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?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Archie Brown [2014]:

The Myth of the Strong Leader. Political Leadership in the Modern Age

Quote: ".., in general huge power amassed by an individual leader paves the way for important errors at best and disaster and massive bloodshed at worst." [pos. 54]

Abstract: Archie Brown, British historian and political scientist, author of "The Gorbatchev Factor" [1996], dispels the myth of the strong leader  as a necessity or even exemplary for successful leadership in his current book of modernday political leadership. He Looks at cases of transformative, inspirational, revolutionary and redefining leadership from all over the world within different regimes.
By analyzing and comparing various examples of democratic, as well as authoritarian and totalitarian political leadership during the 20th and 21st century he makes the case for the advantages of leadership without the proverbial strongman in favour of a more collective and collaborative approach to leadership.  "Good leadership requires many attributes, whose relative importance varies according to time, place and context. It should never be confused with the overmighty power of overweening inidividuals." [pos. 117]

Key-Words: redefining leadership - strongman versus collective, collaborative leadership

Definition of Leadership: leadership as contextual phenomenon, where individual and collective leaders count but are also held legally and politically accountable

  • the concept of redefining leadership
"Redefining leadership (...) means stretching the limits of the possible in politics and radically altering the political agenda. " [p. 5 / pos. 197], and "Redefining leaders, whether as individuals or collectively, seek to move the centre in their direction." [p. 5 / pos. 200].
By differentiating between redefining and transformational leadership Brown allows to further analyse the decisive role of leadership concerning change. 

The widely known concept of transformational leadership [James Macgregor Burns], only proposed a category of political leadership that brings about systemic change (almost always to the better), but examples of transformative leaders are rare, even more so in democratic societies to the point that "it is virtually impossible for a modern president to be transformational". [p. 344 / pos. 6730]

By introducing a category of redefining leadership Brown allows for a more pragmatic but non the less important look at how political leadership may produce change even within stable, established democratic political systems. A modern head of state/government might not be able to strive for transformational leadership but now she can certainly try to become a redefining leader instead of just remaining an everyday (and less admired) transactional one.
  • the weakness of the strongman as a political leader
Contrary to the "conventional sense" that "strong leaders (...) who get their way, dominate their colleagues, and concentrate decision-making in their hands, are the most successful and admirable" [pos.54] Brown exposes the weakness of such leaders and highlights the very real threat such leaders might imply to the well-being of the political system, the society, the people.

He even demonstrates by various examples throughout the 20th century that this seems valid independent of regime.  

Often collaborative leaders are labeled as weak because of our bias towards ´strong`leadership despite the fact that they actually prove more beneficial to the society. He therefore rejects ´strength`(of a leader) as a meaningful variable to measure political leadership.

Critique: Brown's "The Myth of the Strong Leader" deals with one of the common misconceptions of political leadership. It does not only debunk the myth iself but also tells us what we should be looking for in modern leaders, followers and leadership.

It makes a convincing case for political parties, for institutionalising political power and it reminds us to value certain political process.

By proposing redefining leadership as an additional category for political leadership, he enables us to asses leadership in a more pragmatic, realistic way.

And for those of us who are actually in politics, whether as politicians or political advisors he presents us with his redefining leadership with a new model for political leadership we actually might like (and have a better chance) to achieve.

First Sentence: "In democracies there is quite broad agreement that a `strong´ leader is a good thing." [p.1 / pos. 121]

Last Sentence: "Leaders who believe they have a personal right to dominate decision-making in many different areas of policy, and who attempt to exercise such a prerogative, do a disservice both to good governance and to democracy. They deserve not followers, but critics." [p.362 / pos. 7053]
Language: english

Assessment: up to date analysis of political leadership
Link to Video: Archie Brown on "The End of Communism in Europe and it's Mutation in Asia" Brown on End of Communism
[Blackwell Bookshops, 10-12-2013]

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