Throughout centuries, Russias leaders embarked on territorial depredations to satisfy the needs of the countrys populace and, most important, the ambitions of its leaders. Each territorial conquest made it more difficult for the Muscovite czars and later Soviet leaders and presidents of independent Russia to govern the country. The boundaries of Russia in either of its historic forms have changed throughout centuries, shrinking considerably in the late 20th century, but nevertheless remain impressive. As a corollary of frequent territorial conquests and assimilation policies, the territories that comprise todays Russia are populated by diverse ethnic groups, meaning that the countrys leaders have to tread softly on ethnic issues. By contrast, however, Russian leaders have historically had a proclivity for suppressing national sentiments in the subjugated territories and otherwise riding roughshod over their own people. And consecutive Russian administrations, from the early czars to Joseph Stalin and to Vladimir Putin, have done that with a special gusto. It is not surprising then that a peculiar set of leadership traits, including control, threat of coercion, a knack for centralized power and willingness to rule over the country with a rod of iron, still resonates with modern Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin. It has so happened historically that being a strong leader in Russia presumes the existence of this set of leadership traits and convictions in people with leadership aspirations. The present paper looks at the theoretical paradigms underlying leadership in Russia and segues into a discussion of leadership patterns of Russian supremos with an emphasis on Vladimir Putin. The bottom line is that Vladimir Putin is hostage to Russias history in terms of his leadership style.
Leadership in Russian History
The body of literature about leadership has been growing commensurately to the development of literature per se. Indeed, there has always been a vivid interest in the way rulers led their people as well as in the makings of such rulers. Truly, different authors dwelled on different aspects of leadership at different times. As the centuries changed one another in quick succession, authors put new slants on leadership, contributing to the ever-growing body of literature on this issue. Throughout the last two centuries, the investigation of leadership with a focus on the relationship between a leader and a follower has been the primary approach towards studying leadership per se. It was not, however, until the mid-20th century that leadership, in the modern understanding of this word gained a foothold as a separate domain of research. As broad as the definition of leadership may be, the vast majority of researchers tend to concentrate their attention on the ability of top executives firm managers, school provosts, governors, presidents and sovereigns to make favorable strategic decisions and to stimulate their subordinates to work coherently and selflessly to bring these decisions to life.
Place New Order
Before proceeding with the further discussion of what makes a leader, it would be interesting to look at how the concept of leadership has evolved in the 20th century. Interestingly, there are as many definitions of leadership as there are scientists studying the issue. For example, a definition of leadership popular in the early 20th century, as offered by Paul Pigors in his seminal book Leadership or Domination, suggests that leadership is a process of mutual stimulation which, by the successful interplay of individual differences, controls human energy in the pursuit of a common cause.
Pigorss contemporary, Herbert Anderson, opines that a true leader in the psychological sense is one who can make the most of individual differences, who can bring out the most differences in the group and therefore reveal to the group a sounder base for defining common purposes.
A common thread from the then literature shows that most scholars studying leadership often stressed the significance of differences and the interaction process. The above two definitions, in particular, imply that a true leader emerges only when other members of the group or society recognize him either explicitly or with tacit acquiescence as their leader. Max Weber, too, agrees that the recognition on the part of those subject to authority is critical for the validity of charisma.
In other words, as Bernard and Ruth Basses argue, leadership, as seen from the perspective of the theorists of the early 20th century, is nothing more but passive acceptance of the importance of ones status.
All this is true of Russia, both the Putinist Russia and its historical precursors.
Other definitions of leadership prevalent in the early 20th century foreground control and centralization of power.
For example, a 1927 definition of leadership offered by Moore states that it is the ability to impress the will of the leader on those led and induce obedience, respect, loyalty, and cooperation.
Towards the end of the 20th century, however, leadership became associated more with cooperation than simply control, centralized power and the readiness of a leader to rule over his subjects with an iron rod. In 1993, Peter Northouse gave a simple, albeit clear and generally acceptable, definition of leadership, describing it as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
Although Schenk describes leadership as the management of people by persuasion and inspiration rather than simply by the direct or implied threat of coercion
, this has not ever been true in Russia. Modern definitions of leadership, with their emphasis on cooperation and soft power of a leader, are surely taken into consideration by Putin and his inner circle, but they pale into insignificance compared to such components as control, threat of coercion, and centralized power.
A wealth of research indicates that people guided by their peculiar motives and experiences are at the backbone of developing national strategies. Apparently, if it had not been for the uncanny resourcefulness of the leaders, many countries would not have been alive today in their present form. Conversely, if it had not been for the flaws of other leaders, the hitherto-powerful and now-defunct empires, such as the USSR, could have survived to the present day. The problem is that there are hardly two leaders who would offer the same array of options for their country. By the same token, it is doubtable that different strategists would implement the same options in a similar way. The bottom line here is that a set of factors, such as aptitude, agility, personal experience, prejudices, and other human characteristics of a particular leader, has a strong impact on the way different countries develop their strategies. While this may be true, it is necessary to make a caveat at the outset that leaders in Russia and, for that matter, in many other states often become hostages to history. For example, even if Vladimir Putin wanted to be a good leader of his people, tackling their socioeconomic woes, he would not be able to do so because of the Kremlins penchant for domination, imperial ambitions and policies of cultural aggrandizement.
