Transformative Political Leadership – Making a Difference in the Developing World by Robert I. Rotberg

Book Review: Transformative Political Leadership – Making a Difference in the Developing World by Robert I. Rotberg

Despite the insightful analyses and research relating to this subject, leadership theorists and scholars are far from presenting conclusive or concentric leadership models. However, Robert I. Rotberg makes a spirited attempt in this 2012 tome. He suggests that there are core leadership competencies that may be observed in all effective leaders. He reveals five core competencies; ‘the vision thing’, ‘the mobilization momentum’, ‘being legitimate’, ‘gaining trust’ and ‘the enlarged enterprise’. He argues that these are “the identifiable competencies that are the behaviors and skills that followers look for in their leaders”. He attempts, with considerable success, to present these competencies through an analysis of four iconic leaders of the developing world.

Right from the title, readers are thrust into the modern day leadership discourse without as much as a welcome note, almost as if it had begun in the middle. Rotberg, himself a leadership aficionado, begins his discussion with much fanfare and a seeming urgency to get to the core message of the book by highlighting the lame leadership of South African president Jacob Zuma, one of the supposed countries that have felt the positive effects of visionary and consummate leadership in Nelson Mandela. He makes a summary and clear delineation of outstanding political leadership in the developing world through the use of the two terms: ‘Transactional’ leadership versus ‘Transformational’ leadership. Quoting Rosabeth Moss Kanter, he outlines the basic differences of political leaders as ‘oversight on the technical and functional aspects’ against the ‘dynamic efforts to shape the direction’ of the nation.Transformative Political Leadership – Making a Difference in the Developing World by Robert I. Rotberg

Rotberg notes, and rightly so, the near-overwhelming emphasis on institutions when it comes to the study of leadership, something he seeks to challenge throughout the course of his book. Further, with the exception of a few biographies of presidents and statesmen, he exposes the gap in leadership studies early in the text. He avers thus; “the dominant examination of leadership focuses mostly on corporate and organizational leadership. It is instructive and draws heavily on the examples of successful and less successful chief executives”. The book essentially argues that in the developing world, greater attention should be paid to leadership as to institutions. Transformational leaders have helped to build nations and institutions, sometimes from scratch, and help to shape political cultures as well as “breathe life into institutions”

The following is a brief discussion of the main ideas as contained in the book;

Core competencies of transformative leadership

According to Rotberg, the outcomes for the people of the developing world depend to a great extent on not just the political leadership decisions, but also their actions. He argues that even though the traditional emphases are on the primary salience of structures, individual agency matters. Indeed he is not short of examples in making this particular point as he mentions, among other leaders, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who in the 1980’s and 1990’s,  inherited constitutional limitations and strong institutions from his British and Rhodesian colonial predecessors. The concomitant outcomes for the citizens of Zimbabwe in terms of development as we know are currently far from good. Rotberg insists that even the colonial legacies and affiliations do not matter when it comes to outcomes and notes that comparisons of imperial examples [Dutch, British, French, Belgian, etc] and that subsequent leadership makes all the difference and is indeed an ‘independent variable’ when it comes to human outcomes. He presents five identifiable behavioral leadership competencies;

The first core competency as discussed in the book is vision. While not an entirely new or an esoteric quality of leadership, the ability to sustain and project a vision for the nation is central to all effective leadership. This is the one competency that can be [clearly] seen in all the effective political leaders discussed in the book and Rotberg himself concedes in the closing pages that the original title of the book was ‘The Vision Thing’. Such leaders, Rotberg argues, have a grand but simple plan, deal in destinies, dreams and ultimate purposes, but even more importantly, are able to “urge their citizens to join them on the farthest, most promising shores”.

Secondly, Rotberg postulates that a compelling vision is in itself insufficient. The ability to activate a following, and with direction and urgency is crucial to leadership. This may seem obvious enough, but Rotberg makes the point that without it, leadership is moribund. He calls this competency ‘the mobilization momentum’. Admittedly some of the leaders discussed like Ataturk, seem to have lacked this quality and employed a considerable level of autocracy to sell his vision. The third core competence is ‘being legitimate’. The book insists that all leaders need to be regarded as legitimate by the citizenry if they are to have strong leadership. Rotberg argues that legitimacy decisions, perceptions, and judgments are primarily made by the followers. According to him, even Nelson Mandela with his incredible legitimacy before he took over the reins of South Africa understood that legitimacy was his to lose, thereby placing each of his magnanimous actions on the scales of followers’ legitimacy judgments. This added followers’ backing and his legitimacy was thus burnished. He concludes by highlighting the common confusion of authority with legitimacy and that leaders must occasionally look over their shoulders to deliberately preserve their legitimacy.

