Dr. George R. (Al) Goethals is the E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professors in Leadership Studies Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Previously at Williams College he served as chair of the Department of Psychology, Acting Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and founding chair of the Program in Leadership Studies. Goethals’ published books include Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them (2010) and Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals (2013, both with Scott T. Allison). More recently he authored Presidential Leadership and African Americans: “An American Dilemma” from Slavery to the White House (2015), Realignment, Region and Race: Presidential Leadership and Social Identity (2018), and The Romance of Heroism and Heroic Leadership (2019, with Allison). Goethals received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association. With Allison and Georgia J. Sorenson he is co-editor of the Sage Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies (2023).
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About The International Leadership Association (ILA)
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Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.
Scott Allen 0:00
Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thank you so much for checking in wherever you are in the world. We definitely appreciate you being here with us and checking in, as always. Today, I just have a giant in the leadership studies literature, and I'm so excited for this conversation. I have George R. (Al) Goethals. And he is the E. Claiborne Robins distinguished professor in Leadership Studies emeritus at the University of Richmond. Previously, at Williams College, he served as chair of the Department of Psychology, acting dean of the faculty, Provost, and founding chair of the program in leadership studies. Goethals published books include ‘Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them,’ 2010, ‘Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals,’ 2013 with Scott Allison. More recently, he authored ‘Presidential Leadership and African Americans: "An American Dilemma" from Slavery to the White House,’ 2015, ‘Realignment, Region, and Race: Presidential Leadership and Social Identity’ in 2018, and ‘The Romance of Heroism and Heroic Leadership,’ 2019 with Allison. Goethals received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association. And with Scott Allison and Georgia, J Sorenson, he is the co-editor of The SAGE Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. That's 2023. Sir, you have been incredibly busy.
George Goethals 1:31
I have been, yeah.
Scott Allen 1:33
Well, I am so excited for this conversation. Maybe, before we jump in, what else do listeners need to know about you? Share a little bit about you; hobbies. What else do you do when you're not writing books about leadership, what is Al spending his time on?
George Goethals 1:49
Oh, gosh, I used to be a pretty decent runner, but at age 75, that had to stop. But I'm still doing writing and editing. I'm not being paid for it anymore, so I can't claim it's my job when I go off to the office. But I'm mostly a reader and writer of things presidential, which has been an interest for me since about third grade.
Scott Allen 2:17
Oh, wow, really, since third grade? So, talk about that.
George Goethals 2:21
My parents had a picture of Abraham Lincoln in the house, and I knew he was the 16th president. I don't know what that meant to me at the time, but then I read a book on various presidents, and I learned about them. When I was in fifth grade, my dad offered me $5 to learn all the presidents, and vice presidents, and defeated candidates. And most of that stuck. So, I've always had an interest in these guys.
Scott Allen 2:46
And the defeated candidates, that's… (Laughs)
George Goethals 2:50
Well, they're much more important than the vice presidents, actually. (Laughs)
Scott Allen 2:53
George Goethals 2:56
So, it's really a lifelong interest in history and then in psychology. I'm really interested in… I took a high school psychology class the first year it was offered, and gosh, it was terribly dull. Just classical conditioning, and so forth. This is Winchester High School in the suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. And the teacher, who was a grad student at Harvard, came in one day, he wanted to talk about Freud. And I never heard the word. I guess I had to check it out with the police department or the fire department. And boy, that got my attention. And then, he said, “Are there any students here who know that they cannot study Freud?” I was astounded by the question. And a bunch of the kids raised their hands. Those are the kids who went to St. Mary's, a Catholic school. So, whatever this Freud thing is, it's on the Catholic list of forbidden texts, and I need to read it. (Laughs)
Scott Allen 3:58
Tell me more. I'm intrigued, this Freud character.
