Political Leadership

Michael De Percy, Stewart Jackson

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapter in text bookpeer-review


Political leadership is inherently fragile. Leadership literature tends to focus on leaders from business, the military or the public service.1 While leadership is now a part of university management courses, its study originates with religion and politics, and has a significant tradition in the discipline of political science.

The oldest accounts of leadership include The epic of Gilgamesh in ancient Mesopotamia, the Old Testament and other religious texts attributed to the Abrahamic prophets, Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and the accounts of Alexander the Great. The spirit of leadership at the heart of religion and politics was examined systematically by the originator of the study of leadership, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) in his book On heroes, hero-worship, and the heroic in history (1841). Carlyle’s legacy is encapsulated in the regrettably named and antiquated ‘Great Man’ theory of leadership – the idea that leadership is about ‘great’ people and their personal influence on history. According to this idea, if students could identify with and emulate great leaders’ traits, they could then learn to become effective leaders. This was certainly the basis of the leadership treatises of Erasmus and Machiavelli on whether – and how – a Christian prince should be feared or loved.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAustralian Politics and Policy
EditorsPeter Chen, Yvonne Haigh, Sara Motta, Diana Perche
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherSydney University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781743328415
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2021


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