Fourth is the core competence of ‘gaining trust’. Rotberg argues that this particular competency is a synthesis of the first three competencies [vision, gaining momentum, and legitimacy] in that, they work towards establishing trust. He briefly describes how they can accomplish this; “… by acting consultatively, democratically and ethically; by acting in a disinterested self-sacrificing manner; by being authentic; by embracing and fulfilling the aspirations of their peoples; and by concerning themselves with the needs of their followers rather than their own self interests.” [pp. 34]. Quoting Warren Bennis, Rotberg insists that trust, and especially reciprocated trust, is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together and is the foundation of the critical social contract. Lastly, Rotberg argues that supplying a sense of purpose and belonging [to an enlarged enterprise] towards a realization of full self-worth by the followers is key leadership competence. He crystallizes this particular leadership competency in his discussion of the four leaders, especially Lee Kuan Yew and Kemal Ataturk. Transformational leaders inspire and uplift their followers and under their authority, they will cause them to believe that they have a real stake in their country.

According to Rotberg, these are the identifiable core competencies of transformational leaders in the developing world within which the book is based. He supports them through his less than detailed analysis of the four leaders that have shaped the positive outcomes of their respective nations. He alludes to a number of other qualities, though he does not spell them out in detail. They include prudence, self-mastery, courage, integrity, empathy, emotional awareness, and charisma. He warns of the traditional view of leaders who possess these qualities as ‘charismatic’. Rotberg makes the point that charisma is hardly a factor of good leadership because it is more of a social phenomenon than it is an individual trait. He avers thus, “the use of charisma as a concept hardly helps us to explain differential political leadership success or failure”.

The leadership cases

The iconic leaders, the primary case studies, are Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. They are discussed as narratives, much in a biographical fashion and in no chronological order. It is through these examples that Rotberg presents the central idea of his book namely; the individual agency matters. The fact that these leaders expressed their skills or competencies in different contextual backgrounds further reinforces Rotberg’s conclusions on the identifiable core competencies. He refers to Nelson Mandela as a ‘consummate inclusionist’, Seretse Khama as a ‘resolute democrat’, Lee Kuan Yew as a ‘systematic nation-builder’ and Kemal Ataturk as an ‘uncompromising modernizer’, an attempt to capture the different contexts & circumstances within which they applied themselves. But more importantly, Rotberg succeeds [through these examples] in showing that certain competencies of transformational leadership, despite unique and distinctive challenges, cuts across different environment, cultures, and even time.

Contemporary leadership; the crisis

Rotberg conclusively notes that Iconic and transformational leaders are synonymous with continued reverence of their accomplishments and continue to have and draw followers. Further, even debates on contemporary stalemates and issues tend to draw upon ideas and actions that were taken by the preceding transformational leaders in the formative years. Nevertheless, Rotberg highlights the fraught process that is the transition from the founding leaders to his successors. Even the presence of stability does not guarantee the success of newer leaders. “…newer leaders may pale by comparison, whether because of the transactional – seemingly mundane – nature of his or her responsibilities or because of his or her own personal limitations”. Nelson Mandela’s successors in South Africa may, according to Rotberg, be considered to have foundered compared to the other three, watering down much of his legacy by ignoring key leadership lessons.

Transactional leaders constitute the bulk of heads of states in most of the developing world nations today as Rotberg insightfully observes. They are often the ‘closet autocrats’ as he refers to them and who “find it hard enough to preside, much less with vision and integrity”. In a seemingly subjective tone, Rotberg contends that the leadership in many developing societies is stuck in a “transactional trajectory” even when democratically elected into office and despite the loud cries for transformational leadership in those societies. According to Rotberg, transactional leaders constantly worry about getting re-elected are more focused on managing their followers than leading them or trying to embolden them.


