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date: 25 September 2022

Leadership and Foreign Policy Analysisfree

Leadership and Foreign Policy Analysisfree

  • Thomas PrestonThomas PrestonSchool of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, Washington State University


The classical literature on leadership—or at least the portion of it relevant to questions of foreign policy analysis—greatly evolved and changed over time from its beginnings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As new theoretical approaches and methodologies appeared, scholars eventually began to study the contextual nuances in this relationship between leaders and foreign policy. Yet, in its earliest incarnation, the literature was dominated by the “great man” theory of leadership, which suggested that leaders were “born, not made”—that people who became leaders were uniquely special and had personal qualities and characteristics setting them apart from non-leaders. Eventually, this fell out of favor with the rise of more situationally based theories and critiques pointing out the need to include both the person and the situation in order to explain leadership. Another strong tradition in the leadership literature historically has been the application of psychology and psychoanalytic theory to explain leadership styles and foreign policy actions. These approaches often employed in-depth psychobiographies of leaders to link their personalities, childhood socializations, or other experiences to subsequent patterns of behavior in life, styles of leadership, and foreign policy successes or failures. Yet another approach to the study of leadership follows a very different path towards understanding the concept and focuses instead upon not only the leader, but the follower as well.


  • Foreign Policy


Across many fields of endeavor, leadership has long been recognized as one of the most important variables influencing the success or failure of various activities, ranging from military campaigns, to organizational performance in business and management, to the character and quality of nation-state foreign and domestic policies (see Bass and Stogdill 1990). Indeed, in perhaps the earliest example of foreign policy analysis, Thucydides, during his description of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, highlighted just how fundamentally important the nature of individual leaders and their styles were with his contrast between the noble Pericles (who cautiously and pragmatically designed a winning military strategy against Sparta) and his successor, the reckless, self-seeking adventurer Alcibiades (who abandoned Pericles’s plan in favor of military adventurism, eventually leading Athens to ruin). Similarly, the notion that “individual leaders” can make a difference was clearly illustrated in the writings of Machiavelli, who in The Prince provided a guidebook to young rulers (much as Sun Tzu had for military leaders centuries earlier) – giving them, in essence, a template to guide their individual actions to help ensure their success. From the “great man” focus of early leadership studies to the much more sophisticated, nuanced treatments of today, the subfield of foreign policy analysis has been at the very forefront of efforts to explore the role of leadership in foreign policy making within the discipline of political science.

However, before examining the major influences from the broader leadership literatures upon how we study the subject in foreign policy analysis, it is worthwhile noting that a simple definition of leadership has never been easy to arrive at. In fact, the concept of leadership has historically been approached in a great variety of ways throughout this vast literature. While Bass and Stogdill (1990:19–20) rightly observe that there are nearly as many definitions of leadership as there are scholars attempting to define the concept, their general definition in the Handbook of Leadership gives us an appropriate starting point:

Leadership is an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of the members. Leaders are agents of change – persons whose acts affect other people more than other people’s acts affect them. Leadership occurs when one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group.

This rather long definition also illustrates the notion that leadership actually means very little without followership, since it is essentially a two-way relationship. Moreover, leaders often have significant, though variable, roles to play in foreign policy making, and their leadership styles and relationships with followers influence many aspects of the foreign policy process. In foreign policy analysis, “who the leaders are” and the broader question of leadership itself matters enormously since these variables often provide the “decision making” focal point for our analyses of state behavior in the international arena.

Modern scholarship seeking to ascertain the importance of leader variables have tended to build upon Fred Greenstein’s (1969; 1987) warning to avoid assuming the leader “always” matters (given the existence of other political, structural, and institutional constraints influencing policy). Instead, Greenstein suggested a more nuanced approach by outlining three propositions governing whether an individual actor’s actions were likely to affect events: (1) the extent to which the environment allows restructuring by the actor; (2) the location of the actor in the policy environment (are they positioned in a role giving them power or the ability to impact policy?); and (3) the nature of the personal strengths and weaknesses of the individual actor (their personalities, styles, foibles, etc.). Moreover, these initial insights by Greenstein were subsequently built upon by Margaret Hermann (1976:328–31), who identified eight propositions delineating more specific conditions under which the personality characteristics of leaders would be expected to influence foreign policy decisions and behavior:


The greater the leader’s own personal, general interest in foreign policy, the greater the likely impact of their personality upon foreign policy behavior.


The more dramatic the means by which leaders assume power (i.e., revolutions, coups, landslide elections), the more likely it is that their personalities will affect foreign policy behavior.


The more charismatic leaders are, the more likely their personality characteristics will influence foreign policy behavior.


The more authority (or personal control) heads of state have over foreign policy (the machinery of government, etc.), the more likely their personality characteristics are to affect foreign policy behavior.


The less developed and differentiated the foreign policy organization of the nation (such as in new or underdeveloped states), the more likely the personality characteristics of leaders will impact foreign policy behavior.


The more crisis-like the national situation, the more likely the personality of the head of state is to affect foreign policy behavior.


The less training in foreign affairs leaders have, the more likely their cognitive styles are to affect foreign policy behavior, whereas with increasing training, it makes it more likely their beliefs about the world will affect their foreign policy behavior.


The more ambiguous the external national situation is perceived to be, the more likely the information-processing systems of leaders are to affect foreign policy behavior.

In fact, Hermann (1986:169) argues that to truly understand political leadership, we must know something about five critical ingredients comprising it, namely:

1) the leader’s personality and background, as well as the recruitment process by which they became a leader; 2) the characteristics of the groups and individuals whom the leader is leading; 3) the nature of the relationship between the leader and those he leads; 4) the context or setting in which the leadership is taking place; and 5) the outcome of interactions between the leader and those led in specific situations.

