- This Course is based mainly on Professor James MacGregor Burns's (Williams College) paper Transforming Leadership prepared for the First Global Nonkilling Leadership Forum, Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist Temple, Honolulu, Hawai‛i, November 1-4, 2007. The Course is part of the Program on Nonkilling Leadership Development at the School of Nonkilling Studies.
I salute the eminent men and women taking part in this creative meeting and wish only that I could attend. I look forward to reports of the discussions and to hearing Glenn Paige’s re-flections. Glenn has asked me to comment in advance of the meetings on the role of leader-ship both in thinking about titanic problems such as nonkilling and others such as poverty and inequality. I should explain that I began academic life as a political scientist, and am still one, but I soon branched out into studies of psychology, history, and especially philosophy. From there I went on to do in the mid-20th century some of the early work on leadership, which I defined broadly as to encapsulate studies in all the above disciplines and others.
Early on in my research and thinking about leadership I began to make a distinction between transformational (or transforming, which I prefer) leadership and transac-tional. By the latter term, transactional, I mean the kind of leadership that is exercised through bargaining, negotiating, give-and-take. This leadership is exercised in all socie-ties, I believe, to different degrees and in different ways, and is crucially important in settling differences, but often disintegrates into selfish and even criminal behavior.
I became much more interested in transforming leadership because of its role in the great decisions that societies and nations must make—and may form part of your dis-cussions of nonkilling and its highest hopes. Transforming leadership rises above trans-actional in order to study and promote change in nations’ and peoples’ handling of cru-cial issues of war and peace, social and individual justice, health, environment and to me the most crucial problem, encapsulating all the foregoing—poverty, poverty in all nations but especially in deprived or neglected areas around the world. I associate trans-forming leadership with leaders as different as Gandhi in India and Roosevelt in Amer-ica, although your distinguished participants will know of many other examples. Trans-forming leaders have the capacity to rise above the day-to-day give-and-take and meet the broadest challenges facing their societies. To do this requires both vision and the capacity to change institutions and constitutions and laws.
To discuss transforming leadership, however, makes it imperative to do two things. First, to analyze perhaps the most neglected aspect of leadership-followership. How often do we read about the great leaders who succeeded or failed, without any mention of the fol-lowers who supported or opposed them? Obviously you cannot have leaders without fol-lowers, leadership without followership. Ultimately the test of leadership, indeed, is its abil-ity to mobilize followers and convert them into new leaders who ultimately replace the old.
The second crucial aspect of transforming leadership consists of the principles and ideals—the values—by which it is measured. Here again the distinction between trans-formational and transactional leadership is important. The latter kind of leadership—negotiators, brokers and the like—must operate by what I call ethical standards—honesty, responsibility, reciprocity. Much of our day-to-day political and financial bro-kerage depends on people living up to their promises, and the like.
Even more important, in my view, are the values undergirding transformational lead-ership—values related to freedom, equality, security and the like. These are sometimes called “Western” values but I think of them as global—your able participants would have a better knowledge of this than I. But what I do know is that there was a so-called West-ern Enlightenment, which was a huge and complex and often messy movement, but which fundamentally tested Western societies and government by certain ideals. I do not need to pontificate about this—these ideas and ideals were superbly enunciated and em-bodied in America’s greatest document—the Declaration of Independence, specifically in the resounding words —life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life meaning security of persons and nations, liberty meaning all that we associate with the broad term freedom (as in Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms), and the pursuit of happiness a kind of vague but evocative Jeffersonian concept. But the crucial aspect of the Declaration is not these high-sounding words alone but the fact that they presented a rational conflict over time in American (and I would add in British, Continental and other worldly societies). Over time Americans and others have argued about security—national or personal, restrictive or life affirming? About liberty—protection against government or realizing broader freedom through government, as in FDR’s Second Bill of Rights? Happiness—open to endless de-bate, but in my view the greatest underpinning of happiness is social and economic equality.
I hope that these feeble words might make a bit of a contribution to what I expect to be creative and constructive discussions in your beautiful land.