Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D.

What is the role of leadership and followership in complex organizations?

Field Trip to the Massachusetts State House

Many of the classic works in the field of history emphasize the role of great men in shaping world events and promoting social change. Are leaders important, and if so, in what ways? To what extent is leadership a function of followership? In this class we will visit the seat of Massachusetts government, meet with a state senator and state representative, and think about what it means to run for public office.

Forty-nine states have bicameral (two-house) legislatures, usually consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives (there are slight state to state differences, in what houses are called for example in NY its called the State Assembly). Nebraska’s unicameral (single house) legislature is the one exception.The Constitution delegates to individual states any authority not specifically granted to the federal government.

Quote of the Day

I choose this passage by Molly Ivins because the Texas Legislature is part-time, in contrast to Massachusetts. That adds another dimension to the politics. Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist who writes about Texas and national politics. She has worked for the New York Times, The Texas Observer and is the author of several books. James MacGregor Burns was and will always be my favorite professor and he is one of the most noted theorists on leadership. In this passage he challenges us to better understand the role of leadership.

“The chief reason legislators allow lobbyists to pick up tabs for them is that Texas legislators are underpaid. They get $4,800 a year and a $12 per diem (that's pronounced purr dime in legislative circles) for the first 120 days of a regular session. Last year, Representative Paul Ragsdale of Dallas successfully applied for food stamps on his legislative salary.

There are almost no full-time Texas legislators, but regular sessions get extended, and special sessions run on and on, and then new special sessions get called. In the meantime, the legislators' law practices and funeral parlors and pharmacies and ranches and jewelry stores and insurance companies and real-estate businesses are all going to hell.”

Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?, 1991, Random House.

“The fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual. If we know all too much about our leaders, we know far too little about leadership. We fail to grasp the essence of leadership that is relevant to the modern age and hence we cannot agree even on the standards by which to measure, recruit, and reject it. Is leadership simply innovation--cultural or political? Is it essentially inspiration? Mobilization of followers? Goal setting? Goal fulfillment? Is a leader the definer of values? Satisfier of needs? If leaders require followers, who leads whom from where to where, and why? How do leaders lead followers without being wholly led by followers? Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”

James MacGregor Burns, Leadership, 1978, Harper and Row, Publishers.

Discussion Questions

Can we train and develop leaders or are leadership "traits" innate? What are the characteristics of a good leader? What are the pros and cons of having a fulltime state legislature? In the US we have federal, state, county, and local governments. How do their roles and responsibilities differ?


No readings the week.


  • National Conference of State Legislatures. - http://www.ncsl.org
    • Provides links to state legislatures, legislative leaders, policy issues and resources, state documents and legislation.
  • National Governors Association - http://www.nga.org
    • Find calendars of important state events, i.e. inaugural dates, state addresses.
    • Look up a governors’ bios, find results from state fiscal surveys and learn more about key state issues.
  • FirstGov.gov. - http://www.firstgov.gov/Agencies/State_and_Territories.shtml
    • The official U.S. gateway to all government information. From this link you can access state government homepages.
  • National Association of Counties - http://www.naco.org/
    • Learn about the 3,066 counties in the U.S, county officials, policies, code, ordinances and model programs that can be used as examples for other counties.
    • Check out the data and demographics link.
  • National Association of Regional Councils - http://www.narc.org/
    • Contains information about agencies involved in regional planning and coordination.
  • Massachusetts State House - http://www.mass.gov/statehouse/
  • Tour the Massachusetts State House - http://www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trsbok/trstour.htm
  • National League of Cities - http://www.nlc.org/home/
    • Provides links to city websites and research on city trends.
  • Stateline.org - http://www.stateline.org/
    • An online policy news source providing research material on state policy innovations and trends.