In other words, you need to put the leader into context, to understand that leaders sometimes matter a great deal in terms of the policy process, outcomes, and state behavior, yet at other times, hardly matter at all. One may have the type of predominant leader (Hermann et al. 2001) who can authoritatively allocate resources and personally make policy decisions for the state (like a Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein), in which case an analytical focus upon the leaders themselves tells us a great deal about their likely foreign policies. On the other hand, one might have leaders facing fundamental structural, institutional, or political constraints on their policy or leadership behaviors, severely limiting their freedom of action to personally direct policy, offer inducements to potential followers, or shape policy outputs (like those in weak coalition governments, democratic leaders with weak mandates, those undercut by scandal, etc.). Here, the analysis required is more nuanced, and necessitates examining each leader in their given situational contexts in order to determine “how much the environment will allow restructuring” by the leader, and how much it continues to constrain their behavior. In foreign policy analysis, this basic understanding helps us to know whether to focus upon leaders, leadership groups, or coalitions, parties, cabinets, bureaucracies, militaries, or other actors in assessing the foreign policy making behavior of states. As Hermann (1986:169–70) observes:

In thinking about the context of leadership, we need to consider the situation in which the leader and led find themselves. When leadership of a political nature is exercised, the situation generally calls for a decision regarding the allocation of resources or rewards for a group or organization or a decision regarding what a group or organization’s goals and strategies should be. […] Although there is a tendency to limit political leadership to what happens in a governmental setting, the above consideration of the types of decisions political leaders must confront suggest that political leadership can occur in a broader context. […] Context factors set the limits within which leaders and those they are leading can operate.

A Review of the Classical Leadership Literature and Its Evolution over Time

The classical literature on leadership, at least that which is relevant to the types of questions we ask in foreign policy analysis, greatly evolved and changed over time from its beginnings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As new theoretical approaches and methodologies appeared, scholars eventually began to study the contextual nuances in this relationship between leaders (what they are like, their personalities, their styles) and foreign policy. Yet, in its earliest incarnation, the literature was dominated by the “great man” theory of leadership, which suggested that leaders were “born, not made” – that people who became leaders were uniquely special and had personal qualities and characteristics setting them apart from non-leaders. Not only did this suggest great leaders, like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, who would have arisen even in the absence of the American Civil War and World War II respectively, but also the fact that, in their absence, the significant achievements that took place under them would not have been accomplished by their lesser contemporaries. William James (1880), for example, argued that great men were responsible for all of the monumental changes in societies in history because they set these changes in motion and prevented others from diverting this movement (see also Carlyle 1841/1907; Dowd 1936; Jennings 1960; Bass and Stogdill 1990). This led to the search for specific “traits” of leadership, like Bird’s (1940) study listing 79 personality and character traits drawn from various psychological studies, that distinguished leaders from non-leaders – an approach which essentially dominated the literature until the 1940s (see Page 1935; Tead 1935; Jenkins 1947). Eventually, this fell out of favor with the rise of more situationally based theories and critiques pointing out the need to include both the person and the situation in order to explain leadership (Stogdill 1948).

Such situational theories argued that the emergence of great leaders was the product of the situation itself, not just the qualities of one individual. These “zeitgeist” theories suggested the context itself determined whether or not certain leaders would rise to prominence and the types of styles they would be free to adopt. Thus, leadership emerged as a result of the “match” between the individual and the historical environment, the nature of the times, and the specific character of the society or culture at that moment (Stogdill 1975). For example, such theories would point out that the perfect match between Churchill’s stubborn, blunt, forceful style of leadership and the requirements of the situation for Britain after the outbreak of World War II was what allowed him to succeed in his leadership role. Yet that same style did not match the period either immediately prior to or after the war, when Churchill’s leadership was roundly rejected by both colleagues and the British public. Only by placing leaders into their situational context was it possible to discern how they might emerge and how effectively they would lead. Indeed, Bass (1960) observed that, for any case of leadership, some of the variance in policy outcomes arose from the situation, some flowed from the individual, and some resulted from the combined effects of the individual and the situation. Similarly, in Fiedler’s contingency theory (1967), a leader’s effectiveness was contingent upon the demands imposed by the situation and whether their style was more task- or relations-oriented. In situations requiring task-accomplishment, say 1940 Britain, Churchill’s abrasive style fit perfectly, whereas in the more personal-relations-oriented political contexts of peacetime, Churchill’s style was a mismatch.

Another strong tradition in the leadership literature historically has been the application of psychology and psychoanalytic theory to explain leadership styles and foreign policy actions. These approaches often employed in-depth psychobiographies of leaders to link their personalities, childhood socializations, or other experiences to subsequent patterns of behavior in life, styles of leadership, and foreign policy successes or failures. Some of these psychobiographies focused upon Freudian analysis or notions of ego-defense (e.g., Glad 1980; Hargrove 1988; Renshon 1996); others concentrated upon specific kinds of personality disorders, ranging from narcissism to paranoid personality disorders (e.g., Volkan 1980; Post 1991; 1993; Birt 1993).

