Guest reviewers choice

The myth of the strong leader

Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown Reviewed by John Paul Thornton, MBA.

You have probably never heard someone say ‘we need a weak leader.’ Given a choice between following someone considered ‘strong’ and someone else widely considered ‘weak’, most people will naturally gravitate to the strong one.

Yet, in his magnum opus ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’, Archie Brown, a British political scientist and graduate of the London School of Economics, sets out to address the misconception that ‘strong leaders in the conventional sense of leaders who get their way, dominate their colleagues, and concentrate decision-making in their own hands, are the most successful and admirable’ (Brown, 2014).

I first learned of this book after reading a review about it from an unlikely source: Bill Gates, who chose it as his book of the year for 2016 (Gates, 2016). Bill Gates is not the person that comes to mind when someone thinks about a strong leader. And yet, Bill Gates built a massive international empire and a vast personal fortune over many decades, and is now on a mission to give away this wealth through his nonprofit Gates Foundation in a quest to better humanity. He is quiet, reserved, and bookish; quite the consummate nerd. And in that regard Mr. Gates and I are similar. This is why I was almost compelled to read this book: to help myself understand traits of leadership that are sometimes overlooked but nonetheless important, and that I have tried to employ in my own management and leadership style over the years.

Dr. Brown lays out case after case in exhaustive detail (there are 71 pages of notes and a 27 page index in the paperback format!), examining political leaders of almost every stripe and in every location, from Communist China to modern Great Britain. He makes clear that the ‘strong leader’ that generally makes the most noise and commands the most attention does not always make the best decisions. Dr. Brown advocates a collaborative, plural approach to politics specifically and leadership in general that I will take with me into my classes, and hopefully internalize as a more effective approach to the bluster and blunder of the ‘strong leader’ style.

I enjoyed ‘Myth of the Strong Leader’, and hope that fellow members of CMI will too.

Brown, A. (2014). The myth of the strong leader: Political leadership in the modern age. Penguin Random House UK.

Gates, B. (2016, December 5). What makes a great leader? Retrieved from

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John Thornton

Profile - John Paul Thornton, MBA.

John Paul Thornton is a faculty member in the business program at Virginia College. He has a BS degree in Finance, an MBA, and is completing a Doctorate in Business Administration with a research focus on higher education administration. In the past, he has worked in several varied fields, including consumer finance, United States Army contracting, as an Army National Guard officer, and in mental health non profits.avid Evans, Primeast’s Head of Consulting, is a seasoned business consultant with extensive experience in transformational change, business improvement and strategy execution. His early career was in multi-national consumer-goods marketing and general management. His line-manager approach was focussed on task, teams and people, in equal measure. He has directed businesses through periods of rapid growth and significant change, delivering ambitious targets and developing the people around him at the same time.

As a consultant, David has delivered a large number of consulting projects, mainly focussed on leadership development, business improvement and organisational change. He deploys his extensive organisational knowledge working with senior teams as well as differing managerial levels, and he conducts one-to-one coaching, facilitation and problem-solving. Clients find his style approachable, challenging and outcomes-focussed. 
A Fellow of the CMI, with an MBA (Manchester Business School) and an MSc in Organisational Behaviour (Birkbeck College, University of London), David believes passionately in the balance of formal education – whether it be vocational or academic – and experiential learning, and in the power of ‘being there’ and ’doing’.