Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Complex Challenges Demand New Approaches to Leadership

As we cross the threshold of the 21st century, leaders confront serious challenges many of their predecessors did not have to face. What are the most important and distinctive challenges of this historical moment, and which, if any, leadership paradigms are most likely to help leaders address them and why?
The world is at an interesting juncture in history. The rapid technological advances in the last 50 years have rendered our world more interconnected and interdependent than before. In such a globalized world, where information and ideas travel to the farthest reaches in a matter of minutes through the internet, societies find themselves facing problems whose scale and complexity demand that a new approach be taken to resolve them. The challenges of global food shortages, climate change, terrorism, energy security – are not issues that individual countries can address alone.

As a society, human beings are in the period of transition where the world is increasingly being characterized by unprecedented interdependence. Eminent scholars like Jean Lipman-Blumen have noted that this time is marked by two contradictory forces - interdependence and diversity - pulling in opposite directions. This new situation has rendered the old paradigm of leadership obsolete and calls for leaders to draw upon a broader range of leadership styles to integrate the new challenges facing them.

Leadership has evolved over the past millennia along with human society and Lipman-Blumen classifies this evolution over three contiguous and overlapping stages. She explains how stage 1 or the Physical Era was characterized by strong physical boundaries that were both protective and obstructive. Leaders in this stage required to act independently and portray strength to defend their followers against threats. In stage 2 or the Geopolitical Era, leaders formed alliances with others to protect clearly marked boundaries and ideologies. Stage 2 often produced a very competitive environment, where authoritarian leaders could create a cohort of obedient, fearful, passive followers, who carried out their instructions. The remnants of this stage are visible till today in some developing nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where regime changes are common between democratically elected governments and the military, with both groups competing for power and control.

The advent of new technologies and the march of globalization have brought us to the cusp of a new era – what Lipman-Blumen calls stage 3 or the Connective Era. The nature of today’s problems requires solutions that rely on the politics of commonalities, and not on the politics of differences. Today’s problems require the art of the long view, and leaders who recognize that no single leader can claim to be able to surmount challenges like climate change, health epidemics, and food shortages. Today human interdependence is visible in all spheres of life. Global coalitions and networks help solve problems by bringing leaders and experts from different fields to develop innovative solutions.

Connective leadership, as explained by Prof. Lipman-Blumen, is an approach to leadership that is politically savvy and instrumental, and yet more ethical, authentic, accountable, and ennobling. This approach stands in stark contrast to traditional approaches to leadership, which are either power driven or manipulative. Connective leaders use political strategies and skills, and the interconnections among people, institutions, and processes in an ethical manner. Some other important characteristics of connective leaders include[1]:
  • Connecting their vision with the dreams of others – combining and bringing together rather than dividing and conquering
  • Striving to overcome mutual differences and problems, instead of merely uniting followers against a common enemy
  • Creating a sense of community between diverse groups of stakeholders
  • Bringing together committed leaders and stakeholders for common purposes and inspiring active constituents to assume ownership and responsibility, rather than manipulating passive followers
  • Joining with other leaders, even former adversaries, not as competitors but as colleagues
  • Renewing and building broad-based democratic institutions instead of creating authoritarian regimes
  • Nurturing potential leaders, including possible successors
  • Demonstrating integrity and commitment to the cause, and holding themselves to the high standards that they expect from their peers and followers

[1] For a detailed discussion of the characteristics of connective leaders, please see Jean Lipman-Blumen, Connective leadership: Managing in a changing world, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, pp. 16-20.

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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Leadership for What?

This was the question posed to the class by Prof. Jean Lipman-Blumen. I was in the class on Connective Leadership for the 21st Century, offered at Claremont Graduate University. I had just begun my second semester back in school (Jan 2009) working towards my PhD in Political Science. Having worked on Governance and Capacity Development at the World Bank for about 4 years, I had come to believe that leadership had a very important role in determining development outcomes. Jean's question got me thinking about what leadership really means - and got me started on my journey studying leadership and its effects. 

In the political science and economics literature, most academics and researchers tend to downplay the role of leadership and instead choose to focus on institutional factors, history, economic conditions, and international pressures as drivers of change and development.In my own research, I have found that 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.

Over the past two years, my understanding has evolved to see leadership as the process by which change agents mobilize people, ideas and resources to achieve collective goals. In this blog, I will explore ideas about the role of leadership in public life and its impact on development trajectories of nations. I will also look at the related concepts of good governance and capacity development -- and the importance of an engaged society.

Thanks for stopping by!