Wilberforce: Agent of Change

“It is not revolutions and upheavals that clear the road to new and better days but… someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze” (Pasternak in Holladay, 1999). Such inspired leaders are rare, but memorable in the annals of history. Komives (2016) introduces the concept of a ‘change agent’ who “serves as a catalyst for a group, stirring people up [for] positive change” (p. 398). These leaders either create or inherit a change potential and have the ability and power to lead that change effectively. The internal motivation of someone who is ‘inspired and ablaze’ with passion can affect change in the most stubborn of situations.

“It is not revolutions and upheavals that clear the road to new and better days but… someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze.”

William Wilberforce is a wonderful example of a truly inspired soul, determined to complete the tasks he saw laid out for him by God. We are all familiar with his crucial role in leading the charge toward the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, but few of us really know his whole story and what depth of character he exhibited in every area of his life. As was oft repeated in class, the ability to create real change has the prerequisite of first changing and developing one’s self. Continue reading “Wilberforce: Agent of Change”

The Values of a Leader

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” – Yogi Berra, n.d.

In the short-term, a common purpose can motivate a team of people to accomplish a set of tasks toward a specific goal, but legacy-grade change can only come from a group bonded by shared values. These values can supersede any differences in strategic policies and can unite, for example, entire countries. “Values strengthen the whole fabric of leadership;” even through external conflicts and internal strife, these values can help to “sustain the mobilization and deepen the empowerment of followers” (Burns, 2007, p. 212).

Accounting principles are based on values such as accuracy, integrity, and independence. The maintenance of these values is critical to preserving our professional reputation for character and competency. This reputation is held industry-wide and when one notable failure or lapse in judgement occurs, the public tends to blame the entire profession.

As a leader, it is important to identify your own set of values. Not only will it keep you accountable, but will also help streamline decision-making when a dilemma is encountered.

Brian Stevenson, in his fight for justice, is an example of someone motivated by his values, and the team around him is an illustration of a group united by those values. He values justice and acts on that value by fighting for those suffering from injustice. If his sole goal was the justice of a single person, then his leadership would be short-lived and the change ineffective. As it is, however, he has been a catalyst for great change within the American justice system. Values trump an individual or a single instance–they are long-lasting and broadly accepted, creating a strong basis for unity between a leader and among followers. (Stevenson, 2015)


  1. Berra, Yogi. (n.d.). Yogi in 13 great leadership quotes. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/lee-colan/13-great-leadership-quotes.html
  2. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: Book Summary

(Disclaimer: Spoiler Alert! This is a summary, rather than a book review.)

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions. It begins by describing the small-town life of the Dreher family, a whimsical tale of patchwork memories that reinforce the developing differences between a sister and a brother. The author captures the emotions of youth—more feeling than fact—and the third-party quotes used to supplement his memory mimicked the long afternoons spent listening to our parents’ parents expounding on their fond recollections of us in our childhood.

From childhood, we remain silent witnesses as the Dreher children solidify in their differences and begin their adult lives. They live in different worlds and claim different worldviews, but still share that sibling bond. Continue reading “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: Book Summary”

What You Want

“No one is afraid of Caesar himself, but he is afraid of death, exile, loss of property, prison, disfranchisement. Nor does anyone love Caesar himself, unless in some way Caesar is a person of great merit; but we love wealth, a tribuneship, a praetorship, a consulship. When we love and hate and fear these things, it needs must be that those who control them are masters over us” (Epictetus in Burns, 2007, p. 196).

Pascal (in Burns, 2007) defined power as “the possession of things that men want.” Whether that be resources, notoriety, or freedom from punishment, whoever holds these objects of desire holds power over those who want them. A ruler might have power to coerce subjects to do his will because he has control over the satisfaction of their physical needs, but there is a limit to the power of coercion. Followers have their own set of wants and needs that, when they go unfulfilled by their leadership, cause a conflict of resources and motivate people to protest.