Transformational Political Leadership’ hardly brings any new concepts into leadership studies but instead a fresh insight into the role of political leadership, and particularly the aspect of individual agency when it comes to leadership and the success of a nation. Despite the use of the particular four credible cases to convey the central idea of his book, Rotberg admits that their experiences are singular and in no way representative. Indeed the autobiographies of these four leaders may be more informative, as far as their competencies are concerned, than what Rotberg has detailed in the book. However, he illustrates the key and common competencies that have made all the difference as far as positive outcomes are concerned. He boldly presents these core competencies throughout the text, albeit with glimmers of contradiction [authoritarianism in Lee and Atartuk as contrasted with democracy and inclusivity in Mandela and Khama].

Despite a paragraph in the closing pages coupled with sporadic allusions of a conclusive way forward for the political leadership in the developing world, the book hardly offers any hard and fast rules on practical leadership. It instead calls out for the need to re-think our fundamental perspectives on political leadership. The text is particularly helpful in contributing to the great leadership question; are leaders born or are they made? Nevertheless, students of leadership studies and scholars alike will be impelled to consider the impact of one individual in a society. In the same light, stakeholders will gain fresh and provocative insights as they develop ‘alterative’ strategies in response to the prevailing leadership crisis in the developing world.


work for money

Why it is perfectly OKAY to work ONLY for money

The popular advice that one should NOT work for money is now common currency. I find it agreeable in a general sense, and with some truth to it; a half-truth though. Truth is, you will be more satisfied and “happier” if you are engaged in purposeful work or employment, for which you are fitted.
Luckily, there is a secret voice that calls each of us towards these pursuits or areas of interest. This voice manifests itself in terms of extreme insouciance and pleasure every time you perform a task in that area and on the other hand, dissatisfaction or indifference to any other task. Unfortunately, no one else can hear this voice apart from you. Even more disconcerting is the fact that we are trained to quiet down this voice [“Shut up! Can’t you see I’m on a career path?!”]. This voice is drummed out of us by culture, environment or upbringing. But I digress.
Your purpose, the reason for your existence; doing that kind of work is very rewarding, irrespective of the amounts of money you are paid. It is the kind of work that you would do for absolutely no apparent benefit to yourself [at least materially]. This post probably makes sense to you if you have, in the words of Victor Frankl, already “detected” your purpose rather than invented it, but may not exactly be living it out at the momentfor whatever reason.purpose-button-icetray-123RF-Stock-Photo
The road to finding and living out one’s purpose is quite the meandering one. Therefore, there are several good reasons that justify working for money; the most obvious one is the simple reason that you NEED to stay afloat. Fortunately, God has endowed most of us with capital, gifts that we can always turn in for money to keep us going. The most commonly occurring ones are the hours and minutes and the mental and physical capabilities. The exchange of these gifts for money is in fact one of the world’s simplest way to make money; commonly referred to as WORK. Note that when you are living out your purpose, you are NOT working, you are SERVING. Some years back, I would often look at my monthly earnings and say [to myself], “wow…I have sold 180 hours this month for this amount of money! I wonder if there is a higher bidder.”
There are essentially two crucial parts to purposeful work; discovering your purpose and living it out. In between these two elements lies a gap [or gulf depending on your situation] that is often a broth of pain, confusion, frustration, massive effort, and painstaking labor, all covered in years. So, do not be discouraged by what you read or hear from the people living out their purpose, and especially those that begin their sentences with “I always knew…” Next time you visit your friend who has just had a new born baby, look keenly at that beautiful lump of clay and tell me whether you will find any clues to their purposeful work.
Now, we all know that finding this purposeful work is no straight line affair and many times, is ostensibly a hit-or-miss affair, a crapshoot even. In fact, those who have found it actually make a mystery out of it when asked to explain; many times alluding to some kind of clairvoyance or esotericism as to how they ended up where they are. Remember, your purpose is not your career, even if it plays out in some kind of organized formal employ, it is NOT a “job” and there is essentially NO value that can be attached to that kind of work. That is probably why such folks are usually the most unappreciated financially, but then again, they really don’t care too much about it either. I digress again.
Don’t kid yourself, before you get to the point where you are doing something purposeful, you need the money. Go out there and sell your hours, minutes, energies, mental capabilities, and get some money to get you going. Just don’t get distracted or veer off from your purpose, however distant it may seem. Make every single day count as a step toward it, always keeping a laser-focus on where you are headed.


