Conversations and Correspondence with Burns on the Ethics of Transforming Leadership




This short chapter was written from letters and conversations with my colleague and friend, James MacGregor Burns. Burns is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and one of the most influential leadership scholars. He is best known for his theory of transforming leadership that later evolved into theories about transformational leadership. The reason why Burns’s work is so powerful, is because it was one of the first, and still few, studies that is truly interdisciplinary. His theory of transforming leadership is based on the history of real leaders, political theories, and work in psychology. Burns and I were kindred spirits when it came to interdisciplinary research, but we also enjoyed arguing about the theoretical and substantive differences we had about leaders and leadership. When Burns passed away in 2014, I had the opportunity to look over our correspondence and write this article about some of our discussions for an issue of Leadership and the Humanities that honored his work.

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