the study of political leadership

...allows me as a political scientist to focus on the human element within politics. It allows me to prove as well as question individual influence.

Following politics via news/mass media, often leaves the interested observer with an impression of a highly personalized political system, dominated by a select few - seemingly powerful actors.

Scholarly research on the other hand often focuses on political systems, emphasizing general conditions, context and ensuing limitations of individual power, sometimes even denying the importance of personal impact in a complex world. Democracy seems to be all about the power of numbers (majorities or relevant minorities), about efficiency and efficacy, about fierce competition of interests, winning elections and managing a political market.

Thereby often neglecting to scrutinize those in power.

Thereby often being unable to respond to the recurrent questions of today`s advanced democracies: how to build and keep trust, how to engage, enable and mobilize, how to legitimize and hold those in power accountable, how to uphold human rights and democratic values.

For me the study of political leadership is not about great men in history, it is about researching, describing and questioning the in itself complex phenomenon of political leadership within complex systems.

my definition of political leadership

Despite the long tradition of exploring political leadership in political sciences there is yet no consistent definition. In order to avoid any misconceptions it is necessary to explicitly state one`s definition. My own is mainly influenced by James MacGregor Burns and Niklas Luhmann:

"Political leadership is defined as a relational operation system within a political system, characterized by people interrelated by power who on a basis of selected cooperation but in a context of competition and conflict take public actions (leader) in order to provoke additional actions (followers) to realize common or correlating goals resulting in further differentiation between system and environment and measurable effects on system and environment."

(Ullmann 2009, translated from German, p. 21.)

political leadership in democratic societies

I am especially interested in political leadership within democratic societies. The tension obvious between the two concepts, democracy and leadership, the first by definition egalitarian, the second based on individual differences in power, in resources, in influence ... - seems to be irreconcilable. Non the less the two co-occur on a regular basis. If you differentiate (like Burns) between mere power wielding and leadership, democracy even seems to be the ideal environment for political leadership.

Why do we seemingly need political leadership in modern democratic societies? What is its role within such a society? Where are the limitations of political leadership? What do we know about different styles of political leadership and how do those styles relate to the political system? How does political leadership bring about change? What will future leadership be like?
- These are just some of the questions awaiting further research.

the triadic model of political leadership

In the tradition of Georg Simmel I presume that you cannot speak about leadership without followership, that leadership and followership are inseparable.

I therefore strongly suggest a triadic model of political leadership. Such a model allows us to look at the relationship between leader and follower, as well as between fellow followers.

It also enables us to look at competitive leadership conditions typical for liberal democracies.



As you can see in the figure above I follow Max Weber in highlighting the possibility of follower`s choosing between support or resistance.

multi-disciplinary approach

The phenomenon of leadership has been being researched by different disciplines, such as history, philosophy, political sciences, economics, sociology, psychology and neuroscience. The various disciplines have influenced each other, promising results from one discipline e. g. inspired further research in another field.

The study of political leadership demands to observe the progress concerning leadership across the various disciplines.

If you are interested in further reading on political leadership please visit my blog:

or go to my pinterest board: Books Worth Reading

If you prefer watching videos to reading, I have got a board on pinterest with links to videos on leadership: On Leadership