Political Leadership
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Political Leadership

  • New Horizons in Public Policy series

Howard Elcock

Political leadership is a concept central to understanding political processes and outcomes, yet its definition is elusive. Many disciplines have contributed to the study of leadership, including political theory, history, psychology and management studies. Political Leadership reviews the contributions of these disciplines along with a discussion of the work of classic authors such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber and Robert Michels.
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Chapter 1: Why is Leadership Important?

Howard Elcock

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1. Why is leadership important? RIVAL THEORIES OF LEADERSHIP Leadership is central to politics and government but its definition is elusive. The Book of Proverbs warns that ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (29: 18). Vision has to come from leaders. We often hear people complain that ‘scum rises to the top’, or ‘a fish rots from the head down’, when they are disgruntled about the organization they work for or pessimistic about its future. However, leadership has had a mixed press. On the one hand some, like Georg Friedrich Hegel (1822) and Thomas Carlyle (1841), have argued that world historical figures or ‘Great Men’ emerge to change the course of history when they are needed. For Hegel, such ‘world historical individuals’ are the ‘chosen vessels of the Spirit’ but they may also ‘act from selfish or wicked motives’ (Plamenatz, 1963, vol. II: 205). Such theories have also been used to justify the actions of leaders who have perpetrated horrors required by their visions, such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, whose projects transcended all the barriers, not just of decency but of simple humanity (Bullock, 1990). Although Hitler’s ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ must stand alone in its sheer evilness, there have been many others. Stalin’s forced collectivization and industrialization of the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s served both to bring about economic change and to reinforce his personal hold on power. However, these aims were achieved at the cost of untold...

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