darkskywatcher (darkskywatcher) wrote,

Bad Leadership {Overdue}

This is an old textbook of mine from college that I never got around to reading (it was optional/not covered in class. I actually finished this on Tuesday, so you can tell how much of an effect my new schedule is having on not just how much I read, but how quickly I write about it.
The author's first point is a shot at the broader literature on leadership, accusing it of too much hero worship of the successful leaders and ignoring the often more enlightening cases where things go wrong. This part, though dense and a bit technical, is as far as I know a spot on critique of the field.
Then the author goes on to divide bad leadership into seven basic types, and provide several short and one long example for each type. The shorts get a few pages, the longs gets several sections describing the sequence of events, the leader's personal background, the context, their supporters and aides, the hindsight, etc.
Again, most of these are pretty spot on: she identifies cases where the leader obviously fails in at least one way and that causes the group they were leading some substantial penalty or loss.
Then there are the last two.
I'll start with #7, "evil". The problem here is that while Kellerman rightly faults evil leaders as immoral, she doesn't attempt to make any kind of universal case that evil leadership leads to harm to the followers of an evil leader. Yes, it can be implied from some of the minor examples, such as Pol Pot and Jim Jones, and there is a strong potential counter that some evil leadership happens in cases where a leader comes to rule a heterogeneous group much more diverse than they care about representing(see: Saddam Hussein and Iraq).
But by the time the big example came around, I quickly discovered that I really wanted to see a more thorough denunciation of evil beyond some easy finger wagging. The big example is not the obvious one, but rather Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the terrible events of the early and mid 90s. While Kellerman spends a lot of time denouncing his actions as evil, and the rest of the world as complicit because they stood by and didn't intervene, she doesn't spend any time whatsoever explaining how Karadzic's evil hurt his followers. I can figure out that the Serbs must have lost due to mentions that Karadzic is in hiding(he has since been captured), but no mention that that loss led to reprisals, sanctions, or anything else. Without those details, I don't feel comfortable calling this a case of actual bad leadership.
Then there is #6, "Insular", and the big example is...Bill Clinton?? Yes, indeed, for failing to do anything during the Rwandan genocide. And here Kellerman falls on her face. Assuming that the US has an implicit unilateral responsibility to conduct immediate, extensive intervention in the affairs of distant nations, even to prevent humanitarian catastrophe, is a close relative to the one that got the US into two unwinnable wars in distant countries. Honestly, what the hell does Kellerman think the US would have gotten by intervening in Rwanda? International goodwill? Clinton called a visionary and lauded by friend and foe? That one's certainly a pipe dream. Here's a consequence that might not have been: a long, expensive, unpopular and confused intervention that sullied Clinton's reputation and gave his domestic opponents even greater ammunition against him. Kellerman even points out that Clinton's previous attempts at intervention in Africa, Somalia, was a disaster, and then faults him for not understanding that this time was different. She also points out that intervention, generally, was unpopular in the US. While I can understand that sometimes a democratic leader needs to do the unpopular thing in order to make effective change in the lives of their constituents, I find it hard to fault Clinton in this circumstance, given the lack of other incentives to intervene. Sure, it's not good leadership to sit on your hands, but neither is it bad leadership to take a cautious approach when the circumstances warrant it.

All in all, I did enjoy the book, despite the rant I've just had. The early chapters were informative as well as interesting.
And, hopefully, I'll get the next one of these out sooner.
Tags: books

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