Roundtable Review: Joseph Nye's "The Powers to Lead"

The following post examines The Powers to Lead by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). It features reviews by David Milne (University of East Anglia), Edward Lock (University of the West of England, Bristol), Brian Hocking (Loughborough University, UK and Netherlands Institute of International Relations, 'Clingendael', The Hague), and Geraldo Zahran (University of Cambridge). The post concludes with a reponse by author Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Harvard University).

By David Milne, University of East Anglia

When embarking on their expensive degrees, designed to add significant remunerative value over the course of their careers, MBA students are confronted with a vast literature on the varied skills required for effective ‘leadership.’ But as Joseph S. Nye Jr. observes in the introduction to his insightful book, ‘Little of the literature adequately addresses the questions of power leadership in a context broader than that of modern organizations.’ Nye’s purpose in The Powers to Lead is ‘to clarify this discussion by applying the concepts of hard and soft power to leadership as I see it.’

Nye largely succeeds in this aim, offering a penetrating analysis, over the course of 150 tightly-argued pages, of the varied prerequisites for sound leadership, the ‘types’ and ‘skills’ which work best in certain situations, and on the central importance of ‘contextual intelligence.’ Nye concludes by exploring the factors that made historical and contemporary leaders act in the far-sighted (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and wrong-headed (George W. Bush) ways they did. The book carries off that rare trick of appealing to varied audiences: diplomatic historians, policy wonks, CEOs, MBA students, and the educated layperson. The Powers to Lead is a learned rumination on the nature of leadership in the modern world, and Nye paints his portrait on an admirably large canvas. But for the purposes of this review, I will focus on Nye’s reflections on the art of diplomatic leadership.

Reading the book made me realize that for many years I had, shamefully, misunderstood Nye’s conception of ‘soft power.’ Where I believed that soft power encompassed the varied monetary inducements – such as foreign aid and trading privileges – offered by governments to affect the behaviour of foreign nations, Nye corrects that soft power is ‘getting the outcomes one wants by attracting others rather than manipulating their material incentives.’ Identifying numerous examples of soft power in action, Nye points to the fact that ‘loyal Catholics may follow the Pope’s teaching on capital punishment not because of a threat of excommunication, but out of respect for his moral authority.’ Nye next turns to another skilful practitioner of soft power: Al Qaeda. ‘Some radical Muslims,’ Nye writes accurately, ‘are attracted to support Osama Bin Laden’s actions not because of payments or threats, but because they believe in the legitimacy of his objectives.’

These examples make a lot of sense. The value-systems and actions of Catholics and Islamists (and many other groups besides) are shaped by neither carrot, nor stick, but by belief in a higher force that transcends the material world (although one could also argue that the prospect of heaven and hell constitutes a clear form of ‘hard power’ for both.) But Nye’s definition of soft power, while useful in identifying the forces that drive America’s Islamist enemies, has less utility, I believe, when applied to American leadership in the world. Barack Obama is the most ‘attractive’ presidential candidate in a generation, but he will struggle to shape the actions of his allies, and repulse the intentions of his enemies, through espousing laudable values and behaving admirably. Nation-states are the least romantic of entities and rarely fall in love. At the barest minimum, world leaders like a bottle of wine, a meal, and a movie – all hard power inducements – before consummating their union.

If President Obama really could lead by setting an attractive example, his administration might have achieved more success in securing assurances from the major European governments – whose leaders are all desperate to bask in the president’s reflected glory – to send more troops to Afghanistan. Nye writes that ‘attraction often leads to acquiescence,’ but the pursuit of self-interest drives state action above all. Of course, it is preferable that a nation’s foreign policy goals corresponds with the predilections of an American president, and in this respect President Obama’s inclusive and reflective foreign policy instincts will reap more tangible rewards than the strident, unilateral stance of his predecessor. But on raison d’etat I concur with Lord Palmerston that there are no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests. George Kennan put it best when he wrote that American diplomacy will reap its greatest rewards when Washington has “the modesty to admit that our national interest is all that we are capable of knowing and understanding – and the courage to recognize that if our own purposes and undertakings here at home are decent ones, unsullied by arrogance or hostility toward other people or delusions of superiority, then the pursuit of our national interest can never fail to be conducive to a better world.”[1]

