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Responsive and Responsible Leaders: A Matter of Political Will?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2012

Anna Persson
Department of Political Science and the Quality of Government (QoG) Institute, University of Gothenburg,
Martin Sjöstedt
Department of Political Science and the Quality of Government (QoG) Institute, University of Gothenburg,


Policy makers and policy-oriented scholars concerned with development and reform commonly appeal to “political will” as a cornerstone of development. We question the circular and voluntaristic view of leadership behavior inherent in such an approach, and argue that—to be more useful for the analysis of development outcomes, as well as for policy design—the discourse on political will should be firmly integrated into a more systematic framework of analysis. In particular, we suggest that it should engage in more active dialogue with the combined insights offered by principal-agent theory and what we refer to as state theory. More specifically, in the framework we develop, the principal-agent framework offers the analytical tools for analyzing leadership behavior at the micro level, while state theory provides crucial insights regarding the macro-level factors shaping leadership behavior. In the end, these two perspectives in tandem have the potential to significantly increase our understanding of empirically observed leadership behavior as well as our theoretical understanding of how the context—and especially the character of underlying social contracts—shapes and constrains “political will.”

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

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