James MacGregor Burns, the world’s best known scholar in leadership and a member of the Jepson School’s founding faculty, returned to campus Nov. 9 to take part in Prelude, the ceremony by which new students are formally inducted into the program.

“Let me say first how wonderful it is to come back to the place where I spent quite a few years,” Burns told the audience, calling those years some of the richest and most intellectually stimulating years of his life.

The program featured a conversation on transformational leadership between Burns and Jepson professor George R. Goethals, a social psychologist and leadership studies professor. The longtime friends and colleagues covered topics ranging from leadership theory and conflict to how Burns became interested in the study of leadership. It was, Burns told the crowd, partially a result of his stint in the Army during World War II and an interest in “history and leadership from the bottom up.”

“Leadership is not just from the top down, it’s from the bottom up, and it’s from the middle up,” Burns said. “It’s a collective effort.”

Burns also discussed the leadership of several U.S. presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and what he sees as key elements of good leadership. An expert on presidential leadership and what he calls “transformational” and “transactional” leadership, Burns has written more than 20 books. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for his second biography of FDR, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom. His book Leadership, published in 1978, was the pioneering work that introduced the field of leadership studies. 

Prior to the conversation between Burns and Goethals, Dean Sandra J. Peart welcomed students into the School and provided a snapshot of the 73 members of the class – the School’s largest class to date.

During the ceremony Jepson students Christine Barrows, ’11, and Gabbie Capriles, ’10, shared their experience at Jepson and offered advice to the incoming students. In a first for Jepson, parents of incoming students were also invited to the ceremony.