Saturday, May 29, 2010

Burns on Leadership

Before becoming a great thinker and lecturer on leadership, James MacGregor Burns was a presidential biographer. I'm reading his biography of Franklin Roosevelt right now. Here are a few thoughts on political leadership that really apply to all leadership, including pastoral leadership (sorry for the sexist pronouns, but this was written in 1956):
The test of great political leadership is not whether the leader has his way; it is, first, whether the leader makes the most of existing materials he has to work with, and, second, whether he creates new materials to help him meet his goals...

There is an important difference between the politician who is simply an able tactician, and the politician who is a creative political leader. The former accepts political conditions as given and fashions a campaign and a set of policies best suited to the existing conditions. The latter tries to change the matrix of political forces amid which he operates, in order that he may better lead the people in the direction he wants to go. The former operates within slender margins; the latter, through sheer will and conviction as well as political skill, tries to widen the margins within which he operates. He seeks not merely to win votes but consciously to alter basic political forces such as pubic opinion, party power, interest-group pressure, the governmental system.

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