While I have doubts about the utility of soft power, the book’s identification of the factors that create strong leadership in foreign affairs is cogent, nuanced, and convincing, and will hopefully be read widely by those in leadership positions. Nye’s chapter on ‘contextual intelligence’ is particularly enlightening, focusing as it does on an essential prerequisite for sound leadership: the ability to listen and respond instinctively to a fluid international environment. Nye writes that ‘contextual intelligence is an intuitive diagnostic skill that helps a leader to align tactics with objectives to create smart strategies in varying situations.’ Walter Lippmann put it even more succinctly in his seminal 1943 book US Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic: ‘The thesis of my book is that a foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.’[2] Having a clear sense of limitations as well as possibilities – moderated by contextual acuity – is the hallmark of sound leadership in international affairs. As Leslie Gelb wrote recently in Foreign Affairs: ‘No official wants to say that the United States cannot do something… Americans are driven to excess by the very qualities that make them so special: their self-confidence and their impulse to help others achieve a better and freer life. But these potent instincts also allow the extremists in their midst to carry them away, to exaggerate the threats they face, to override sensible limits, and to narrow debate.’[3]

It is obvious that the George W. Bush administration was seriously deficient in contextual intelligence; its ambitions far outstripped America’s ability to achieve its visionary aims. In some respects, neoconservatism repudiates “context” – cognizance of constraints on action – as a diplomatic consideration, viewing it merely as an expression of weakness. As that unnamed Bush administration official told journalist Ron Suskind, ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’[4] This worldview requires scant recognition of the prevailing diplomatic winds, or indeed of geography or history, or any form of pertinent knowledge. One of Nye’s achievements is to make the redundancy of this vision so clear. But I also believe that good contextual intelligence might caution us to recognize that few nations in the history of international relations have followed others because they found them inspiring or good. Smart power – Nye’s term for the judicious combination of soft and hard power – is a neat phrase, but the practice of diplomacy is mostly about the hard.

[1] Quoted in John W. Coffey, Political Realism in American Thought (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1977), 58.

[2] Walter Lippmann, US Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (Boston: Little Brown, 1943), 9.

[3] Leslie H. Gelb, “Necessity Choice and Common Sense,” Foreign Affairs, Volume 88, Number 3, May/June 2009, 62.

[4] Quoted in Eric Alterman, “Bush’s War on the Press,” The Nation, April 21, 2005.

By Edward Lock, University of the West of England, Bristol

Reviewing Joseph Nye’s recent work The Powers to Lead within a publication dedicated to US foreign policy represents a challenge, which lies in the fact that this is not a book about US foreign policy; it is a book about leadership. While this represents something of a shift in the direction of Nye’s writings, the relevance of this work to US policy is clear, not least because Nye uses this work as an opportunity to further develop some of the concepts that he has repeatedly applied within his analyses of Washington’s foreign relations. In many ways, this book serves to clarify the concepts of soft, hard and smart forms of power and, as such, it represents a much needed contribution to debate regarding US grand strategy.

Having said this, it is important to note the astonishing breadth of this work, which addresses subjects ranging from philosophy and neurophysiology to foreign policy and Facebook. This breadth adds to the quality of Nye’s analysis both because it demonstrates the relevance of the work to numerous spheres of life and because the incorporation of such a diverse array of analogies and anecdotes helps to clarify the central claims of this text. These central claims relate to the two concepts that lie at the heart of this book; power and leadership. Nye’s argument is that these two features of human life are changing and that those who seek to exercise them well must adapt to these changes. In short, Nye contends that processes of globalisation have given rise to the need for leaders who can exercise contextual intelligence and pursue their ends through the judicious application of both soft and hard power.

Nye’s discussion of these concepts is in many ways aided by the clarity and simplicity with which he writes. The frequent use of historical examples, anecdotes and analogies makes the book highly accessible. Those who know Nye’s work well will feel on familiar territory when they read that ‘power is like love’, ‘leaders are like surfers’, ‘leadership is like dancing’ and ‘assertiveness is like salt in a sauce’. This anecdotal style is used by Nye for good reason; much academic writing is marred by the use of jargon and rhetorical complexity. However, there are times when complexity in academic scholarship represents a necessary product of the complexity of the subject matter under review. In such cases, where the precise definition of terms and the detailed examination of complex relationships between concepts are essential, clarity and simplicity do not sit comfortable together.