For example, the classic study by Alexander and Juliette George, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (1964), used a psychobiographical approach to explain Wilson’s highly moralistic, rigid, and uncompromising political style while in the White House. The Georges argued Wilson’s leadership and subsequent failure to achieve the League of Nations had its roots in his childhood. Wilson was raised in a strict Calvinist household that emphasized morality and distinctions between good and evil above all else. He was also constantly belittled and punished by his puritanical minister father for any perceived transgressions. As a result, Wilson developed a rigid, driven political personality, in which he sought to accomplish great moral deeds to compensate for his own feelings of low self-esteem. Given his difficult relationship with his stern, disciplinarian father, Wilson bridled at authority figures and internalized their criticism as personally directed at him. Not only did he see the world in absolute terms, but Wilson felt that compromise on moral issues was immoral. Thus, Wilson’s efforts to create the League of Nations took on the form of a great moral crusade. He was unable to compromise on any perceived moral issues and his conflict with Senate Majority Leader Lodge (who ultimately defeated Wilson’s efforts to bring the US into the organization) took the form of a renewed conflict with a “father-like” strict authoritarian figure. In the absence of such psychological baggage, a different president might have succeeded where Wilson failed regarding the League. Other well-known examples of psychoanalytic or psychobiographical treatments of leaders that seek to explain their styles of leadership or subsequent foreign policy behavior include: Woodrow Wilson (Freud and Bullitt 1932; George and George 1998), Adolf Hitler (Langer 1972; Gatzke 1973; Waite 1977), Martin Luther (Erickson 1958), Mahatma Gandhi (Erickson 1969), Richard Nixon (Volkan et al. 1997), Jimmy Carter (Glad 1980; Hargrove 1988), Bill Clinton (Renshon 1996), Joseph Stalin (Birt 1993), and Saddam Hussein (Post 1991; 1993).

In fact, James David Barber’s well-known book, The Presidential Character (1972), also employs psychobiography to explain the personalities, styles, and character of modern presidents. Avoiding the psychoanalytic focus upon Freudian concepts (id, ego, and superego), Barber’s psychobiographies seek patterns in the early lives or political careers of leaders, which create, through a process of socialization, the subsequent patterns of personality, style, and leadership one sees in office. Moreover, Barber argues that personality should not be studied as a set of idiosyncratic traits unique to individual presidents, but instead as a matter of tendencies, in which traits like aggressiveness, detachment, or compliance are possessed by all presidents, just in differing amounts and combinations. As a result, the components of presidential personality (character, worldview, and style) are patterned, fitting together in a dynamic package understandable in psychological terms, with: style reflecting the habitual way a president performs his three political roles (rhetoric, personal relations, and homework); worldview consisting of the leader’s primary, politically relevant beliefs regarding such things as social causality, human nature, and the central moral conflicts of the time; and character seen as the way in which a president orients toward life and his own merits (i.e., his sense of self-esteem and the criteria by which he judges himself, such as by achievement or affection) (Barber 1972:6). In order to put these pieces together, Barber employed a psychobiographical approach to trace the sociological development within presidents of these three patterns comprising personality (character, worldview, and style) from their early lives to their critically important first independent political successes. That first political success set the pattern that followed, giving the leader a template for successful action and positive feedback, which they emulated and sought to copy throughout their subsequent careers. In fact, Barber’s typology (1972:6) is one of the most famous in political science, and seeks to capture how presidential character, or “the basic stance a man takes toward his Presidential experience,” finds itself reflected in two basic dimensions: (1) the energy and effort he puts into the job (active or passive); and (2) the personal satisfaction he derives from his presidential duties (positive or negative).

Another approach to the study of leadership follows a very different path towards understanding the concept and focuses instead upon not only the leader, but the follower as well. In his classic book Leadership (1978), James MacGregor Burns describes two basic types of leadership: transactional and transformational. According to Burns (1992:24), “leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers.” This definition is significant in that it distinguishes between relationships based upon “naked power” and those based upon “leadership.” For Burns, true leadership involves a relationship between the leader and followers in which the leader taps the motives of followers in order to realize mutually held goals. This can take the form of either transactional leadership, where the leader approaches followers with an eye towards exchanging one valued thing for another (i.e., jobs for votes, subsidies for campaign contributions, etc.), or transformational leadership, in which leaders engage their followers in such a way that they raise each other to higher levels of motivation and morality. As Burns (1992:26) describes it:

Transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both. Perhaps the best modern example is Gandhi, who aroused and elevated the hopes and demands of millions of Indians and whose life and personality were enhanced in the process. Transcending leadership is dynamic leadership in the sense that the leaders throw themselves into a relationship with followers who will feel “elevated” by it and often become more active themselves, thereby creating new cadres of leaders.

On the other hand, the use of “naked power” is not leadership, but instead is based purely upon a coercive, one-sided relationship with followers built upon a leader’s own power position or resources (Burns 1992). No exchange of valued commodities takes place and the followers’ motives are irrelevant to the leader. Instead, the leader employing naked power enters into neither a transactional nor a transformational relationship with followers, but merely forces them to comply with his or her own desires. And while it certainly has proven difficult to operationalize Burns’s transformational leadership concept (Kellerman 1984) due to its highly normative nature, his focus upon the leader–follower nexus is an important one and clarifies the inseparable link between leadership and followership in any definition we choose to adopt.

The Cross-Fertilizing Role Played by the US Presidential Literature in the Study of Leadership

It is essential to note in any discussion of leadership within foreign policy analysis that the modern evolution of this subfield was not the result of some linear developmental path that took place solely within the international relations literature. Instead, it has its roots deeply planted across a number of different fields, as noted already. This is especially true regarding the role of the American presidential literature, which focused upon the personalities and leadership styles of presidents in explaining US foreign policy decision making, in contributing an immense amount to modern foreign policy analysis. Indeed, there was a remarkable degree of “cross-fertilization” between those scholars contributing to this US presidential literature and those also contributing to the “foreign policy decision making” literature in international relations out of which foreign policy analysis sprang (see for instance Holsti 1970; Walker 1977; George 1980; Neustadt and May 1986.).

