Robert T. Rotberg's Transformative Political Leadership: Making a Difference in the World

Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Robert T. Rotberg's Transformative Political Leadership: Making a Difference in the World


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A review of Transformative Political Leadership: Making a Difference in the World by Robert T. Rotberg (London, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012, pp. 217. ISBN: 13978-0-226-728995) by Uzoechi Nwagbara (uzoechin@yahoo.com) of Greenwich School of Management, London, UK.

Transformative Political Leadership: Making a Difference in the World is a book by Robert Rotberg, a seasoned and world acclaimed authority on political leadership particularly in developing countries. Rotberg's contribution to leadership studies--particularly political leadership in developing countries--is well-known. He is responsible for the creation of sterling leadership institutions in Africa and around the world, most notable is the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which was inaugurated in 2006 to help foster good governance and wholesome leadership in Africa. With over two dozen books on leadership and governance, Rotberg, is President emeritus of World Peace Foundation and a leading expert on transformational leadership. Rotberg served as director of Harvard University's programme on Intrastate Conflict, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution (1999-2010); he is no stranger to how leadership can advance good governance, transformational leadership and ethical politics that would bring needed change in Africa, developing nations and the rest of the world.

Warren Bennis, a leading authority on leadership, once stated in his On Becoming a Leader (1989) that "leadership is like beauty: it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it" (p. 1). Similarly, in their article "Romancing Leadership: Past, Present and Future", published in The Leadership Quarterly, Bligh, Kohles and Pillai (2011) corroborated the idea that the phenomenon of leadership is a mystery. Although every au courant leadership scholar appreciates that leadership is enmeshed in definitional welter, but there is no gainsaying the fact that whenever good leadership is at work, we notice it. To this end, in Rotberg's Transformative Political Leadership: Making a Difference in the World, he makes a conscious effort to educate his readers that good leadership can be used to transcend inept governance and selfish political experimentation. The style of leadership that comes with positive change, transformation and good governance dovetails with what Rotberg called "committed leadership" (p.1). In fleshing out this leadership style, Rotberg stresses the importance of positive leader-follower dynamic, which is a harbinger of transformative leadership. In this frame, political leadership particularly in developing countries should be viewed by leaders as mere service, not an opportunity to pursue selfish ends. So, political leadership

   [...] is a strategy for turning visions into reality and charting
   a way forward to a promising future, access to improving
   prospects, and a programme for ensuring economic growth
   and material and human uplift. (p. 1).

The above leadership style chimes with selfless political leadership that Mandela echoes in Conversations with Myself (2010) that characterises his leadership architectonics in South Africa. It is a leadership paradigm that stems from the Greenleafian servant-leadership schemata, that is, service to the people, as well as a dogged responsibility by a leader to empower, defend, and fend for his followers.

In corroborating the dialectics of people-oriented as well as transformative politically leadership, Rotberg extends the confines of this mode of governance by making allusion to great and popular world leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Mohandas K. Gandhi, George Washington and Winston Churchill, whose selfless service to humanity give their leadership style the stamp of trust, transformation, motivation, morality, legitimacy, social capital and "the enlarged enterprise" (p. 35), a metonymy for "extended enterprise" or stakeholder relationship.

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