George Goethals 4:01
So, that caught me. So, a lifelong interest in social influence in group behavior, combined with my interest in presidents, nicely spilled over to research on presidential debates. So then, that led me to… Well, that didn't lead me, but I was fortunate enough to get a job offer at Williams College in 1970. And one of the things I knew about Williams College, there was a professor there named James McGregor Burns who had written this book called ‘John Kennedy: A Political Profile,’ which is a campaign biography of Kennedy. And I happened to, first encounter him in December of 1971 Ted Kennedy. Within a year, the Chappaquiddick disaster, was running for reelection, and he was giving a lecture in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, giving a campaign talk. And this man stood up and asked a question, and it was fascinating because it was both intellectually challenging but just in the demeanor of the whole thing. It was clear that this questioner was a fan of Ted Kennedy and maybe the Kennedys in general. And I said, “That has to be James McGregor Burns. I taught a little course during the winter study periods, it's an unusual pass-fail, kind of, between semester courses on presidents. And I invited Burns to come to class, and he talked about some theories of presidential leadership. So, that was really our first meeting. And then, the second meeting, one day, he knocked on my door he said, “Have you got a minute?” And there was the great man, of course. And he said he was interested in leadership. And he made it clear that he wasn't simply leader, but the whole scholarly realm of… The whole nature of leadership. He said, “I know that I'm missing something, I need to understand psychology related to leadership. Particularly, I need to understand human motivation.” And we chatted, and I'd asked him if he knew the work of Abraham Maslow. “No”, he said. Maslow was famous within psychology for his ‘hierarchy of needs’ and the basic idea that when lower needs are satisfied, like, safety needs, then you go on to higher level needs, like need for esteem, and finally, self-actualization. He was very intrigued by that. And I also put him onto the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, who talked about moral development. And he and I had some correspondence and a couple of further conversations. And he was really taken with those two theories, those two bodies of work. And, interestingly enough, they have found their way into his most important contribution, which is the contribution, the idea, the notion of transforming as opposed to transactional leadership, which he defines as leaders and followers engaging each other in a way which raises both to higher levels of motivation and morality. He also talks about how leaders, by satisfying motives, can change them, which is right out of Maslow. And so, my fantasy, of course, is the notion of transforming leadership was born that afternoon, just about 50 years ago, when Burns tumbled into my office and asked about motivation. And then, I guess you must have talked about moral development.
Scott Allen 7:58
Well, I'm guessing if he's talking about motivation and morality, you had a little piece on that, sir.
George Goethals 8:06
Yeah. Maybe so. And one thing, for the record, Scott, is that Burns is often credited with developing the concept of transformational leadership. And that may be one of the best-known terms to come out of what one might call the leadership industry. Burns never used the term transformational leadership, it was always ‘transforming.’ And transforming leadership, that concept has the moral component in it, which transformational does not, at least, not explicitly. I guess, good for Jim that transformational leadership is attributed to him. But I would prefer that people, when they think of Burns, think of “transforming” and think of the moral component, which really is central to all of his work.
Scott Allen 8:57
Well, I never had an opportunity to interact in any great depth with him. I saw him at a few ILA conferences, and sat in some sessions, and, of course, was in awe. This might have been around when I was doing some of my Ph.D. work in 2003/2004/2005, around then. But talk a little bit about Jim as a person. What are some reflections you have on him as an individual?
George Goethals 9:23
Oh, gosh, he was such an interesting person. Actually, I gave a brief eulogy at his funeral, and I mentioned the fact that when you call him on the telephone, 413-458-8607…
Scott Allen 9:40
George Goethals 9:41
And if he wasn't there, the answering machine would come on. And he says, “This is James McGregor Burns, Jim Burns.” So, there's always this double identity of, “I'm a big scholar, I'm James McGregor Burns, but I'm also Jim Burns.” And that's what I saw, actually, in that Ted Kennedy rally. There was both the tough analytic question, but with a personal seal of approval somehow. And, in fact, in 1983, I proposed to Jim that we have a retrospective on the 20th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. He said, “Great idea, you organize it.” And I did. And Burns, and me, and a sociologist, and an economist. And he kept saying, “Be tough in your comments. This is not hagiography, that this is a hard-nosed, intellectual penetration of Kennedy.” And, of course, he was the anchorman of the last one, and I don't remember much about what he said except that he ended with a very sentimental Yeats poem that related to Kennedy. So, there was always the very personal, very emotional, and the analytic. He was very generous. He had his agenda. And one thing that I'm forever grateful to him for is he kept pushing me, maybe, starting back in the '70s, I really don't remember, to start a Leadership Studies program at Williams. And he had tried to do it. And I remember meeting in New York where a classmate at Williams, Jack Sawyer, who was former president, organized a bunch of people to push it. And I think Burns got a grant from the Olin Foundation, I think, in a political science taught course, maybe back as early as 1990. But nothing came of it, partly because Jim was retired, partly because he wasn't as good at transactional leadership as he was in transforming leadership. But I was provost for five years at William's from 1995. And when I stopped doing that, I said, “I'm going to teach a course on leadership,” and that’s something of a break with my traditional social psychology work. And that led to a program, and Burns had his fingerprints all over that. He said, “G, do you mind if this alumnus honors your course, and you let's have a dinner with…” One wonderful thing about that, that goes back to 1997, he mentioned the James McGregor Burns Academy at the University of Maryland and Georgia Sorenson. And I remember being in Washington in March 31st, 1998. God, it was a hot day. I went to College Park and I met Georgia, Barbara Kellerman, a graduate student there named Scott Webster. I don't know if he's still at Harvard, I'm not sure what has become of his career. He did a wonderful doctoral thesis on Spiro Agnew. But anyway, I got connected with Georgia, and then I was asked to add in the Encyclopedia of Leadership by a small publishing company, Berkshire Publishing in Berkshire County. And they wanted local involvement, and I couldn't possibly have done that without Georgia because she just knew the names, and numbers and the players much, much, much better than I did, and also, some of the work. And actually, let me back up because, before that happened, I became acquainted starting in late 2000, early 2001, with the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, and Jim Burns helped birth that program.