Building upon and paralleling Burns’s focus upon leadership and followership, this presidential literature focused explicitly upon the leadership (or management) styles of presidents and how these impacted their interactions with advisers (followers). Although the primary focus of most of this work still rested squarely upon the personal qualities and characteristics of the leaders themselves, usually taking the form of discussions of “types” of presidential style, implicit in all of these discussions was the importance of the leader–follower relationships as well (see Barber 1972; Johnson 1974; Kearns 1976; George 1980; Porter 1980; Greenstein 1982; Campbell 1986; Crabb and Mulcahy 1986; Hargrove 1988; Jones 1988; Pika 1988; Simonton 1988; Burke and Greenstein 1991; Haney 1997; Preston 1997; 2001; George and George 1998; Foyle 1999; Greenstein 2000; Mitchell 2005). Indeed, reflecting upon the centrality of this leader–follower relationship, Fred Greenstein (1988:352) observed, “Leadership in the modern presidency is not carried out by the president alone, but rather by presidents with their associates. It depends therefore on both the president’s strengths and weaknesses and on the quality of the aides’ support.”

Beginning with Richard Neustadt’s seminal Presidential Power (1960/1990), which focused upon the “personal” rather than “institutional” presidency, and emphasized the importance of the persuasive powers of presidents, the US presidential literature began to focus much more intently upon the importance of leadership style. Indeed, this followed naturally given Neustadt’s observation that, due to the inherent limitations on their institutional powers, presidents are forced to rely upon their interpersonal skills and arts of persuasion to carry out their policies. Although this description of presidential power appeared at first glance to place individual presidents squarely into an institutional context constraining most of their freedom of action, Neustadt’s depiction of presidential power emphasized the fundamental importance of the personal presidency as well. Neustadt viewed the personal characteristics (or qualities) of presidents as critical to successful presidential leadership – and to the ability of presidents to obtain the kind of “personal influence of an effective sort on governmental action” which he defined as presidential power. However, before they can persuade, presidents must formulate and develop their policies, gather and analyze immense amounts of information, adapt their strategies and policies to a rapidly changing political environment, and surround themselves with advisers and advisory systems capable of dealing with all of these difficult tasks effectively. Across all of these areas, the individual characteristics of presidents play a critical role.

For Neustadt, the personal qualities necessary for successful presidents were those traits found in experienced politicians of extraordinary temperament – ones possessing political expertise, unpretentious self-confidence in their abilities, and who are at ease with their roles and enjoy the job. Noting that the presidency was not a place for amateurs, Neustadt pointed to the importance of prior policy experience or expertise. Further, Neustadt emphasized the need for presidents to be active information-gatherers and to seek out multiple sources and differing perspectives on policy problems. This involved leaders cultivating enhanced “sensitivity” to the policy environment through both “sensitivity to processes” (who does what and how in the political environment) and “sensitivity to substance” (the details and specifics of policy). The clear message from Neustadt’s work is that the personal qualities of leaders play a significant role in successful (or unsuccessful) presidential leadership – and that presidents who fail to effectively utilize their advisory systems, or who lack appropriate sensitivity to the policy context, are unlikely to develop the foundations of power necessary to persuade anyone.

After Barber’s (1972) typology of presidential character, perhaps the best known typology of presidential management style is Richard T. Johnson’s (1974) classification scheme, which suggested the existence of three consistent patterns of White House management styles among modern-day presidents: the formalistic, collegial, and competitive styles. The formalistic style (Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan) seeks to reduce the effects of human error through a well-designed management system that is hierarchical, nonconfrontational, focused on issues rather than personalities, and oriented toward generating options and making the “best” decision. The focus of this style is on preserving the president’s time for the “big” decisions. In contrast, the collegial and competitive styles emphasize less hierarchical organization. The collegial style (John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton) focuses on working as a team, sharing responsibility, and consensus-building with an interest in generating options, openness to information, and reaching a doable as opposed to “best” decision. Leaders organizing their advisers around the collegial style want to be involved in policy making and are uncomfortable when they are not in the middle of things. On the other hand, the competitive style (Franklin Roosevelt) centers around confrontation, with the leader setting up an organization with overlapping areas of authority to maximize the availability of information and differing perspectives. The emphasis in competitive systems is upon debate and advocacy, with the leader playing the role of final arbiter.

Alexander George (1980) built on Johnson’s work, abstracting out three stylistic variables that seemed to shape what presidential advisers do. The first, cognitive style, refers to the way the president gathers and processes information from his environment. Does the president come with a well-formulated vision or agenda that helps to shape how he perceives, interprets, and acts on information or is he interested in sounding out the situation and political context before defining a problem and seeking options? The way this question is answered suggests the types of advisers the president will have around him and the kinds of information the president will want in making a decision. In the first instance, the president seeks advisers and information that are supportive of his predispositions; in the second instance, he is interested in experts or representatives of his various constituencies who will provide him with insights into the political context and problem at any point in time. At issue in this second instance is what fits with the context: what is doable at this particular moment.

The second stylistic variable centers around sense of efficacy or competence. Sense of efficacy for George relates to how the president’s agenda is formed. The problems he feels most comfortable tackling and the areas he is most interested in are likely to dominate his agenda. If, like George Bush, the president feels more at ease with foreign than with domestic policy, his presidency will probably favor foreign over domestic policy. If, like Ronald Reagan, he has an arena of problems that are of particular importance such as building the military strength of the US vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, these issues may dominate much of the time of his administration.

