A Book A Week Challenge- Week 44

“This is an Argumentative Book” writes Archie Brown right at the beginning of the book in which he makes an argument on why “Strong” leader is not the most desirable form of leadership but a more consultative, collaborative version of leadership is the ideal option, in the democratic political set up and business leadership.


Book #: 44

Title: The Myth of The Strong Leader” by Archie Brown

Pages: 363

No one says “we want a weak leader” and it might seem obvious to believe that we do not even want someone who is traditionally considered ‘strong’ – who is merely authoritative and keeps the single point of decision making as his strongest suit. But, the most recent US election results in what promises to be an election for “most powerful man on earth”, the results don’t seem to align with our intuition.

It is not the first time that we as common citizens we made a decision that is counter intuitive and Archie Brown does provide a comprehensive history of studying political leadership in the past fifty years to point to the instances where such decisions were made.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive office of the presidency was often mocked as “too many people trying to bite me with the president’s teeth” when he decided to extend the size of his office.

Ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao-Tzu says “a leader is best when men barely know he is there, not so good when men obey and acclaim him”. This might not be a very relevant criterion in the modern day where the election campaigns were run, irrespective of the level, from the president to a mayor, centered around ‘the man’ rather than ‘the policy or manifesto’. As long the mechanism of ‘man’ taking center stage, it is impossible to separate the ‘power’ from him.

India had traditionally run its politics from ages within this criterion and the most recent election of Narendra Modi as its leader is no different. It is also one of the prime reasons why party chiefs hold their positions as long they are active in politics unless they commit a crime that is impossible to eyewash.

With the difficulty involved in ‘transforming’ the leadership, Franklin D Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson stand out to be those leaders who redefined the modern-day political leadership.

We do not have to think much to point a leader who believed and operated with collaborative style –Abraham Lincoln stands as an epitome example for this style. Clement Attlee of 1945-1951’s British politics can be quoted too but not as defining as Lincoln.

 It is not difficult to identify leaders that are ‘powerful’- Napoleon or Lenin could be quoted as examples from the authoritarian era but in the modern day political system, Margaret Thatcher stands as a very powerful example. But, the arguments were made ‘for’ her in the sense that she redefined political leadership than any of modern day British leaders such as Tony Blair or David Cameroon did. Tony Blair tried to emulate what Thatcher did but comes nowhere in terms of command or strong as she was.

Overall, Archie Brown’s argumentative “The Myth of the Strong Leader” provides a list of comprehensive examples on how one type of leadership is way better than the other even though on the face of it does look obvious. But, in the modern day political set up where leader dominates the policies, it is more a wish list than historical evidence.


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