Scott Allen 13:56
So, he did get it. He got it, just not at Williams.
George Goethals 14:01
He got it. I know the President of the University of Richmond called a man named John Chandler, who was the former president of Williams, and says, “This guy burns for real.” Yeah, he is. And then, so Jim, in the early 90s ended up as a Senior Scholar advisor for two years at the University of Richmond to help form the curriculum. And, actually, the first year of the Jepson faculty, they didn't teach anything. It was all developing the courses. Joanne Ciulla, Richard Couto, Gil Hickman, Tom Wren, I think we're all in that first group. I know Joanne was, and I Richard - Dick Couto.
Scott Allen 14:39
Just an incredible team of scholars that you just listed.
George Goethals 14:43
They were fabulous. And then, Jim and Giorgio cooked up this idea of collaboratively writing a general theory of leadership, and they…
Scott Allen 14:56
Take listeners through this. I've never had this conversation on the podcast, and so I think that'll be a lot of fun. Take listeners through these adventures.
George Goethals 15:06
So, that fall, right after 9/11, actually, we convened in Richmond with the Jepson faculty, Georgia, Burns, a couple of other people. We tried various things. There were some presentations at ILA and Seattle in 2002.
Scott Allen 15:26
That was my first ILA, in 2002. And so, I attended that presentation. I don't know that I understood anything. (Laughs)
George Goethals 15:34
We talked about the Montgomery bus boycott, I think. The leadership in relation to that. So I got involved, by way of Jim, with the Jepson school. I was on a sabbatical in the spring of 2004 at the Jepson school, Georgia was teaching a course there, and Burns had some appointments. So, the three of us were there and working with the Jepson faculty. And I remember, I think the date is May 4th, 2004, I had become the organizer, somehow, of this project. And we met in the Dean's conference room at Jepson, and Michael Harvey, and Mark Walker, a couple of other people were there. And I remember saying as we started that meeting in the morning, “We either have a plan for when we adjourn for lunch, we've been kicking this around for a couple of years. ILA conferences and other ones.” And, by gosh, we did. And then later that year, one of the Jepsen faculty, Fred Jabelin, was tragically murdered by his ex-wife, and I think she was convicted of murder one, I won't go into all of that. But I'd been there first semester, and the dean asked me, “How should we replace Fred? Should we get an organizational psychologist?” And I said “Social psychologist.” So, I said, “Yeah, let me think.” So, I did some research. I made a list for Ken of some senior leadership scholars and then some of their students and younger people. And I was having lunch with him, visiting Richmond, and I’d done my homework. And I was going through this list of people, and he looked terribly bored. He said, “Would you be interested?” And so that led to my appointment I didn't start until January 06. And I had an interesting conversation with Burns about that because I was leaving Williams. And I had started the program in the leadership phase at Williams. It was up and running, and it was doing fine. And really, it was within a year of it being finally approved by the faculty that I told him I was leaving, and he was ambivalent. He congratulated me and said, “That's great.” And since Richmond, in some ways, was as meaningful to him as Williams in a more limited way, he said, “Yeah.” And we kept in touch until the very end, and so it was interesting.
Scott Allen 18:30
Well, I was saying to you before we started recording that, really, you are a part of my first academic publication because the Encyclopedia of Leadership, which there’s four-volume, I can't even imagine the undertaking here, sir. But it's you and Georgia Sorensen, and James McGregor Burns or Jim Burns, depending on… And Dick Couto, he was my advisor in my Ph.D. program, and he got me looped into the ILA right away. And he started offering us opportunities to publish. And so, I had written an article on how the Beatles were leaders, and David Sarnoff. (Laughs) And I am so thankful. And it's so interesting to me that now, years and years later, we're connecting in this way, and you were a part of my first academic publication. You provided so many individual opportunities to contribute to that just incredible volume.