The third stylistic variable George calls orientation toward political conflict. How open is the president to face-to-face disagreements and confrontations among his advisers? The more open the president is to such debate and crossfire, the easier it is for him to forge an advisory system exhibiting the characteristics of Johnson’s competitive model; the more uncomfortable such a milieu makes him, the more likely the president is to want an advisory system that either emphasizes teamwork (all of us work together) or formal rules (here are the gatekeepers who manage what gets to the president). George argues that this orientation tends to shape the president’s dealings with his cabinet and the executive bureaucracy as well as the White House staff. It colors the way he wants his advisory system to run. Moreover, it helps to define the type of control the president will want over the policy making process and how much loyalty he will demand from those around him. If conflict is to be minimized, the president will have to expend resources to keep it under control; one way to achieve such control is to choose advisers who are loyal to the president and have served him for some time. If conflict can be tolerated and, perhaps, even used, the president may see high turnover among his staff as egos are bruised or tempers flare. But advisers are more likely to be policy advocates and know what they want the president to do. Examples of presidents with low tolerances for political conflict include Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Indeed, Johnson’s intolerance of dissent from advisers and desire for loyalty among advisers on policy lines adopted by the administration were defining characteristics of his Vietnam policy style (Preston and ’t Hart 1999; Preston 2001). On the other hand, Franklin Roosevelt’s skillful use of a competitive management style provides the prototypical example of the leader high in tolerance of political conflict (Johnson 1974; George 1980).

Other scholars particularly interested in the presidency (Campbell 1986; Crabb and Mulcahy 1986; Smith 1988) have added to what Johnson and George have described. These writers have been interested in leadership style variables that are relational in form; that is, they focus on what the president does vis-à-vis his advisers and the bureaucracy. One such variable is the degree to which the president does business personally or through institutionalized routines. Is the president a hands-on person like Lyndon Johnson, who wanted to talk to commanders in Vietnam or the ambassador in the Dominican Republic about what was really going on, or is he more likely to want what comes up through the bureaucracy to be culled and organized before it gets to him for his reflection? Anyone can become an adviser to the first type of president: the gatekeepers at the end become the advisers for the second type of president.

Indeed, scholars writing about political leadership in general (Kotter and Lawrence 1974; Hermann 1987a) have stressed several further leadership styles that can influence how advisers are chosen. The first focuses on the leader’s preferred strategies for resolving conflict. Which of the following strategies does the leader generally use to resolve conflict among advisers: leader preferences, unanimity/consensus, or majority rule? Each strategy suggests a difference in the advisory system. If the strategy focuses on ensuring that the leader’s preferences prevail, the leader is going to play a more forceful role in the proceedings than if the strategy involves building a consensus or engaging a coalition to make a majority. Consensus-building demands more of a facilitative role from the leader, while engaging in coalition formation suggests an emphasis on negotiation and bargaining with trade-offs and side payments. Moreover, the advisers the leader selects may differ with these strategies. If the leader generally wants his preferences to prevail, he will probably seek out advisers who have a similar philosophy, are loyal, and predisposed to please him. If consensus is the name of the game, the leader will seek out advisers who are, like himself, interested in facilitating the process of bringing different views together and more conciliative than confrontational. Advisers to leaders whose preferred strategy is coalition-building probably need skills at ascertaining where constituents stand and persuading others to join with them. The second variable centers around the general operating goal of the leader – what is driving the leader to accept a leadership position? Why is a person interested in running for president? The type of goal possessed indicates who the leader or president is likely to seek for advisers. Leaders interested in a particular cause seek advocates around them; those interested in support seek a cohesive group around them; those interested in power and influence seek implementers around them; those who want to accomplish some task or change some policy seek experts around them. Advisers are sought that complement the leaders’ needs, that facilitate the leaders doing what they perceive needs to be done (see Hermann et al. 2001; Cottam et al. 2004).

Another relational variable centers around distrust of the bureaucracy and the impact of leader characteristics upon its nature during the policy making process. How much does the president trust the executive branch bureaucracy to carry out his decisions and program? Those presidents like Nixon with an inherent distrust of what the bureaucracy will do to their policies often centralize authority so that it rests with those they can trust, or they end-run the bureaucracy altogether by bringing policy making into the White House and under their control. With more trust of the bureaucracy comes more interest in recommendations from those further down in the hierarchy and more interest in interagency commissions and task forces. Moreover, as Preston and ’t Hart (1999) observe, using an in-depth analysis of Lyndon Johnson’s advisory and bureaupolitical dynamics during Vietnam War policy making from 1964 to 1968, the individual characteristics of leaders not only play a major role in determining the degree of bureaupolitical conflict likely to exist within a given administration, but also provide clues as to the types of group decision pathologies that might develop within the inner circles of leaders.

Overall, the US presidential literature remains an incredibly rich source of material relevant to foreign policy analysis due to its heavy focus upon presidential leadership styles and their impact on the foreign policy process. And much of the more recent work has moved away from descriptive case studies and towards more tightly structured comparative case study analyses that make systematic use of presidential archives and other materials (see Haney 1997; Preston 1996; 2001; Garrison 1999; 2005). Thus, unlike the earlier Barber and Johnson works, which suggested leadership variables of interest without actually operationalizing or empirically measuring them against real-world data, modern presidential studies have adopted rigorous qualitative and quantitative approaches. For example, Greenstein’s (1982) The Hidden-Hand Presidency, through use of archival analysis, redefined the nature of Eisenhower’s presidency and showed (contrary to beliefs at the time) an actively engaged, dynamic leader very much in charge (behind the scenes) of his own foreign policies. Later, Burke and Greenstein (1991) compared and contrasted across case studies of Vietnam policy making the critical importance played by the differences in style between Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson on the policy outcomes in 1954 and 1965.

