Leadership for Development: What do people want?

The College of Social Sciences was delighted to present the inaugural lecture of Professor David Hudson, Professor of Politics and Development.

The event took place on Monday 18 March, and saw over 100 staff, students and members of the community join Professor Hudson on campus to discuss public perceptions of leadership.

Professor Hudson’s lecture was introduced by Professor Richard Black, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Sciences. Professor Black spoke about David’s academic background and his interest in using different research methods, from nationally representative surveys, experiments, and network analysis to focus groups.

Professor Black spoke about David’s position and contribution as Director of the Development Leadership Programme and Co-Director of the Development Engagement Lab, as well as his extensive research expertise from development aid and financing, to the structure of public attitudes towards global development.

The lecture began with a discussion of what development is and what it means in a global sense. Professor Hudson reflected that leadership matters in terms of prosperity, increasing inclusion, and reducing inequalities. Leadership was defined as not just heads of state or politicians, but also those within youth organisations, social movements, faith institutions, and it was explained that leadership is not just about individuals, but about the collective process of organising.

An audience voting system was used within the lecture, with David asking the audience whether leadership matters in the UK and Africa – of which the consensus revealed that indeed, leadership does matter both here and there.

Professor Hudson spoke of how he wanted to bring two ideas together: what were the perceptions of leadership, and what developmental leadership would look like. He then discussed the social identity theory of leadership; that is the notion of prototypicality or the idea that people tend to follow and invest in those leaders that ‘look’ like their social group. This could include those with the same ethnicity, gender or faith, as the leader that they gravitated towards.

With data from surveys collected in Indonesia and the UK, Professor Hudson revealed the results of his work: identity does matter, as citizens in Indonesia were more likely to trust the leaders who resembled themselves; to the extent that even competence fails to trump identity.

The importance of tradition was seen in results from both Indonesia and the UK. The UK public did not respond well to leaders who showed authoritarian characteristics and preferred those who showed collaborative democratic values and charisma.

Professor Hudson spoke of how there are lots of different ways of asking what kind of leadership people wanted: interviews and focus groups, observation and viewing results of elections, or experiments and analysing the results. Each option came with its own hindrances, including that the respondents may not be truly representative of an entire nation.

David then discussed the results of his survey, whereby respondents were randomised, with half seeing a prototypical leader, and the other half seeing someone who looked nothing like them. The respondents were then asked to score how much they trusted the leader and how competent the leader was. The results from this revealed that people consistently rewarded the prototypical leaders.

The respondents were then presented with new information, split into two further sub-groups, with 50% showing that at the end of five years the leader they were seeing had been successful, and had had beneficial consequences on their society. The other 50% were shown this same leader but instead shown that they had failed in their position.

What this revealed was that failure is punished, with the public downgrading both the non-prototypical and prototypical leader, but not enough to bring the failed prototypical leader below the successful non-prototypical leader. In short, identity always trumped competency. These results were the same across different regions in Indonesia.

Professor Hudson ended the lecture with the thought that one answer to these findings was to build coalitions - to have lots of different groups and identities and look for an acceptable difference. His concluding thought was that the future is, indeed, unwritten.

Professor Mark Webber, Head of the School of Government and Society, then closed the lecture and gave his thanks to Professor Hudson, praising his first-rate field work and solid methodology, before speaker and audience then mixed in a canapé reception.


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  • Inaugural lectures are a time-honoured tradition at the University. All newly-appointed chairs are invited to give a lecture to a public audience, on their area of specialism. Find out more