George Goethals 19:32
Well, I wish we'd had a chance to talk about Beatles because, when I lecture on human psychology, four types: thinking, feeling, intuition, intuition, and sensation, well, I back up with Beatles songs that claim that Ringo is the sensation type, and the Harrison is the feeling type, and that Lennon is the thinking type. ‘You say you want a revolution.’ And McCartney is an intuitive type. And that's why their music is so good because it combines all of these functions.
Scott Allen 20:07
Oh, that's awesome. I'd never thought of it that way at all. I'd never thought of it that way. But it would be interesting to watch the Peter Jackson documentary, Get Back documentaries through the lens of…Oh my gosh, did you have an opportunity to watch that? It was just fascinating.
George Goethals 20:22
No, I haven't. It is something on my list of things.
Scott Allen 20:24
It's so fascinating. I have this dream, it's not something that is high on the priority list. But I think you could do a whole course on group dynamics with that documentary. It is fascinating to watch the nonverbals or even just moments where ‘Get Back’ emerges out of nothing. Just sitting around.
George Goethals 20:50
We've had various discussions, like, family about favorite Beatles song, I think ‘Get Back’ is… It's hard to pick one, but that is certainly a contender. And the movie, ‘Let it Be.’ Did you see that?
Scott Allen 21:05
I don't know that I did. I don't know that I did.
George Goethals 21:08
That came out shortly after 1970, and it's about the concert on a rooftop. And I know part of that finds its way into the Get Back documentary. And boy, there's a scene in there where McCartney's talking to Harrison, and you just feel so much tension between the two of them. And Harrison was being sort of passive-aggressive, and then McCarney was trying to bully but not bully. And then, Ringo walks in “Hello, Richard.” So, he sort of eases the tensions. Yes, so the group dynamics.
Scott Allen 21:51
Yoko sitting there reading the newspaper, trying to contribute.
George Goethals 21:56
Yeah, it's fabulous.
Scott Allen 21:58
Well, talk about the Encyclopedia of Leadership a little bit. I think for listeners who are not familiar with this four-volume set, just incredible undertaking talking about that project because…
George Goethals 22:11
That was a lot of work. And then the people of Berkshire Publishing did most of the heavy lifting. It was very broad, had a lot of biographies in it, as you know, and sidebars, and very, very broad. And I think it contributed to the field. I know people use it. Gosh, it was a long time ago now. That was done 20 years ago. And more recently, I guess, in 2019, Sage called me up out of the blue wanted to do a second edition. Well, there are complications in the relationship between Berkshire Publishing and Sage, which I don't understand, but what we decided to do was a whole new project Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. And I asked Georgia whether she would like to be involved in it. She said, “Yeah, but I have to understand that my health is precarious.” I said, “Let’s proceed as best we can.” Then I also brought in my colleague, Scott Allison, with whom I'd written a couple of books on heroism and heroic leadership. And so, the three of us commenced, and sadly, Georgia died just as we were getting off the ground, but she was a contributor just by her encouragement, her contacts, and her knowledge. And so, she's a full-fledged editor of the book, which came out earlier this year. So, 19 years between the Encyclopedia of Leadership and the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. And the latter is more scholarly, I would say, doesn't have bios, and it just focuses on theory and research.
Scott Allen 24:04
Would you reflect a little bit on Georgia just because she was such a giant in the field? And I was interacting with her just as the podcast was beginning. I think I started the podcast in April of 2020, and we started to kind of interact about her being on the podcast, and she said, “I want to do this,” but then it was just a little bit kind of precarious. And so, we never got to have the conversation. Her daughter, Susanna, has been on, and that was a wonderful conversation, but I know listeners would love to hear some of your reflections on Georgia as well.
George Goethals 24:40
Well, she became a good friend and colleague. We edited the book that came out of the general theory project, which is called ‘The Quest for General Theory of Leadership,’ and it was the impossible dream, ‘The Quest.’ She stayed with us once or twice when she visited me and Jim in Williamstown, and we just stayed in touch, kind of the three of us. But I had my own relationship with Georgia, which was mostly bouncing ideas off of each other. We did a couple of things together after the quest book. There's a handbook of leadership that Alan Bryman, I think David Collinson, and maybe Keith Grint edited. I can't remember who the editors were, and Georgia, and I, and a third author's page. I'm forgetting her name. She's a student and wrote a chapter on the history and future of the general leadership project. But, ever since I first met her in 1998, and she had worked for Jimmy Carter, and we talked about that. And among many other things, she was a dear friend and colleague who contributed a great deal to the field of Leadership Studies.