This new style of researching Neustadt’s “personal presidency” is typified by Preston’s (2001) The President and His Inner Circle, which combined controlled comparison case study analysis across six modern US presidents, systematic operationalization and measurement of leader individual characteristics, in-depth archival and interview research, and a multidisciplinary, political psychological approach pulling together disparate leadership literatures from across numerous disciplines. The resulting theoretical model empirically linked the measured individual characteristics of leaders directly to their subsequent leadership style patterns, how they structured their advisory systems once in office, and how they tended to make use of information and advice, what kinds of advisors they will likely surround themselves with, and how they would make decisions during the foreign policy process. Preston’s typology of leadership style suggests that two dimensions are of critical importance: (1) the leader’s need for control and involvement in the policy process (reflected by their individual needs for power and their general interest in the substantive policy in question); and (2) the leader’s need for information and general sensitivity to their surrounding policy context (reflected by that individual’s cognitive complexity and their actual expertise/area competency in the policy domain in question). As a result, the model produces a nuanced, composite style typology that is sensitive to differences in leaders across these two dimensions and across differing policy domains. And it allows presidents to vary from one another not only in the one simple dimension of their need for control and involvement in the policy process (as in the typologies of Barber and Johnson), but also in terms of their general sensitivity to policy information and context. In addition to providing greater variation in style types, the typology provides greater analytical capability to study the impact of leadership styles across different policy domains by incorporating a more contingent notion of leadership style into the analysis of presidents. A serious weakness of previous typologies has been their firm roots in either foreign policy or domestic policy, with presidential styles generally appearing to be incompatible between the two domains. In contrast, Preston’s typology allows the leadership styles for presidents to vary across the foreign and domestic policy domains (and even within specific issue area domains) based upon the leaders’ degree of prior policy expertise and interest in various areas. This approach has been applied not only to US leaders (Preston 1997; 1999; 2008), but also to foreign leaders (Taysi and Preston 2001; Dyson 2006).

The “Foreign Policy Decision Making” School and Its Contribution to the Study of Leadership

Beginning with Snyder, Bruck, and Sapin’s (1962) classic work, Foreign Policy Decision Making, which challenged the orthodoxy of state-centered realism by calling for scholars to open up the “black box” of decision making within state actors in order to explain foreign policy making, a vibrant foreign policy analysis school grew rapidly within the field of International Relations throughout the 1970s and 80s (see Holsti 1967; 1970; 1977; de Rivera 1968; Allison 1971; Janis 1972; Hermann 1976; 1980; 1987b; Jervis 1976; Cottam 1977; Janis and Mann 1977; Paige 1977; Steinbruner 1977; Walker 1977; 1983; Etheredge 1978; George 1980; Walker and Falkowski 1984; Stewart et al. 1989; Cottam 1994). And, while serving as the primary launching pad for the development of the political psychology subfield over the coming decades in political science, this school also produced a tremendous amount of scholarship focusing directly upon the issues of leadership (often compared across nations) and its impact upon the many facets of the foreign policy process.

Some of the early work on elaborating the world view or political beliefs of leaders took the form of research on the operational code, a concept originally introduced by Leites (1951; 1953) in his study of the ideology and belief structures of the Soviet Bolsheviks. His work was later modified and stripped of its psychoanalytic elements by Alexander George (1969), who reconceptualized the operational code to represent the answers to ten questions centering around a leader’s philosophical beliefs (what the nature of the political universe is) and instrumental beliefs (what are believed to be the best strategies and tactics for achieving goals). For a leader’s philosophical beliefs, the analyst sought information about their views surrounding: (1) the fundamental nature of politics and political conflict, and the image of the opponent; (2) the general prospects for achieving one’s fundamental political values; (3) the extent to which political outcomes are predictable; (4) the extent to which political leaders can influence historical developments and control outcomes; and (5) the role of chance. For the leader’s instrumental beliefs, the five questions involved: (1) the best approach for selecting goals for political action; (2) how such goals and objectives can be pursued most effectively; (3) the best approach to calculation, control, and acceptance of the risks of political action; (4) the matter of timing of action; and (5) the utility and role of different means for advancing one’s interests (see George 1979). Essentially, operational codes are constructs representing the overall belief systems of leaders about the world (i.e., how it works, what it is like, what kinds of actions are most likely to be successful, etc.).

As George (1979:99) observed, operational code beliefs, unlike attitudes, represent central beliefs which “are concerned with fundamental, unchanging issues of politics and political action.” By understanding the operational codes of leaders, scholars employing this technique argue that a better understanding of their likely decision making styles and political behavior is gained. Operational codes are constructed either quantitatively or qualitatively through an examination of decision makers’ speeches, interviews, writings, and other verbal or written materials. Moreover, an automated coding scheme for the operational code, Verbs in Context (or VICs), employing the Profiler-Plus computer program, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of operational code to assess world leaders (Schafer and Walker 2006). Though at times lacking the qualitative richness of traditional Georgian op-code case study analysis, the VICs op-codes substitute quantitative rigor and the ability to code massive amounts of material across leaders with relative ease. Included within this operational code literature are studies of a wide range of political leaders including: John Foster Dulles (Holsti 1970; Stuart and Starr 1981), John F. Kennedy (Stuart and Starr 1981; Marfleet 2000), Henry Kissinger (Walker 1977; Stuart and Starr 1981), Woodrow Wilson (Walker 1995), Jimmy Carter (Walker et al. 1998), US presidents and secretaries of state (Walker and Falkowski 1984), Vladimir Putin (Dyson 2001); and a large cross-section of world leaders (Schafer and Walker 2006).

