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“Strong” leadership during crises

November 16, 2011

Came across a passage while reading that reminded me of that famous ‘strong-man’ mentality that has prevailed so often in Pakistan.

It is a common belief that the decision-making process guiding crisis-response efforts must and will be centralized (‘t Hart, Rosenthal, and Kouzmin 1993). This so-called centralization thesis underpins the public want of a figurehead who is “in charge” during times of crisis. In reality, crisis-response efforts depend on many people in several networks. At the political-strategic level, efforts to radically centralize decision-making authority tend to cause more friction than they resolve because they disturb well-established authority patterns (Benini 1999).

In most democracies, governance takes place in shared power settings: Political leaders and institutions share power among each other, central government shares power with supra-national and subnational governments, and the state shares power with societal groups and private corporations. Unless there is an overwhelming need for drastic measures (during war, for instance), actors in the crisis-response network whose policy-making roles are abruptly diminished by the ad hoc centralization of authority will, to say the least, not be motivated to contribute their resources and comply with centrally issued policy directives.

From Public leadership in times of crisis: Mission impossible? [PDF] – Arjen Boin; Paul ‘t Hart. Public Administration Review; Sep/Oct 2003.

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