Going beyond heroic-leaders in development
CID Working Paper No. 261
Leadership is an under-studied topic in the international development literature. When the topic is broached it is usually in support of what might be called a "hero orthodoxy:" One or other individual is identified as the hero of a specific achievement. The current article offers a three part argument why this orthodoxy is problematic and wrong for many developing countries, however. It suggests first that heroes have not emerged in many countries for a long period and individuals who may have been considered heroes in the past often turned out less than heroic. It posits second that heroes are actually at least as much the product of their contexts as they turned out to be the shapers of such. It proposes third that the stories about hero-leaders doing special things mask the way such special things emerge from the complex interactions of many actors—some important and some mundane. Leadership, it appears, is about multi-agent groups and not single-agent autocrats. The conclusion posits that romantic notions of heroic-leadership in development become less convincing when one appreciates these three arguments. It calls development theorists and practitioners to go beyond the heroic-leader perspective.
Affiliated Research Program: Building State Capability