Other scholars have taken different approaches to understanding leadership impacts on foreign policy. For example, Etheredge (1978), in a study of twentieth century American presidents and foreign policy advisers, noted the importance of traits such as dominance, interpersonal trust, self-esteem, and introversion–extroversion, in shaping policy maker views and policy preferences. American leaders scoring high on measures of dominance tended to favor using force to settle disputes with the Soviet Union, over the use of arbitration or disarmament. Moreover, leaders scoring high on introversion tended to oppose cooperation, and extroverted ones generally supported cooperation and negotiation with the Soviets. Looking at how context impacts leadership, Grove (2007) examines a variety of world leaders and assesses how they interpret and manipulate both domestic and international constraints on their strategic decision making and foreign policy. From a more psychoanalytic perspective, Jerrold Post (2004; 2006) has written extensively throughout his long career on the impact of charismatic versus narcissistic leaders on foreign policy, the effects of stress, health, and aging on leaders, and had significant impact upon the policy-applied, practitioner community by bringing psychological analysis and techniques of assessing leaders into the US government. Indeed, the insights provided by his psychological profiles of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin were credited by President Jimmy Carter with being critical to the success of the Camp David Peace Talks, and his profile of Saddam Hussein prior to the First Gulf War was widely used by the G.H.W. Bush administration (Post 2006).

Other researchers look at what they call the motives of individual leaders (Winter 1973; McClelland 1975; Winter and Stewart 1977; McClelland and Boyatzis 1982; Winter 1987; Winter and Carlson 1988; Winter et al. 1991). Motives are those aspects of a leader’s personality concerned with goals and goal-directed actions. The motives that have received the most attention in political psychology are needs for power (i.e., concern for impact and prestige), motive needs for affiliation (i.e., concern for close relations with others), and motive needs for achievement (i.e., concern with excellence and task accomplishment). For example, Winter and Stewart (1977) argued that those high in power and low in affiliation make better presidents. Those high in power also require a far greater degree of personal control over the policy process and the actions of subordinates than do low power personalities (Winter 1973; 1987). In terms of interpersonal relationships, people high in the need for power exhibit more controlling, domineering behavior towards subordinates than low power people (Winter 1973; 1987; McClelland 1975). Examples of leader studies using Winter’s motive scoring technique (which looks at power, achievement, and affiliation) include: Richard Nixon (Winter and Carlson 1988), US presidents (Winter 1987), African political leaders (Winter 1980), Mikhail Gorbachev (Winter et al. 1991), and Saddam Hussein (Post 2006).

Finally, a major pioneer of modern leadership studies, Margaret G. Hermann (1976; 1980; 1983; 1984; 1986; 1999; 2001; 2003) has led the way forward through her development of a rigorous leader assessment-at-a-distance technique and a huge body of path-breaking research that has explored many facets of how leaders shape and affect foreign policy. Not only has her Leader Trait Assessment (LTA) content-analytic technique become the most widely utilized and empirically rich of the existing approaches to leadership analysis, Hermann’s work spawned the original development of the computer-based, expert system, Profiler-Plus, developed by Social Science Automation, a company co-founded by Hermann and Michael Young. Profiler-Plus’s ability to code millions of words of text systematically with ease, create massive databases of world leaders, and run comparisons across leaders, their characteristics, and a wide range of other leadership dimensions (see Young 2000) has led not only to Hermann’s work resulting in a large academic literature, but also to it being widely used throughout the US government by the practitioner community.

The LTA approach uses the spontaneous interview responses of leaders to code for seven specific individual characteristics: need for power, conceptual complexity, task versus interpersonal focus, self-confidence, locus of control, distrust of others, and ethnocentrism (Hermann 1999; 2003). All available materials from interviews, press conference QandAs across every issue area and across time are coded by Profiler-Plus, generating overall scores for each leader broken down by characteristic, audience, topic, and time period. This system not only has 100 percent intercoder reliability and removes the subjectivity so often associated with profiling techniques coded by hand, it also allows for the comparison of leader scores against a norming population of over 350 other world leaders. These comparisons can also be made within groups of leaders within a country or across a given region.

Moreover, there has been a great deal of empirical research that has actually provided support for the behavioral correlates that are linked by Hermann’s approach to given leader scores. For example, Preston (2001) and Dyson (2006) profiled modern US presidents and British prime ministers respectively, and then compared the theoretical expectations for given LTA scores (given the psychological literatures) with the leaders’ actual behavior across foreign policy cases using archival materials (i.e., their need for personal involvement/control, need for information, structuring/use of advisory systems, etc.). Similarly, in her study of sub-Saharan African leaders, Hermann (1987b) found that unlike the styles of Western political leaders, who generally tend to emphasize task completion in office, her profiled African leaders emphasized constituent morale over task accomplishment. At the same time, however, Hermann’s study also found substantial variability across the individual characteristics scores of these African leaders, meaning there was no single “style type” for sub-Saharan African leaders and illustrating the need to study each in depth and in context in order to predict their foreign policy behavior. Interestingly, across this broad leadership literature, Hermann and Preston (1994:81) note that there are five main types of leadership variables that appear to be routinely identified as having an impact upon the style of leaders and their subsequent structuring and use of advisory systems: (1) leader involvement in the policy making process; (2) leader willingness to tolerate conflict; (3) leader’s motivation or reason for leading; (4) leader’s preferred strategies for managing information; and (5) leader’s preferred strategies for resolving conflict. Across the work of Hermann and her colleagues, these variables have increasingly been the focus of research.