Do you want great change in your own life? Make a [darn] decision!

It has been rightfully said that there are two important emotions that lead to great change; fear and disgust. EnoManagingTheMist-red-white-mistugh has been said about fear. Allow me to highlight the second emotion; disgust. You have probably surprised yourself with your incredible capacity for decisive action when you are…pissed off. More than you would care to admit, you may have made your best decisions in life when you were at your highest possible point of ire – or in more common terminology; disgust! I know I have.

Let’s face it, more often than not we are most decisive when increasingly harried or driven up the wall with an issue. Putting aside the whole shebang of motivational mumbo jumbo; whenever the dark clouds of distaste, disgust, and utter annoyance with a situation begin to gather around your life, the moment of change and decisive action lurks; seize it at once!

Disgust is a little different from the red-hot anger from which we are counseled to keep away. It is indeed true that one is not supposed to make crucial decisions when angered and, of course, when excited as well. Anger management is now a major concern, so, please seek professional help if you need to get a handle on yourself during those moments. Disgust, on the other hand, is a tad bit different from the red-hot anger that is destructive. It is a sustained build-up of extreme distaste or displeasure with an issue, compelling you to DEAL WITH IT!

We are quick to seek all kinds of remedies for these vexations or disgust while allangry_baby we need to do is let the
‘volcano’ burst up and the landscape reshape itself. One of the ways we do this is by distraction; trying to refocus our energies and resources on something else. Examples include holidays, buying new gadgets and cars or anything else that will take our minds off of that situation. We are also experts at covering the situation, putting veils over the issues that most require our attention and decisive action. As the pressure builds up, we frantically search for “stronger covers” and try to seal off the pressure rather than allow it to get to its highest mark; the mark of decisive action!

While it is important to seek wise counsel or advice on how to deal with certain situations, for the most part we already what needs to be done, we just need to get ourselves to DO IT! The space between your highest point of ire and the decisive action is usually very tiny, sometimes as tiny as a few seconds. Interestingly, many such decisions are amazingly on point and more often prove pivotal in our lives. Sometimes, you don’t need to have all the pieces together, and the sky need not be clear for you to make a decision. In 2005, Malcolm Gladwell went all out to explore this very fact and subsequently wrote a brilliant book – Blink; the Power of Thinking without Thinking.

Now, others may call them snap decisions, uncalculated guesses, irrational decisions, or emotional decisions but in essence you have taken decisive action and left the great mass of the indecisive folk¾the valley of indecision as it is often referred to. Do not be cowed by the naysayers, in fact, as they continue to wait for the ‘perfect moment’ to make a decision, put up inspirational entertainment for them by taking your bold move of decisive action!

foot on neck 2

A dabble in Scrabble; why life is not so bad after all

I am a junkie for word games and Scrabble is one of my favorite ones. About 8 weeks ago, a colleague challenged me to a round of Scrabble on her I-pad. For the love of the game, I gladly accepted. That is an understatement; I was looking forward to it with an unimaginable exhilaration! Considering a couple of emails we had exchanged a few weeks earlier, I rubbed my palms in glee … I was going to run her over! ImageI imagined the final hour of victory. I would be standing stall, peremptorily wielding my vocab-sword [no relation to the sword of the Lord] and with one foot on her neck. Everyone else who had so much of a thought about challenging me would be scampering for safety. Well, I must confess that I was having it a bit rough at the time, so a shot of confidence from any source [at the time] was more than welcome; and what better way than a resounding victory on a game of scrabble – or so I thought. The short and long of the story, and also to get to the point, I lost the game. Badly! After about 10 moves, there was already a 54-point gap between our scores. The gulf in class was clearly evident, and it was huge. Her phone rang and someoImagene [my hero] on the other end the line decided to discuss something ‘important’. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I escaped from the quicksand of an embarrassment where I had already sunk to my waist. Nevertheless, I learnt an important lesson. In life, we are always in between two places; a worse off place and a better place. In truth, there have been a few victims of my vainglorious Scrabble prowess. I have run some people over, some of them a few times over, but I came to understand that we all are on different levels. Somehow, I always knew that there are better Scrabble players out there, but accepting it and internalizing it was quite difficult – and what a way to finally be at peace with it. You might say that I was just a bit unenlightened, cocky, and naïve, but you will agree that, acknowledging whatever station of life we are in is not as easy as we would imagine it to be. When you acknowledge and become more aware of where you are, as undesirable as it may be, you become free from its clutches. Rather than resignation, an air of soberness pervades your mind and you are able to make better decisions and take positive action. Anthony Robbins once said, “No more effort is required to aim higher in life than to accept an existence of misery and lack”. This year, take stock of your progress while acknowledging your current level, it is a key prerequisite for the progressive thinking that we all need. The think big thoughts can only be possible if you have a clear understanding of your current position, state, or level. Remember, for you to jump a higher position, you have to be stepping on something. By @nasaye