In a normal leader-follower relationship, both sides have their own motivations and resources which balance each other out (Burns, 2007). “The more that the interplay of motives, rather than brute physical power, dominates the relationship, the more the ruler is acting as a leader and the subjects are acting as empowered followers, as citizens” (Burns, 2007, p. 196).

In the workplace, the company offers an employee some variation of stability, income, purpose, and comradeship. Each employee might be motivated by a difference resource offered and when their need either changes or is no longer being satisfied, then they are motivated to leave the company. In a company with toxic leadership, an employee might be coerced to perform unethically because they need the resources which leadership is offering. If the cognitive dissonance becomes strong enough, then the employee’s motivation to leave will overpower their motivation to stay for the resources.

In my own leadership roles, I hope to remember that “power is a gift to the powerful by those over whom the power may be exercised, who recognize the power as legitimate” (Burns, 2007, p. 195). In other words, my leadership will only be made possible by the people who will have chosen to follow me.

I was reading about William Wilberforce this week, particularly about his campaign to reform the moral character of England, and I was impressed by the fact that he could change the actions of the aristocracy by “making goodness fashionable” (Pollock, 1996). He recognized their motivation to stay trendy and ‘with the times,’ so he changed the definition of what was fashionable. The success of this endeavor proved that influencing the attitudes and desires of people is often more powerful than the enactment of a law (Goodwin, 2006).

Coercion will only get a ruler so far. A healthy balance between motivations and resources, along with the acknowledgement that the leader is only in power by the consent of the followers, will allow for a strong position of leadership.



  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Goodwin, D. K. (2006). Team of rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  3. Pollock, John. (1996) “A man who changed his times” in Character counts: Leadership qualities in Washington, Wilberforce, Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn. Os Guinness (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


The Burns Paradox

Which came first–the leader or the follower?

In Burns (2007), a paradox between leader and follower is introduced and discussed. This paradox is based on the premise that occasionally (but more often than we might think), the roles of “follower” and “leader” could be reversed. Especially depending on the context of each situation, a leader in one area of life might find themselves a dutiful follower in another (Burns, 2007, p. 171).

The question is posed: “how do we distinguish conceptually between leaders and followers?” To personalize this question, perhaps we can think of instances in our own lives when we’ve played the role of ‘leader’ for one group–perhaps as a parent or older sibling at home–then we turned around and followed a leader of another group–perhaps our boss at work or a teacher. The distinction between these roles is clear, aided by a change in location and people. But what about a time when this distinction might be less apparent? Think, perhaps, of a military relationship between a private and a sergeant. There exists rigid hierarchical structure, to be sure. How often might these rigid roles become fluid in the heat of battle? (Burns, 2007)

Burns (2007), resolves this paradox in part by separating people with “unrealized wants [and] unexpressed attitudes” from those with “strong motivations to initiate action” on the other. By this definition, one person could very well be both a leader and a follower in any situation. Their leadership initiative would depend upon their natural motivations.

As a student employee, I can see this in action. Even though I am at the bottom of the totem pole within the organization, I am still making an impact in students’ lives through the decisions I make. I still manage to lead my coworkers to a small extent by encouraging them to engage in office-wide activities or by giving constructive feedback to my supervisors. My passion is the creating of community, so I express leadership through my initiation of activities that would promote community–even while I follow the job-specific leadership of my superiors.

These experiences have led me to realize how vital the flow of information and relations is between a leader and their followers. Komives (2012) examines what is necessary for an organization to experience transformative change. It starts with an individual understanding of the purpose behind organizational decisions (Komives, 2012).

She makes the point that “when leadership is not done in secret and imposed upon followers but is a collaborative and empowering process between leaders and followers, the organization can accomplish more than ever thought possible” (Komives, 2012, p.106). In such an organization, the commitment of each individual follower to organizational goals makes each of them a leader on some level.


  1. Burns, James MacGregor (2007-12-01). Transforming Leadership. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Komives, Susan R.; Wagner, Wendy (2012-06-14). Leadership for a Better World: Understanding the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Wiley. Kindle Edition.