Other studies applying Hermann’s LTA approach have looked at UN secretaries general (Kille 2006), Iranian leaders (Taysi and Preston 2001), European prime ministers (Kaarbo and Hermann 1998), sub-Saharan African leaders (Hermann 1987b), President Assad of Syria (Hermann 1988), Soviet leaders (Winter et al. 1991), Irish nationalist leaders (Mastors 2000), Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton (Hermann 2003); the impact of leader characteristics upon bureaucratic and group dynamics (Stewart et al. 1989; Preston and ’t Hart 1999), leader selection and socialization dynamics (Hermann 1979), democratic peace theory (Hermann and Kegley 1995), use of analogy in decision making (Dyson and Preston 2006), and leader management of crisis contexts (Preston 2008). Across all of these studies, the differences in leader characteristics and styles have been shown to have substantial foreign policy impacts. Thus, while there are many fine assessment-at-a-distance techniques available (i.e., Winter’s motive assessment, Suedfeld’s integrative complexity, George and Walker’s operational code, etc.), LTA is still the most rigorous and well-tested of current profiling techniques (due to its decades-long track record of research, meticulous empirical work validating its links to actual behavior, and the sophisticated nature of its automation into the Profiler-Plus expert system that effectively eliminates intercoder reliability issues).

Assessment of Future Directions in Leadership Research, Theory, and Methodology

Alexander George in his book Bridging the Gap (1993) observed that for political science research to be relevant and of value to real-world practitioners, we need to ask policy-relevant questions as we pursue our theory-building and research efforts. In other words, our research should take a policy-applied approach that seeks to answer the types of questions practitioners face on a day-to-day basis. But, while the discipline of political science as a whole often falls far short of (or ignores) the policy relevance question, the subfield of foreign policy analysis within international relations, especially in the area of leadership studies, has largely answered George’s call. From Jerrold Post to Margaret Hermann, research on leadership and foreign policy analysis has found its way into large-scale application among practitioners within the US government. Certainly, this is a laudable development, and should continue to gather pace – especially as automated expert systems, like Profiler-Plus, incorporate multiple assessment-at-a-distance methodologies into their coding capabilities (which currently include LTA, VICs op-code, image theory, and cognitive mapping). The increasing methodological rigor, systematic coding, and ability to generate large dataset populations of world leaders across many dimensions facilitates increasingly sophisticated empirical research by scholars. Theoretical development and integration across various decision making approaches have become increasingly ambitious, as the advancements in coding capabilities allow scholars to tackle research questions or engage in comparative analyses across leaders that would have been impossible to consider in a practical sense even a decade ago. And this rapid growth in theory-building and research on leadership and foreign policy leads to greater policy-applied relevance of our fields of research to practitioners, especially as automated coding reduces the time lag between questions and results. It is hardly an exaggeration to note that this revolution in expert system coding capabilities and the research vistas it opens to scholars of leadership and foreign policy analysis is one of the most critically important developments in our subfield’s history. It is to be hoped that the research boom it opens up will lead to greater integration and cross-fertilization across various research approaches in our field, thereby building across mid-range theories to obtain more comprehensive understandings of the questions we face. To the extent that this reduces the “turf-guarding” by different camps of scholars and encourages collaboration and integration in our research, the stronger our overall program will become.

Second, it is essential that we continue building upon our increasing awareness of how important it is to place leaders into their proper contexts in our analyses. In many respects, this is a warning about the dangers of losing nuance and the real-world meaning of what we study by not maintaining our perspective on the limits of our new quantitative methodological capabilities. While automated coding systems allow vast amounts of data to be gathered for analyses and, by reducing the small-n problem, allows some questions relating to leaders and policy to be addressed in a quantitative manner that would have been unrealistic prior to their advent, there is also a danger to be avoided. To the extent that we use these coding capabilities to engage in quantitative analyses to test hypotheses and build theory – while also remaining firmly grounded to the qualitative realities of the real world – we will see advances. But it is absolutely essential to link and verify quantitative patterns we may see (regardless of the approach we are employing) empirically to in-depth qualitative analyses to corroborate the behavioral correlates. These cannot (and must not) be merely cursory, superficial case analysis, but where possible be based upon exhaustive, archival research and controlled comparison case study analysis (see George and Bennett 2005). We must avoid falling into the trap of looking purely at quantitative measures, devoid of all nuance and context, that produce findings based on the simplified nature of the data that may have limited connection to the world from whence they came. If we begin producing purely abstract, quantitative works demonstrating true methodological legerdemain, yet find historians and practitioners shaking their heads at our version of well-known events – we will fail in “bridging the gap” and harm what could have been an opportunity for immense scholarly achievement (had we kept the proper balance between our qualitative and quantitative approaches).

Finally, among the areas of leadership and foreign policy analysis where the need for new scholarship stands out, several can be pointed towards as worthy of our future focus. For example, how do leadership style dynamics change over time, and what variables influence these changes? If we were able to incorporate understandings of “learning” and “change over time” into our models of leadership and foreign policy, they would become increasingly dynamic and predictive. Similarly, while a great deal of focus has been placed upon the “leader” in our analyses to date, with much less attention being paid to followers, this needs to be remedied. Burns (1978) has always been correct that to understand leadership, it is necessary to understand followership as well – they are two sides of the same coin. Research that could fill out the other side of the equation – how advisers or followers affect leaders and foreign policy decisions – is desperately needed to complete the substantial research that has already been conducted tracking the impact of leaders on the process.

By maintaining our policy-applied, “bridging-the-gap” perspective, making use of the research opportunities afforded by current theoretical and methodological advances, avoiding the reductionist trap, and working towards adoption of multiple methods and increased integration across competing approaches, the future for the study of leadership and foreign policy analysis appears bright indeed. And we will have met Alexander George’s challenge to develop “actor-specific knowledge” that is both theory and policy relevant as we move our subfield of foreign policy analysis forward into the future.


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Links to Digital Materials

Social Science Automation. At, accessed July 2009. Provides state-of-the-art automated text analysis products and services to business, government, and academic clients. Includes solutions for media analysis, campaign and election media evaluation, athlete achievement, profiling, and forensic psycholinguistics.