Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why does Leadership Matter?

It takes strong leadership to bring about positive change, chart new strategies, sustain economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve lives. Political leaders must be able to envision the road ahead and inspire others to mobilize consensus and capital, engage and motivate their governments and other stakeholders to embrace change and deliver results that persistently prioritize the public good.[1]

Leadership matters most at critical stages of political and economic transitions – in fragile or conflict-affected states, in new governments where ambitions and expectations run high and visible results are key to maintaining momentum for change, and when major reforms require changes in leadership roles at all levels, as well as changes in attitudes, behaviors, practices, and priorities.

Good leadership is vital for securing progress and development. Research and experiences show that some of the aspects of good leadership include accountability for a common vision, commitment to serving the public good over private gain, broad participation in the political process, and the ability to inspire others to take responsibility and engage as leaders in their own right. Leaders determine vision and the nature of public institutions, which in turn determine the direction a nation takes, especially during transitions. Not only is leadership important for good governance and economic progress, but it also plays a crucial role in ushering in democratic consolidation during times of transition.

History is testament to the role that leadership has played in establishing political regimes and economic systems. Ultimately, it is leadership that accounts for the stability of the state and good governance.[2] Political leaders play the central role in institutional and state formation. And they are the principal forces that drive the institutional change process – a process that must engage diverse stakeholders with competing and often conflicting interests. Many scholars like Ronald Francisco, Brian Levy, Adam Przeworski, and Douglass North point out that one of the most important groups of factors in regime transitions is the design of institutions, and their performance.[3] Adam Przeworksi et al. emphasize the importance of institutional design and performance in sustaining democracy.[4] According to Crawford and Lijphart the most important factor in shaping the outcomes of government reform in Eastern Europe was the context for norms, institutions and international pressures.[5]

Experience from the past decade suggests that high-quality political leadership is crucial for reform and the process of building good governance and shifting patterns of corruption.[6] According to research conducted at the World Bank by leading economists and political scientists like Brian Levy, J. Edgardo Campos, Adrian Leftwich and Sanjay Pradhan, leaders are instrumental in achieving greater accountability and transparency in a country and are directly responsible for promoting these issues at all levels, including at the individual level. These scholars also contend that leadership needs to develop an incentive system in which accountability and integrity are rewarded and corruption is swiftly sanctioned.

Leadership is thus critical for good governance, a fundamental precondition for sustainable growth, poverty reduction, aid effectiveness, and conflict prevention.

[1]  See findings of the World Bank Commission on Growth and Development in The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development.
[2] See Adrian Leftwich and Steve Hogg, “Leadership for Development: The Role of Leaders, Elites, and Coalitions,” Research and Analytical Program 2008-2009, Global Integrity Alliance.
[3] See Ronald A. Francisco, The Politics of Regime Transitions, Westview Press, 2000, pp 149-160.
[4] See Adam Przeworski et al, Sustainable Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
[5] See Beverly Crawford and Arend Lijphart, Liberalization and Leninist Legacies: Comparative Perspectives on Democratic Transitions, International and Area Studies, 1997.
[6] See Leadership Matters: Background Notes on Leadership, Report of the World Bank Institute, World Bank, Washington, DC, 2007.

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