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The politics of leadership capital in compound democracies: inferences from the German case

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2015

Ludger Helms*
Institute of Political Science, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria


This article offers a contextualization of the recently introduced leadership capital concept within the wider field of political leadership research, and a demonstration of its usefulness for studying leadership performances and patterns in different institutional and political contexts. At the centre of this piece, is an application of the leadership capital approach to studying the conditions and manifestations of executive leadership in the Federal Republic of Germany, which is being considered a classic case of a compound democracy. As the inquiry into the German case suggests, the politics of leadership capital is in fact strongly shaped by the institutional framework of a regime. That said, institutions do not determine the accumulation and spending of leadership capital, and after all, even within a given institutional context, different leaders lead by making different choices. As a case study on Helmut Kohl, the Federal Republic’s longest serving chancellor, demonstrates, the leadership capital approach marks a useful and meaningful conceptual device for a deeper analytical understanding of a leader’s performance. An inquiry carried out along these lines suggests in particular that informality was one of Kohl’s key strengths across all three dimensions of leadership capital (skills, relations, and reputation), which effectively ‘freed’ him to some considerable extent from the supposedly vital ‘performative’ parts of the office of chief executive.

Research Article
© European Consortium for Political Research 2015 

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