1-Sentence-Summary: The Myth Of The Strong Leader reveals why being a bold, charismatic leader might not be all it’s cracked up to be even though people tend to think of good leaders in this light and explains how these individuals rise to power and some of the consequences of it happening on an international scale.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
If I asked you whether you wanted to live in a democracy or a totalitarian state, which would you choose? Most people would probably pick a democracy. But virtually everyone, no matter what kind of government they want, would prefer that the person in charge is a “strong” leader.
Why? Part of the reason is the media. Political news tends to focus on what this or that leader did or said rather than showing all of the people who help run the government behind the scenes. This makes it seem like there is only one powerful person calling all of the shots.
This gives us a skewed idea of what makes a good leader. We also forget what qualities actually make an effective leader— like the ability to compromise and listen. The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown gives a convincing argument as to why it’s time to give up on the myth that a strong leader is better. He draws on countless examples from history to teach us what makes someone a sensational leader.
Here are 3 of the main ideas from the book:
- We have a deeply skewed idea of what it means to be an effective political leader.
- A truly good leader needs to be humble and knows how to listen to people.
- The people who become the most influential leaders usually employ a collegial style of leadership.
Ready to see why a strong leader might not be so great? Let’s go!
Lesson 1: The way we as a society view good political leadership is fundamentally flawed.
The media tends to portray political leaders as all-powerful and mostly ignores the people working in the shadows around them. This hyperfocus on the person at the top makes people less likely to think about the inner workings of a democratic system.
Leaders start to believe their own hype, and this makes them seem even more powerful to the people watching. For example, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in his autobiography that it was him who single-handedly won three elections, and he gave no credit to the Labor Party.
In addition, the public has a mistaken idea that the well-being of their country is dependent on the strength of the character of their leader. Politicians try their best to appeal to this idea, particularly when elections roll around. Politicians commonly call political opponents “weak” and make people view politics as survival of the fittest.
While it’s certainly true that someone who isn’t able to stand up for themself probably won’t do great as a politician, there is far too much focus on strength alone. If you think about it, survival also means that someone knows when it’s time to back away from a dangerous situation.
The author believes that the misconception that we need one strong-willed person running a country means that society is increasingly being pushed toward totalitarianism.
Lesson 2: Good leaders should also be modest and know when to listen to and help others.
So what are the qualities that a true leader needs? One vital skill is modesty. This allows a leader to take constructive criticism and be better at negotiating with other political figures.
Expertise is a vital skill in leadership, but unfortunately, no one person is good at everything. This is why a great leader understands how to listen to the people around them who know more about something than they do. Their circle of advisors needs to include people from a variety of specialties for their expertise to make decisions.
One of the reasons Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was so successful was that she was very good at utilizing the experts around her. Sure, she did have some “strong” traits, but she was humble enough to do her research and take advice. She exercised power but frequently consulted with knowledgeable experts first.
It is important that experts aren’t just knowledgeable about their field but that they also are in touch with public opinion. It’s not uncommon for strong leaders to only rely on a small group who only wants to please them that aren’t in touch with what the people actually want. When a leader does this, they run the risk of being taken out of office by an opponent, as Tony Blair was.
When he was prime minister, Blair created a divide between himself and Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer. Brown refused to agree with Blair’s decisions, and Blair was unable to get Brown’s approval on domestic economic policy. This ongoing conflict and the Labour party’s growing support for Brown led Blair to resign as prime minister.
Lesson 3: Some of the best leaders in history led with what is known as a collegial style of leadership.
Collegial leadership is all about sharing responsibility and working as a team. Leaders receive support from their colleagues and they have the ability to manage them in an effective way.
An example of this style of leadership is Clement Attlee’s government during 1945-1951. His government was in charge of establishing Britain’s National Health Service. He appointed capable and experienced ministers and encouraged them to work as a team, despite them not always agreeing on everything.
He also was sure to utilize the skills of each of the cabinet members as best as he could. This showed that the most effective way to work with subordinates is to gain their respect. In contrast, “strong” leaders are rarely respected like this.
Another person we can look to as an example of collegial leadership is US President Lyndon Johnson. His administration was responsible for the American Civil Rights Act. He worked tirelessly with Congress to convince them to support his ideas. This meant he spent far more time with the politicians around him than alone in the Oval Office giving commands.
It was under his leadership that the US saw the creation of both Medicare and Medicaid. This move essentially placed him as one of America’s best presidents.
When you think about it, this style of leadership truly embodies what democracy is. It should be a place where people can share ideas and work together to accomplish a common goal.
The Myth Of The Strong Leader Review
I really liked The Myth Of The Strong Leader and I think you will too. It was always hard for me to be led by really aggressive overbearing types, and it was nice to learn that that way isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I hope every leader in the world gets a chance to read this, especially politicians!
Who would I recommend The Myth Of The Strong Leader summary to?
The 21-year-old who has dreams of becoming a CEO and the 48-year-old that wonders why leaders these days aren’t as good as they used to be. Also, every politician who is only in office to gain as much power and status as possible.