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Transforming Leadership

James MacGregor Burns

In 1978, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning historian James MacGregor Burns published Leadership, a seminal book dealing with how leaders interact with society and through their efforts have the power to shape the course of history. The book became the basis for an emerging field of leadership studies that has been applied throughout the social sciences as well as in business and government. Now Burns has returned to the subject, offering a new vision of leadership-Transforming Leadership-that focuses on the ways that leaders emerge from being ordinary "transactional" brokers and deal-makers to become real agents of major social change who empower their followers.Through the course of the book, Burns illuminates the evolution of leadership structures, from the chieftains of tribal African societies, through Europe's absolute monarchies, to the blossoming of the Enlightenment's views of liberty that came to fruition in the American Revolution. Along the way he looks at key moments in leadership, and the great leaders who made them, including Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, James Madison, Napoleon, Mao, Gandhi, and Mikhail Gorbachev.Part One: Change Chapter 1: The Mysteries of Leadership An introduction to Burns' concept of leadership-how leaders differ from tyrants, and transactional leaders from transforming leaders-and how this differs from other "Great Man" views of history.Chapter 2: Searching for the X-Factor Looking at his own studies of FDR and other leaders, Burns looks at how change emanates from society, and how this shapes community and society. Leadership is the "X-Factor" that brings change from concept to social reality.Part Two: Leaders Chapter 3: Kings and Queens, Knights and Pawns Using the game of chess as a metaphor for leadership action in monarchical society, Burns looks at the leadership systems of African tribes, and how monarchy evolved to the absolute model in post-Renaissance Europe, with a portrait of Elizabeth I's successful leadership during a turbulent period in English history.Chapter 4: Leaders as Planners A look at transforming leadership outside the political arena, including the building of the Suez and Panama Canals and Charles Eliot and the making of Harvard University into a world-renown institution.Part Three: Leadership Chapter 5: The Transformation of American Leadership A look at the American Revolutionary Period, and how leaders like Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison created the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that first brought to political life the 18th century enlightenment ideals of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness"-from the foundation of America's political culture to the formation of America's political parties.Chapter 6: France: Trials of Leadership How the French Revolution, begun in the spirit of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" spun out of control because of the leadership failures of men like Robespierre-and how it ultimately resulted in the military strongman Napoleon coming to power, with dire consequences for Europe.Chapter 7: Leadership as Conflict Burns argues that conflict is an essential component to getting beyond transactional leadership into transforming leadership-that ideals and ideas must clash to yield continuing and meaningful social change. He looks through the historical prism of the 19th century Tory Party's "Loyal Opposition" in Britain (to view its success) and Gorbachev's Perestroika and Glasnost initiatives of the 1980s (and why they failed).Part Four: People Chapter 8: The Anatomy of Motivation A look at the human causes behind the necessity for social change, what the great thinkers have had to say about it from Rousseau to Marx, and how wants become needs that create demands for change.Chapter 9: Creative Leadership From da Vinci to Einstein, the genius intellect has been able to transform our understanding of the world through his or her creative vision. Burns argues that creativity is an essential part of building...

Posted Monday, August 13, 2018


The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels

Jon Meacham

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear—a struggle that continues even now.

Posted Monday, August 13, 2018


How Democracies Die

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

Posted Monday, August 13, 2018


The Death of Democracy

Benjamin Carter Hett

A riveting account of how the Nazi Party came to power and how the failures of the Weimar Republic and the shortsightedness of German politicians allowed it to happen. Why did democracy fall apart so quickly and completely in Germany in the 1930s? How did a democratic government allow Adolf Hitler to seize power? In The Death of Democracy, Benjamin Carter Hett answers these questions, and the story he tells has disturbing resonances for our own time. To say that Hitler was elected is too simple. He would never have come to power if Germany’s leading politicians had not responded to a spate of populist insurgencies by trying to co-opt him, a strategy that backed them into a corner from which the only way out was to bring the Nazis in. Hett lays bare the misguided confidence of conservative politicians who believed that Hitler and his followers would willingly support them, not recognizing that their efforts to use the Nazis actually played into Hitler’s hands. They had willingly given him the tools to turn Germany into a vicious dictatorship. Benjamin Carter Hett is a leading scholar of twentieth-century Germany and a gifted storyteller whose portraits of these feckless politicians show how fragile democracy can be when those in power do not respect it. He offers a powerful lesson for today, when democracy once again finds itself embattled and the siren song of strongmen sounds ever louder.

Posted Monday, August 13, 2018


Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times

Nancy Koehn

What do such disparate figures have in common? Why do their extraordinary stories continue to amaze and inspire? In her “enthralling…fascinating look at a varied group of heroes” (Publishers Weekly), Nancy Koehn offers a remarkable template by which to measure our aspirations and, also, to judge those in our time to whom we've given our trust. Featuring “five stand-alone case studies that are well-written and interesting” (The New York Times), Koehn begins each section by showing her protagonist on the precipice of a great crisis: Shackleton marooned on an Antarctic ice floe; Lincoln on the verge of seeing the Union collapse; escaped slave Douglass facing possible capture; Bonhoeffer agonizing over how to counter absolute evil with faith; Carson racing against the cancer ravaging her in a bid to save the planet. Readers then learn about each person’s childhood and see the individual growing—step by step—into the person he or she will ultimately become. Significantly, as we follow each leader’s against-all-odds journey, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made. In a book dense with epiphanies, the most galvanizing one may be that the power and courage to lead resides in each of us. Providing both great insight and exceptionally rendered human drama, Forged in Crisis is “a highly engaging (and well documented)…book that quietly surpasses many so-called leadership tomes”

Posted Friday, February 16, 2018


Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace

Leon Panetta

The inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many important roles in a legendary career It could be said that Leon Panetta has had two of the most consequential careers of any American public servant in the past fifty years. His first career, beginning as an army intelligence officer and including a distinguished run as one of Congress’s most powerful and respected members, lasted thirty-five years and culminated in his transformational role as Clinton’s budget czar and White House chief of staff. He then “retired” to establish the Panetta Institute with his wife of fifty years, Sylvia; to serve on the Iraq Study Group; and to protect his beloved California coastline. But in 2009, he accepted what many said was a thankless task: returning to public office as the director of the CIA, taking it from a state of turmoil after the Bush-era torture debates and moving it back to the vital center of America’s war against Al Qaeda, including the campaign that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. And then, in the wake of bin Laden’s death, Panetta became the U.S. secretary of defense, inheriting two troubled wars in a time of austerity and painful choices. Like his career, Worthy Fights is a reflection of Panetta’s values. It is imbued with the frank, grounded, and often quite funny spirit of a man who never lost touch with where he came from: his family’s walnut farm in beautiful Carmel Valley, California. It is also a testament to a lost kind of political leadership, which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship. Panetta is a Democrat who pushed for balanced budgets while also expanding care for the elderly and sick; a devout Catholic who opposes the death penalty but had to weigh every drone strike from 2009 through 2011. Throughout his career, Panetta’s polestar has been his belief that a public servant’s real choice is between leadership or crisis. Troubles always come about through no fault of one’s own, but most can be prevented with courage and foresight. As always, Panetta calls them as he sees them in Worthy Fights. Suffused with its author’s decency and stubborn common sense, the book is an epic American success story, a great political memoir, and a revelatory view onto many of the great figures and events of our time.

Posted Friday, June 10, 2016

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