Brown (Emeritus, Politics/Oxford Univ.; The Rise and Fall of Communism, 2009, etc.) addresses an apparent paradox in attitudes about political leaders.
While people are presumed to prefer strong leaders, the author contends that leaders who attempt to appear overtly strong are actually less effective than more self-effacing ones. By the “strong leader” of the title, Brown means leaders who seize the responsibility for decision-making in all spheres of government, without deferring to colleagues with greater expertise in their areas of responsibility. Such leaders are essential to some authoritarian regimes, such as the fascist states of the 1930s or the "cult of personality" communist states like Russia under Stalin or North Korea today, but they appear in democracies as well, usually with unfortunate results. Regardless of the form of government, Brown argues that while the man on the white horse may cut the most striking figure, he is more likely to make faulty decisions on his own than will someone who governs through persuasion and consensus. The author therefore deplores the tendency for presidents or premiers to take personal credit for achievements properly attributable to their party or government—he is particularly hard on Tony Blair in this regard—and of media to emphasize the influence of these leaders at the expense of other senior ministers. Accessible if somewhat dry in tone, this wide-ranging survey of regimes from the early 20th century to the present illuminates the author’s thesis by contrasting the governing styles of a host of such leaders as Mao Zedong and Margaret Thatcher, on the one hand, with those of Deng Xiaoping and Clement Attlee on the other. Occasionally, it seems that Brown was torn between writing solely to press his point about effective leadership and producing a scholarly and thus more inclusive survey of political leadership styles and results regardless of their relevance to his overall theme.
A sure-handed historical review with an engaging viewpoint.