It has become a hallowed tradition among scholars that research into leadership must revolve around the study of top managers, including presidents, in accordance with the following trends of theory: the transformational, visionary, and charismatic perspectives, the social intelligence approach, and a more general upper echelons perspective.
The latter is, perhaps, the most firmly entrenched paradigm in the contemporary research into leadership. The upper-echelon theory emphasizes the impact that the top management teams (read Putins inner circle) demographic characteristics and academic background have on the strategic performance of a company or country. In this direction, scholars try to understand the reliability of heterogeneity, social idiosyncrasies and personal links between top managers as the variables used to predict chances of a particular leader to succeed.
In comparison to the proponents of the upper-echelon approach, those who prefer transformational, visionary and charismatic perspectives study the role of strategic leadership by means of drawing attention to the relationship that exists between the top managers and stakeholders and amid the top management inter se.
The proponents of these approaches believe that inborn leaders are hard-wired to create values necessary to enhance performance of their countries and, what is more important, to infuse these values into their subjects. Fairly enough, advocates of the social intelligence approach assert that the efficiency of strategic leadership depends, to a great extent, on the intellectual sinews of potential leaders rather than on any other factor.
Likewise, this perspective puts interpersonal skills and social prowess of leaders to the fore. It suggests that successful leaders must be endowed with a great sense of motivation and a rich emotional world in order to spearhead their teams in turbulent environments. While the term turbulent environment may border on political cliche, it has always been this way for Vladimir Putin. At the same time, it has hardly ever been as turbulent as it is today, when his country has turned into an international pariah because of its support of separatists in the east of Ukraine. Crippling economic sanctions imposed by the West have also had a deleterious impact on the Russian economy, nearly bringing internal tensions to a flashpoint.
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Charismatic leadership, as theoretical leadership approach, is deemed by some commentators to be the most influential approach on leadership research.
It certainly merits special attention in this research paper because it best describes the leadership strategy of Vladimir Putin. Although many critics of the current Russian president dismiss him as lacking any charisma whatsoever, this is not true. Indeed, he possesses such characteristics as dominance, self-security, a need to influence others and a strong conviction in the moral integrity of his belief the characteristics that make a charismatic leader, according to Ingo Winkler.
The author further opines that charismatic leaders tend to act as a strong role model, articulating ideological goals that have strong moral overtones and encouraging task-oriented motives of followers with the help of power or appreciation.
Such a definition perfectly describes many Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, who has always seen himself as a role model and his inner circle as a nationally conscious vanguard at the forefront of struggle for a morally pure and politically strong Russia. Similarly, he has significantly reinforced the Soviet-created propaganda bubble to impart Russian ideological goals to both domestic and foreign audiences. Indeed, consecutive Soviet and Russian administrations have seen themselves as bringers of culture and enlightenment to the benighted people, using this as a pretext for unleashing an unrelenting propaganda campaign that has recently reached an apogee. Ingo Winkler also argues that the existence of a crisis situation is considered important for the emergence of a charismatic leader.
Putins presidency has been laden with such crisis situation, ranging from the Russian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the resolution of which won Putin the favor of his nationals, to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which resulted in further soaring of his approval ratings. Although Max Weber argues that charismatic domination is the very opposite of bureaucratic domination,
both are inherent in the Russian system.
It would be also logical in the end to look briefly at the role of female leaders in Russian history. The platitudes that males and females pursue different leadership styles have been cited and repeated so often that they have already assumed the aura of conventional wisdom. Indeed, there is a wealth of research into the topic confirming the idea that such variations actually exist. However, it does not take a prominent historian to understand the basic reasons for the existence of differences between how males and females lead groups and organizations. Historically, men have assumed more important positions within different groups, ranging from family and tribal units to societal and organizational structures. It was not until the late 20th century that suffragist and other feminist movements began to gain grounds throughout the world. Curiously, however, American women were able to propel themselves to top leadership positions only in the late 20th century, whereas Russian history is replete with examples of women holding sway over the whole empire as early as the 18th century. Catherine the Great, for example, reigned over Russia for over 30 years. But the problem is that they inherited their high positions rather than achieved them by their sheer abilities. Paradoxically, after the abolition of monarchy in Russia 1917, the situation only deteriorated and strong female leaders are nowhere to be seen even in modern Russia.
