Great expectations and great limitations: walking the tightrope of political leadership in the twenty-first century

Matthew Laing, James Walter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In times of rapid social change such as the present, people look for decisive leaders, with the capacity to meet contemporary challenges, as a hedge against the uncertainties they face. At the same time, those unsettled by change can interpret it as a failure of the old order. Thus existing conventions come into question, giving rise to a paradox: heightened expectations are paired with cynicism about contemporary institutions, including leadership practices. In this chapter, we review the nature of this paradox as it is manifest in both popular sentiment towards, and in contemporary research on, our elected political leaders. Here we consider key developments in theoretical and pragmatic debates regarding contemporary democratic leadership, with a focus on the divergence between the public and academic discourses on democratic leadership in the twenty-rst century. We relate these to the tightrope modern leaders must walk if they are to balance the need to provide decisive executive leadership on the one hand and responsiveness to the demos on the other. In particular, we explore the contemporary interest in both ‘heroic’ leaders and ‘collaborative’ leaders, to ask how these competing ideals might be reconciled in the modern democratic context.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Leadership
EditorsJohn Storey, Jean Hartley, Jean-Louis Denis, Paul ‘t Hart, Dave Ulrich
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315739854, 9781317578239, 9781317578246, 9781317578222
ISBN (Print)9781138825574
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Cite this