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Leadership

Governance and the Supernovas of Politics

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Every now and again, somewhere in the world, a politician comes along who is a supernova: a special astronomical event.  Reacting to him or her, citizens feel a tingle in the spine, they become emotionally flooded, and they fill up with galloping hopes and effervescent dreams. In my adult life, I have yielded to the power of supernovas twice. Between the Special One and the followers, and amongst the followers themselves, you have a case of interpenetrating intensities.

Each of these cases is an instance of what Max Weber calls charismatic authority. According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, charisma is: “a capacity to inspire devotion and enthusiasm.”  And according to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “Charismatic authority exists where exceptional abilities cause a person to be followed or obeyed, and the ability is perceived as conferring the right to lead” [page 70]. Add formal power to charismatic authority and you have power and influence of a tremendous variety.

How do these situations arise? Nobody knows for sure. Clearly, it is a potent mix of a gifted person, some inner magnetism, and the specificities of the particular cultural and political context. What is clear is that for the leaders so blessed being a supernova is great for winning elections. It produces enormously enthusiastic, self-sacrificing efforts by millions of followers. It tends to produce big wins and powerful mandates. What fascinates me about the phenomenon though is what happens to governing when the leader is a supernova.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?
The Guardian
The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world. So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise. Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them.

Leaders Indicating
Foreign Affairs
The normal rhythm of politics tends to lead most nations’ economies around in a circle, ashes to ashes. This life cycle starts with a crisis, which forces leaders to reform, which triggers an economic revival, which lulls leaders into complacency, which plunges the economy back into crisis again. Although the pattern repeats itself indefinitely, a few nations will summon the strength to reform even in good times, and others will wallow in complacency for years -- a tendency that helps explains why, of the world’s nearly 200 economies, only 35 have reached developed status and stayed there. The rest are still emerging, and many have been emerging forever.
 

Policy Implementation: A Research Agenda

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
The components of a bureaucracy are defined not by individuals but by positions that make up the structure
 
A common notion in public policy is that policy-making and implementation are divorced from each other, in the sense that politics surrounds decision-making activities (to be carried out by the elected political leadership) while implementation is an administrative activity (to be handled by bureaucracies). However, researchers have found that such distinctions are not helpful in understanding policy implementation in developing countries.
 
An ideal bureaucracy is an efficient implementation machine. Bureaucracies comprising appointed officials are supposed to possess technical knowledge and the skills for professional organisation. The components of a bureaucracy are defined not by individuals, but by the positions that make up the structure. Max Weber conceptualised bureaucracy as the supreme form of organisation, where bureaucrats are expected to be true to their position and follow hierarchy and the rules that govern the organisation. Researchers such as Willy McCourt (University of Manchester) have also shown that a meritocratic and rewarding work environment and operational autonomy from the political leadership can help public bureaucracies deliver better than even the private sector.

Can Aid Donors Really 'Think and Work Politically'? Plus the Dangers of 'Big Man' Thinking, and the Horrors of Political Science-Speak

Duncan Green's picture

Spent an enjoyable couple of days last week with the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) crew, first at a follow up to the Delhi meeting (nothing earth shattering to report, but a research agenda is on the way – I’ll keep you posted), and then at a very moving memorial conference for the late Adrian Leftwich (right), who is something of a founding father to this current of thought.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of this line of thinking: understanding and engaging with the underlying issues of power and politics should be the heart of any serious work on development.

But based on last weeks exchanges, I’ve got some concerns too – here are some reflections:

First some choice quotes:
 

Quote of the Week: Allen Schick

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'Strong leaders do not just "read" opportunities; they make them – by moulding public opinion, bringing new blood with new ideas and initiative into government, reaching beyond safe and traditional constituencies to build coalitions in support of change and by taking political and managerial risks that broaden the possibility of change.'

- Allen Schick, Senior Governance Fellow of the Brookings Institution and a Professor of Political Science at the Maryland School of Public Policy of University of Maryland, College Park.
 

Quote of the Week: Barack Obama

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable. Otherwise someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made that decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.”

- Barack Obama, President of the United States of America

As quoted in Vanity Fair, October 2012, Obama's Way, by Micahel Lewis

Why Influencing Leaders Requires a Willingness to Hug a Porcupine

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Let’s be clear about this: to successfully influence leaders, that is, to have your views, your suggestions, your criticisms of their actions and so on, be taken seriously by them, you are not allowed to cheat. Cheat and leaders will ignore you. Worse, they will treat you with contempt. Above all, you will deserve their contempt.

The subject is important because a fundamental part of producing change is the ability to influence leaders…the leaders of the organizations you need help from, and the leaders of government at different levels without whose support very little can get done. I know this suggestion flies in the face of the current romance of the streets, of the current idealization of grass roots mobilization using cool new tools that magically launch revolutions, and produce wondrously effective pro-poor social and political change.

Now, I am a great believer in active citizens but I also know that real change is delivered by effective coalitions, and people in leadership positions are at the very heart of effective coalitions. It is the classic Inside-Outside strategy: leaders in government and leaders in civil society collaborate (sometimes quietly because of the exigencies of power play) to produce change.

Quote of the Week: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“When talking with young leaders in Brazil and elsewhere, I like to tell them this: Even when you are discouraged with everything and everyone, don’t give up on politics. Participate! If you do not find in others the politician you seek, you may find him or her in yourself.”

- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A Brazilian politican who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.
 

The Legislator’s Dilemma: Following or Moving against the Tide of Perverse Incentives

Fletcher Tembo's picture
Listening to an expert discussion of the role of elected representatives in social accountability interventions at a recent event hosted by the Mwananchi Governance Programme and CIVICUS in Johannesburg on 16th May 2013, I was reminded of this quote by Joe Khamisi, a former Kenyan MP:

“Save, you may not see Parliament again”, one two-term Member liked to tell us.  In many cases non-performers with deep pockets are preferred than stingy doers. “As much as possible, avoid your constituents in the first three years and show up only towards the last half of your term, with plenty of money!”

In response, a Member of Parliament (MP) from one of the countries where Mwananchi works said, “You need to put premium on leadership”. In other words, we should not expect leaders to deliver the change we want if society encourages them to pursue perverse incentives to attain and remain in office, and to achieve solutions to collective action problems. 

Looking at the backgrounds of MPs in many countries in Africa, you find that some MPs have been activists in civil society, respected civil servants or faith leaders, often suggesting that things would be very different if it was them that were in office. This is a clear case of a common African saying ‘one finger forwards, four fingers backwards,’ reminding us how easy it is to criticise without examining ourselves. This is why it should not be surprising that again and again we find that when the ‘self-imagined’ leaders get into public office they are equally caught up in the quagmire of perverse incentives as their predecessors.

The Optimistic Bureaucracy

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Long-established bureaucracies can, sometimes, appear to be a little cynical. Toward their mission, toward their work routines, toward their staff, toward their chances of success. This cynicism can damage morale and become a self-fulfilling hypothesis. So it doesn’t hurt when bureaucratic organizations get an infusion of optimism from time to time that lets them rethink goals, capacities, and strategies.

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