Syndicate content

Demystifying leadership

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture

If you search on for the term ‘leadership’, 247,409 results turn up. James MacGregor Burns, the eminent American historian, political scientist, and authority on leadership studies once famously remarked, “Leadership is the most observed, yet least understood phenomenon on earth.”[1]  It is clear that leadership has the potential to build or destroy society and its institutions – we have seen this time and again over the course of history. And yet, when it comes to development, we tend to treat leadership as this soft and fuzzy part that often has to do with people, mindsets, and complex relationships – and hence is uncomfortable for many professionals. As I noted in my last post, when faced with uncertainty or lack of clarity, human beings tend to think reflexively and gravitate to the subject matter that they are most comfortable with. As a result, in the development context, we tend to address challenges through technical solutions instead of taking on the more complex people related issues, and end up with less than satisfactory results. Addressing these issues requires leadership.
Though there is general agreement that leadership plays an important role – there is still a healthy debate on what type of leadership interventions are needed and how to nurture such approaches. With the intention of enhancing the know-how around practical approaches to finding sustainable, inclusive solutions to complex development problems, the Global Partnership on Collaborative Leadership for Development convened the 2016 Global Leadership Forum from June 1-3, which brought together more than 300 development practitioners, leadership and change management experts, government clients, civil society organizations and academia. The premise was that along with technical knowledge and finance, leadership and coalition building are important ingredients in the generation of inclusive development solutions and thus play an important role in accelerating progress towards the achievement of results.

Over the course of the three days, it became clear that there is a lot of expertise among development partners using proven approaches and insights we can collectively benefit from. However, a wealth of knowledge is dispersed and remains fragmented among leadership and change management practitioners and experts, and is difficult to access in real time. Fragmented disconnected agendas among actors hamper the possibility for effective coordination in coming up with solutions to development challenges. Many development organizations lack the necessary instruments to integrate knowledge sharing tools into their financial and technical support interventions. Inadequate capacity continues to undermine the integration of these aspects in implementation.
Considering the above identified challenges, the Global Partnership on Collaborative leadership will focus its efforts on generating and curating the knowledge base around leadership and coalitions, as well as support leadership capacity development and implementation of reform projects. The challenge is to demystify ‘leadership’ and make it operationally relevant. We will use the GPCL4D website as a starting point for a truly collaborative platform where expertise and knowledge can flow efficiently.
At the Collaborative Leadership for Development program in the World Bank, we have tried to approach development by explicitly addressing the ‘adaptive’ or people-related challenges in addition to the technical aspects of the reform. The effort is towards building a reform coalition – starting with the government teams. We help all the relevant actors to come together to align around a shared understanding and vision, and facilitate the joint development of potential solutions. The focus is on helping stakeholders collectively learn to look at things differently so that they can act differently for different results. There is coaching support provided during the implementation, with an emphasis on iterative adaptation and learning by doing. More information on the CL4D and the proceedings of the Global Leadership Forum can be found at
What are your thoughts on leadership and ways to operationalize leadership approaches to help improve development outcomes? Please share.

Follow PublicSphereWB on Twitter!

[1] Burns, J.M. Leadership. New York: 1978. 2.


Submitted by Dr. Birjoo Vaishnav on

Very well articulated! Nice to see such a co-ordinated effort being put in addressing a much needed aspect of leadership! Leading leaders toward a people skill based problem solving culture!

Add new comment