and many have build on his significant contributions. While Burns was not the first to make a distinction between leadership and power, he was the first to identify the distinct relationship between leader and follower as either transformational or transactional. Many followed Burns and added to the leader/follower relationship theories. Most significantly, Bass and Avolio who further build on the transformational theory by identifying four main components. Many studies are based on the legendary leadership foundations which Burns provided in his 1978 book titled Leadership.
Avolio, B. J., Bass, B. M., & Jung, D. I. (1999). Re-examining the components of transformational and transactional leadership using the Multi-factor Leadership. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 72(4), 441-462.
Bass, B. M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(1), 9-32.
Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Bass, B. M., Riggo, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Gardner, J. W. (1990). On leadership. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Northouse, P. G. (2007). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35–71.
Our Lady of the Lake University
LEAD 9350, Summer 2010
Readings I: Historical Leadership Theories