Crime; let’s cut the supply

If you have been a victim of crime, you have probably wished criminals would get a first-class ticket on a speed train to hell – and you may even offer to pay for the [darn] ticket. It is so frustrating. A hoodlum recently grabbed my smart phone and made a dash for it; into the woods! I was crushed! But later on, I came to terms with the whole thing and thanked God that I was not hurt, like the many people I read and hear about in those hideous accounts.

The subject of crime and the discourses thereof are not uncommon. The ideas are innumerous, the discussions are all over, and the non-governmental bodies ensure we are constantly reminded of the northward-bound rates and how bad things are. Scarcely do they rant whenever the rates head south, but that’s a story for another day.

I have one solution to fix all this; CUT THE [darn] SUPPLY!

This strategy has been successfully employed in wars in the medieval times, the middle ages, and in the 19/18th centuries. The Fabian strategies for instance, attributed to the Roman Dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus, have historically been known to give smaller opponents victories against much larger antagonists. The more familiar ‘blockades’ employed during the two world wars might perhaps ring a bell. They involved cutting key supplies in enemy territories so as to weaken them. And I am not talking about the modern day ‘embargoes’ or sanctions, which are hardly effective [look at Somalia for instance]. I believe more than anything that these kinds of strategies will go a long way in our current war against crime.

Our main focus must shift from [the traditional] prosecution to inhibition. Historically, the development and enforcement of punitive measures have had, at best, an average impact on the rate of crimes. That’s good enough in the meantime you might say but there exists a more effective strategy; cutting the production of criminals in the society. Before you begin to admire the efficient enforcement and prosecution systems of Western countries such as the U.S., remember that they also have the highest incarceration rates in the world. They have over 2, 000, 000 people behind bars; which is approximately a quarter of the world’s total prisoners. China is second, with about 1, 500, 000 prisoners. However, we know that China’s citizenry is more than 3 times that of the U.S. The enforcement and prosecution standards of these two countries seem at par to me.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, half the total inmates by 2010 were barely 25 years old. If we can align our systems in such a way that it can cut or even constrict the number of criminals it churns out, we could be solving half of our crime problems in just a few years, and with a single swing of the bat. As for the other half, they can be reformed and reintegrated into the society; or else, they will have to enjoy the [now] larger rooms in their cells. And now we even know that lack and poverty is not the main motivation for many of today’s criminal acts.

Surely, the government can do well to restructure its Ksh 80 billion internal security budgetary allocation which nearly matches its allocation on health (Ksh 85 billion). It could set aside a few millions for programs that deal with the development and propagation of high moral virtues among its citizenry, particularly the lower segment of its youth population. Such programs may be integrated with existing systems, and the work being done by civil societies and the various faith-based entities.

The civil societies should also have a more comprehensive approach if they are to have any effect, whether direct or indirect, on the crime war. Not the kind of partisan endless yackety-yak and rants that they are synonymous with [the girl-child tirade, etc]. 78% of those incarcerated in our prisons are young males, so it may be a time to hold out the candle on the ‘boy child’ for a change.

In a nutshell; more guns, chase cars, and cops will not cut it; not in themselves. Let’s shut the taps!


**Statistics courtesy of E.A. Standard Online Edition, Wikipedia, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics