There is a lot of literature about leadership, there even is a lot of literature about political leadership, written by political scientists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuro-scientists ...
- but which of those books are the classics, which maybe the most innovative or most insightful, which the most controversial or most influential?
And there is a lot of talk about leadership, in the media, at the pup, even at work ... , almost always demanding more, better, stronger or just questioning current political leadership.
We are concerned about and we talk passionately about leadership, we write about and research political leadership - but what do we really know?
And why is it even important to understand?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Joseph S. Nye Jr [2008]:

The Powers to Lead

Quote: "Holding a formal leadership position is like having a fishing license; it does not guarantee you will catch any fish." [p. 18]

Abstract: The renown specialist in international politics, Joseph S. Nye, presents his theory on political leadership as a power relationship, where leader, followers and context count. Distinguishing between hard and soft power, Nye argues that successfull leadership needs smart power i.e. leaders who are able to adapt to varying context: "The ability to combine hard and soft power into an effective strategy is smart power." [p. 43]

Key-Words: hard, soft and smart power, followership, contextual intelligence

Definition of Leadership: "Leadership is a social relationship with three key components - leaders, followers, and the context in which they interact." [p.XI]

  • the concept of hard, soft and smart power
"You cannot lead if you do not have power." [p. 27], but according to Nye power and leadership are intertwined, power depends on the context of the relationship between leader and followers.

Hard power coerces, using inducements and threats (carrots and sticks-strategy) such as hiring, firing, bullying, buying and bargaining. It commands what others do.

Soft power co-opts, using attraction and agenda-setting such as charismatic attraction, emotional inspiration, persuasion and non-verbal comunication. It changes or shapes what others want to do.

Hard and soft power demand different skills. Organizational skills like managing reward and information systems and managing inner and outer circles and Machiavellian political skills like intimidation, manipulation and negotiation are often described as hard, and emotional intelligence, vision and communication as soft power skills.

Leaders can learn to develop the different traits but context is often more important than traits: "Context determines how and when hard and soft power are used more effectively." [p. 67]

  • the concept of contextual intelligence
Contextual intelligence or smart power allows leaders to adapt their personal style of political leadership. They may use hard and soft power alternatively, depending on changing context. Soft power might be seen on the rise in a global, connected world but, as Nye reminds us, we are also living in an ever-changing environment, where leaders often get blamed for random events, as a unique cause for trouble in a multi-causal world, so context and change of context matters: "In practise, effective leadership requires a mixture of soft and hard power skills" [p. X], called "smart power".

Contextual intelligence means understanding evolving environment, capitalizing on trends and adapting style to context and followers needs. Culture, distribution of power resources, time urgency, information flows, and follower's needs and demands are all part of the context.

Since there are no leaders without followers "A leader needs to understand followers." [p. 18] (s)he needs to show empathic intelligence. "People  ... have functional needs for meaning, group identitiy and cohesion, order, and the ability to get work accomplished. Leaders fill these needs by a combination of fear, payment, and attraction - hard and soft power." [p. 32] but followers themselves are also able to use power, they may just go along or they may resist or even lead themselves (leading from the middle). Dependent on their level of engagement (isolates, bystanders, participants, activists and diehards [Kellerman 2008] )and degree of independent thinking  they may choose between  exit, voice and loyalty.

"Leaders are not mere deciders; they help a group decide how to decide." [p. 148]

Critique: Nye's "The Powers to Lead" presents a strong argument for a pragmatic approach to political leadership. Building primarily on Burns' theory of transformative leadership, Heifetz' theory of adaptive leadership and his own theory on hard and soft power, he is able to develop and formulate his own view of political leadership as a power relationship, where leaders, followers and context equally gain center-stage. Though context seems to seize the mantle.
His concept of smart power should prove to become influential in generating future job requirements for selecting 21st century's leaders.

Language: english - easy to read

Assessment: future classic

Link to Video: Joseph S. Nye on "Power"
[Conversation with History, USBerkeleyEvents - 30/03/2011]