Review: Transforming Leadership–The Pursuit of Happiness

5 Star, Leadership

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Good News: It's Possible; Bad News: Not With Today's Lot,

July 26, 2003
James MacGregor Burns
Edit of 22 Dec 07 to add links.

This is quite a fine book. It will be especially valuable to that very rare breed of all-source intelligence analyst, those responsible for analyzing foreign leaders, and completely fed up with the sterile “biographic” analysis that lists job titles and honors. The author expands substantially on the very immature but promising field leadership analysis by discussing in detail the concepts and practices of “traits-based” or “value” leadership.

The author, himself already established as one of the best writers about leaders and leadership, breaks new ground in exploring the psychology of leadership, and creating a new inter-disciplinary and psychologically-rooted approach to understanding leadership at the national, organizational, and personal levels. He concludes that transformative leadership is all too rare; that it can redirect the fate of nations (Ghandi stands out as an exemplar), and that nurturing true transformative leadership rather than mere industrial-era task-mandating and monitoring leadership, is the core competency for navigating into the 21st Century.

The author is especially brutal when his idea are applied to the charismatic or ideologically-purified forms of leadership that pass for Presidential politics today. “At best, charisma is a confusing and undemocratic form of leadership. At worst, it is a form of tyranny.”

He spends a great deal of time examining the founding fathers of America and the process by which they defined both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitute, and his findings are quite remarkable (especially in light of recent attempts by Republicans in Texas and in the House of Representives to totally silence Democrats and override dissenting votes without voice):

1) The minority is an absolutely essential part of collective learning and the great dialog that leads to sound decisions. Repressing the minority is a prescription for disaster.

2) The pursuit of happiness, rather than property, was very deliberately selected by the founding fathers in order to focus on human values and collective learning, rather than property rights.

3) Rebellion from time to time is a feature, not a fault. “…the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” per John Adams. He specifically focuses on the importance of the loyal opposition as a means of enabling principled change by the majority in the cauldron of informed debate.

4) The right to abolish the U.S. Government is specifically reserved to the American people. The author notes that absolutist ideas inspire revolt, crowds have immeasurable power, and narrow ideologies with ritual tests of orthodoxy are an invitation to popular revolution.

After reviewing a number of leaders across history, the author quotes Roosevelt, who said “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob” and then sets the stage for his concluding section, which suggests that leaders must embrace deep values that accept the happiness of the people as the ultimate challenge for the community, that they must empower followers rather than merely engage them, and that the ultimate challenge for all leaders of all nations and organizations is global poverty and the need to eradicate global poverty if billions are to find some semblance of happiness (and implicitly, stability that reduces the threat to the United States and Europe).

He quotes others in emphasizing that men in fear or want are not free men; that technology and money is not the answer to poverty, only values and liberation from fear and want, and–his final word, it the end it must be a “great people” rather than a “great man” that rises to the global challenge.

America! A Whole Earth. We can only imagine…

Bad Leadership:
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude

Good Leadership:
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest

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