James Macgregor Burns

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James MacGregor Burns

James MacGregor Burns (born August 3, 1918) is a presidential biographer, authority on Leadership Studies, Woodrow Wilson Professor (emeritus) of Political Science at Williams College, where he also received his B.A. He is also a scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1971 for his Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom 1940-1945.

His key innovation in leadership theory was shifting away from studying the traits of great men and transactional management to focus on the interaction of leaders and led as collaborators working toward mutual benefit. He is best known for contributions to the Transformational, Aspirational and Visionary schools of leadership theory.

Excerpts from his book Leadership:

"Leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers... in order to realize goals mutually held by both leaders and followers...."

"Transformational leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality."

"That people can be lifted into their better selves is the secret of transforming leadership and the moral and practical theme of this work."


Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom 1940-1945, published with Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich in 1970 (ISBN 0-15-602757-7).

Transforming Leadership: The Pursuit of Happiness, published with Atlantic Monthly Press in 2003 (ISBN 0-87113-866-2).

The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America, with Susan Dunn, published with Grove Press in 2001 (ISBN 0-8021-3872-1).

Leadership, published with Harper Collins in 1978 (ISBN 0-06-010588-7).

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

John Kennedy: A Political Profile

Government by the People

Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court, published with Penguin Group in 2009 (ISBN 1594202192)

University of Maryland's James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership [1]

Booknotes interview with Burns on The Crosswinds of Freedom, June 4, 1989. [2]