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, November 26, 2013

Waller R. Newell [2009]:

The Soul of a Leader. Character, Conviction and Ten Lessons in Political Greatness.

„War in particular is a major theme uniting the discussion of all the leaders, for a leader`s ability to weigh the threat of war, the desirability of maintaining peace, and the need to defend one`s country or one`s allies turns out to be among the most important tests of leadership, and the one that calls upon leaders to make the most of their talents, their stamina, their patience, and their ability to inspire others.” [p.26]
the importance of the rhetoric in a democracy – where public opinion must be won over and shaped – accompanied by the corresponding danger of  demagoguery”
[p. 214]

Political scientist, philosopher, and former member of the Reagan transition team, Waller R. Newell, looks in his book "A Soul of a Leader" for the qualities of a leader by researching "great men (and great villains) in history". 2008, so his claim, shows a generational change in political leadership - time to look back at those leaders (from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to George W. Bush) who are just now replaced by a new generation and to look even further back to Lincoln and even back to the Greek Antique, at Perikles and Thucydides for inspiration.

Key-Words: 10 secrets of political leadership

Definition of Leadership: Leadership as a constant moral struggle of ambitious men between seeking honour and seeking power.
  • secrets of political leadership:
  1. character trumps brain – or at least formal education
  2. inspiring rhetoric is necessary – but only in moderation
  3. moral conviction is necessary – but only in moderation
  4. a leader embodies the times … “when a leader finds his moment we feel we already know him”
  5. a leader must have two or three main goals, and not try to do too much
  6. time will run out “mortality is something no focus group or spin doctor can overcome.” [p.323]
  7. history will choose its leaders
  8. the great leader wants power badly – but not too badly
  9. greatness can turn out to be villainy
  10. the great leader must be prepared to ignore all of the above
“The only certain thing in life – and therefore in political life – is uncertainty.” [p.325]

  • the United States as direct successor of ancient Greek democracy
Both the US and classic Athens as imperial democracies have to answer the following questions:„Does the pursuit of  empire undermine the civic virtues needed for good government at home? Is the use of force against other countries ever morally justified? Is amassing imperial power abroad likely to increase the danger of tyranny at home?” [p.214]

They have to live with the tension between keeping democratic values and staying a dominant international power. They have to fight just wars.

“But it is therefore all the more striking how consistent the dilemmas of statesmanship remain, and the importance of the human factors of character, prudence and resolve in coming to grips with them.” [p.216]

  • War as the real touchstone of human greatness
It's times of wars when political leaders are able to show their true colors, either they are going to be great men or great villains, according to Newell each leader has the potential to become a tyrant.

Critique: Newell's historical analysis of the risks and chances concerning political leadership within a superpower disappoints in presenting a new, a fresh view into the "soul of a leader" but it gives an interesting insight into the conservative soul of America.

Language: english - easy to read

Assessment: controversial - revisionist (Nixon/Vietnam war)

Link to Author's site: