HKS Authors

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Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus


During the 20th century, the United States went from being a second rate power to becoming the world’s sole superpower. Did leaders matter? In the cases I examined in Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, most presidents mattered, but not necessarily those that one might expect. Leadership experts distinguish transformational leaders with broad visions and an inspirational style (such as Woodrow Wilson or Ronald Reagan) from transactional leaders who have modest vision and a managerial style (such as Dwight Eisenhower or George H.W. Bush). Experts and editorialists generally prefer transformational leaders and consider them both more effective and more ethical. But the concepts have been poorly defined, and the normative preference for transformational leaders is not justified. Leadership theorists need to be more careful in their definitions and assessments. Leadership transformational transactional foreign policy soft power hard power contextual intelligence.


Nye, Jr., Joseph S. "Transformational and Transactional Presidents." Leadership 10.1 (February 2014): 118-124.