Scott Allen 26:09
Exactly. Well, what should listeners know about the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies? Is there anything that you want people to, as we begin to kind of wind down our time, is there anything you want listeners to know? And, of course, I'll put links in the show notes so that people can click on that. But what intrigued you through this process? What kind of stands out for you as you think about this work? Because, again, it's two volumes. It's a large undertaking.
George Goethals 26:35
Yeah. Well, just getting to know a much broader range of scholars of leadership than I knew when I started. I just didn't know, as I said, the names and numbers of the players in a way that Georgia did, and I still didn’t when I started the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies, but certainly, much more. And then, through other colleagues, like Joanne Ciulla, and David Collinson, I got to know a much broader… Ron Riggio, a much wider group. One of the most exciting things was to know David Collinson, and through him, meeting some of the British Critical Theory people - Grint and Suze Wilson, Gareth Edwards, Bert Spector…Bert is not a Brit, but he might as well be. He's a Cardinals fan, and we share a lot. Just as a brief digression, as we share baseball memories, I think I impressed him by saying I remember being in the Polo Grounds when the New York Giants played there in 1953 and having my dad turn to me as an eight-year-old boy and said, “Al, don't ever forget you just saw Stan Musial hit a home run.”
George Goethals 28:02
Anyway, getting to know a whole new set of scholars.
Scott Allen 28:07
Isn't it amazing? I've had a similar experience with the podcast; it's almost been 200 episodes, and I know so little. It's just been an experience in helping me and reminding me that there's so much to learn. And I am constantly bumping up against new nooks and crannies of the scholarship, new scholars, that I just think to myself, “How did I never even know that this person existed?” But someone will be on the podcast, and they'll say, “Hey, have you read X?” And I'll say, “No, I haven't read any Chellie Spiller.” And, all of a sudden, there's a new world to explore. It's fascinating, isn't it?
George Goethals 28:46
So, editing the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies with Scott, and again, Georgia at the outset, was really fun getting to know people. And especially some of the editing, people needed, sometimes, to communicate more broadly in their writing than they were initially. It is more scholarly, but when I write, I always have my mother and my many sisters in mind as the audience.
Scott Allen 29:15
Oh, I love that.
George Goethals 28:18
That I want this to be accessible and not… Way back, I spent a year on leave at Princeton, and three of us were in a room designing the next latest greatest study on cognitive dissonance, and I said, “This is great, the only problem is there are about five people in the world that are interested in this, and three of them are right here in this room.”
George Goethals 29:45
So, I really wanted it to be the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies project, like the Encyclopedia of Leadership, to be accessible so people could read it and enjoy it.
Scott Allen 29:59
Well, It's an incredible undertaking, and I will place links in the show notes. So, listeners, you can locate and purchase your copy there. And again, just an incredible reference. Scholars from all over the globe and how they're thinking about this topic. And if you want a source to better understand, really, the universe of this topic, just an incredible resource. Now, Al, as I close down with you for the day, I always ask guests what they've been reading, or streaming, or listening to. Something that's caught your attention in recent times. What's been on your radar that listeners might be interested in?
George Goethals 30:39
Again, my continuing interest in presidential leadership. I've written articles for leadership after the election of 2016 and the election of 2020. I just recently finished a paper, a chapter for the handbook of critical leadership studies about Trumpism, called ‘Burning Love.’
Scott Allen 31:06
Okay, back to the Elvis here.
George Goethals 31:14
“My brain is flaming, I don't know which way to go.” Well, Trump tells them. And the unique and fascinating, in American history, link between Trump and his base. It's fascinating. So, that ties back to Freudian psychology and mob behavior, that he wrote about more than 100 years ago. So, I'm interested in that. The most recent thing is editing for Edward Elgar Publishers. I'm just starting Case Studies in Political Leadership. I rounded up some of the same usual suspects, people who contributed to the Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies. And so, that's an ongoing thing. So, as I said before, I'm still reading and writing and editing, just not getting paid for it anymore.
Scott Allen 32:07
(Laughs) Well, thank you so much for spending your time with us today. The contribution that you have made to leadership studies the field of leadership…it's incredible. And it's just an honor to be with you and hear some of the stories that you've shared. It's just really, really I appreciate your time today, and I know that listeners do as well. So, I would love to have a conversation with you as we get further into the cycle. Again, looking at some of what we're seeing swirling around us is a little bit of a case study. As we get further into that cycle of the campaign and how you see it, what through your lens you're observing. I would love to have that conversation at some point.
George Goethals 32:53
Okay, good. So Scott, as you wind up, let me just say as Jim Burns would say, “Bye for now.”
[End Of Audio]