Oddly enough, successful leadership is still stereotypically erroneously, even associated with masculine traits, such as perseverance, moral fiber and assertiveness. Female leaders are frowned upon in Russia because they violate the generally accepted gender norms. While it may well be true that some women have a greater amount of endurance, resilience and assertiveness than some men do, they do not necessarily stand greater chances to occupy a leadership role in Russia and, for that matter, in many other parts of the world. However, with the advance of transformational leadership styles, which emphasize feminine personality traits like motherly attentiveness, empathy and emotional intelligence, the chances of women to place leadership positions in organizations and state apparatus are higher. Obviously, sex differences in leadership can affect the productivity of an organization concerned because many things depend on the competence and personal skills of a leader, but it does not mean that women cannot be effective leaders and Russian history attests to that. After all, the concept of the freedom of agency implies that all individuals, regardless of their ethnic, racial, gender and religious differences, have the capacity to make their choices, realize their goals, exercise control over their own behavior, or, more generally, to act. Although many Russian families are matriarchate, with men drinking alcohol and women taking financial care of their families, males are much better represented in positions of power.
Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area, but it is only a shell of its former self. It used to be much bigger at some points in history. As is true of most empires, the tsarist empire was made up of radically differing lands and peoples which it acquired and used for a variety of purposes.
It sold Alaska, the territory bigger in size than half of the worlds countries to the US in 1867 and sloughed off rims of territory with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, a paring down that significantly undercut the influence of the Russian state in global affairs. Nonetheless, the independent Russia has inherited 60,000 kilometers of land and maritime borders. Many of the bordering states are politically unstable and pose challenges to the inviolability of Russian borders. Others have territorial disputes with Russia and could probably scurry to drive home their claims were Russia to flounder. On the other hand, Russias nuclear weapons deter all foreign threats for the present time and will likely do so in the nearest future. Within the country the political situation is also unstable, particularly in the Caucasus region. The consecutive administrations of independent Russia have tussled with the problem of pacifying restive insurgents in the region. But the rhetoric that Russia has been drifting politically rudderless is unsubstantiated. As long as the Putin administration and its followers manage to exploit the unfathomable bounty that lies under Russias vast terrain to generate government revenues, thereby maintaining order in the country, it is unlikely that the country will erupt in a major protest against its present leaders, as corrupt as they are.
The problem is that Russian leaders do not use government revenues to improve social standards in the country and seldom invest in infrastructure projects beyond the confines of Russia, but rather to buy the consent of police, turning into a gendarme state. For decades, if not centuries, Russian people were largely quiescent politically and seldom spilled onto the streets to protest the actions of their leaders for fear of official molestation and repressions. For example, since Joseph Stalin brought himself to power in 1922, the Soviet people had had little to celebrate. This growling, beaming bear of a man initiated the adoption of a myriad of draconian laws aimed at restricting the rights of ordinary people. What is more appalling, this ruthless tyrant drove Soviet people into subjugation, waged purges of ethnical minorities, staged artificial famines and perpetrated other crimes against his own compatriots.
However, when Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin as the Secretary-General of the USSR in 1953, he immediately settled on the policy of de-Stalinization, accusing Stalin of the reign of terror against the Soviets. But the USSR remained a Stalinist relic of a country for many years hence. Khrushchev administered a coup de grace to the cult of personality launched by Joseph Stalin.
However, the post-war thrust of Soviet Unions foreign policy did not change much after Stalins demise. Overall, many of the enormities of the Soviet regimes continued well into the 21st century. For example, to drum up support for the governmental line and, at the same time, foreclose the possibility of any protests within the country, the Putin administration unleashed a ruthless propaganda campaign of unparalleled proportions, unseen even in the Soviet Union.
It is necessary to say in conclusion that there exists a certain leadership pattern in Russia, which has evolved over the centuries. Being a leader in Russia has always necessitated strong will, a desire to control subjugate, even ones nationals, lack of concern for the interests of other nations, and a certain degree of ruthlessness in all respects. This set of leadership traits, while inimical to the establishment of a truly democratic society in Russia, has helped its leaders to keep the country generally intact. The country has lost a big chunk of its territories, but not quite as much as it could have. President Putin, for his part, succumbs to the imperial temptations and habits of his predecessors. He is seen as a strong leader among Russian people, not so much because of his strong personality traits, but rather because of the extensive propaganda campaign that whitewashes his actions and portrays him as a national hero. He is certainly an intelligent man, but he owes his leadership status to something more. The latest events in Russias near abroad, including the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraines east, create an impression that the Putin regime is to call a spade by its rightful name a collection of spiteful politicians, who all cherish unsubstantiated imperial ambitions. Opposition in Russia is as feeble as ever and all mainstream politicians subscribe to Putins point of view. Whether that is a good thing or bad, such behavior of Russian political establishment demonstrates that Putin is the only genuine opinion leader in Russia. Apparently, there are some oligarchs behind him, but he is certainly the most important figure on Russias political landscape.