The problem here is that Nye’s chosen subject matter – leadership and power – and, in particular, the manner in which he chooses to address this subject matter force him to confront one of the most complex and challenging problems within the social sciences. Though he never uses the phrase, this problem is routinely labelled as the ‘agent-structure problem’. The source of this ‘problem’ is a debate concerning the question of where to locate causal responsibility for – and, therefore, where to seek explanations regarding – aspects in social life. Some, following Weber, locate causal responsibility within the intentionality of individuals, thus suggesting that social life as we know it represents a product of the practices of a multitude of individuals. Others, following Durkheim, have argued that individual practices represent the product of social forces or structures. The problem lies firstly in the fact that neither of these extreme positions is convincing and secondly, in the difficulty of charting a middle course between them, one that accounts for the roles of individuals in shaping social structures and accounts for the fact that agency is itself dependent upon the prior existence of such structures.

The link between this general problem and Nye’s work is most obvious in his discussion of the link between a leader and the culture of the organisation/community in which they seek or play a leadership role. Citing Edgar Schein, Nye notes that culture sets the framework for leadership, determining who can and cannot lead, what forms of power resources are relevant to leadership, how those power resources are distributed and, therefore, what forms of leadership are both possible and useful. However, Nye also notes that leaders create culture and he offers examples of business leaders who have successfully altered the cultures of the organisations in which they have worked. Leadership, therefore, is seen by Nye to lie (at least partly) in the management of culture, something that requires leaders to exercise contextual intelligence. Here, then, we have the two sides of the agent-structure coin; agents (leaders) constituting structures (organisational culture) and structures constraining and enabling agency. Much of The Powers to Lead can be understood as an attempt by Nye to chart a course between these positions, something that is made clear by Nye’s assertion that leadership as a process is shaped by leaders, followers and context.

The fact that Nye seeks to chart such a course between the extremes of individualism and structuralism represents both an admirable undertaking and a significant improvement on his earlier work on soft power which ignored this distinction to its detriment. However, the complexity of this problem requires much more precision than is possible in Nye’s work given his determination to produce an accessible (and enjoyable) text. This lack of precision results in confusion that undermines Nye’s argument at a number of points, only two of which I have the space to mention here.

Firstly, Nye’s definition of a leader is confused: ‘a leader is someone who helps a group create and achieve shared goals’ (pp. x and 18). This suggests that leadership is a capacity exercised by individuals (rather like power) but there are other times where Nye appears to use the term ‘leader’ to describe a position within a (formal or informal) structure. This leads to the distinction between leaders and followers collapsing, as Nye notes that followers can lead and that leaders often ‘intuit where their “followers” are trending and adjust accordingly’ (p. 35). The definition also raises the question of whether leadership involves the spreading of goals (by making others share them) or the enabling of the achievement of goals that are already shared by the members of the group. This source of confusion also returns in Nye’s discussion of soft power, where it is unclear if soft power involves the creation of new norms of attractiveness or the modelling of oneself on existing norms and the consequent attraction of others.

Secondly, confusion emerges regarding the relationship between culture and leadership. On the one hand, culture is seen as that which determines the criteria for leadership (p. 92). On the other, it is referred to as one of the key assets that leaders can use to generate/change the preferences of others (p. 30). According to the former understanding, culture (as a social structure) exerts power over individuals by determining who can lead and how they can do so; in the latter, it is a mere epiphenomenon that can be deployed instrumentally by individuals. Logically, it would seem, culture cannot be both. If it is something that can be manipulated by individuals, how can it determine their roles as leaders and/or followers? If it constitutes the very possibility of leadership, how can it be said to be an asset possessed by those leaders?

The instances of confusion described here are mere points in a work that genuinely seeks to address the ways in which structure and agency interact in the context of leadership and the exercise of power. This is an admirable goal, and Nye’s insistence that the individual capacity for exercising ‘contextual intelligence’ mirrors some of the better work on reflexivity and the mediation of agent and structure. The suggestion that such confusion is evident in Nye’s work represents no great criticism. After all, I know of no scholarship that adequately resolves the agent-structure problem and much that suffers demonstrates insufficient engagement with it. Further clarification of the structured constitution of leadership (and of ‘attractiveness’) and of the roles of agents in the constitution and transformation of social structures would improve the precision and clarity of this work, but doing so would also, arguably, make this work less accessible. The agent-structure problem holds the potential to draw even the clearest-minded scholar into intellectual convulsions. Nye’s effort to engage with this problem – even if he does so without naming it – is an impressive and important contribution to the literature on leadership and US foreign policy.

By Brian Hocking, Loughborough University, UK and Netherlands Institute of International Relations, 'Clingendael', The Hague

There is no shortage of books on leadership. This reflects both its importance and its enduring fascination as the qualities that differentiate `good’ and `bad’ leaders are enumerated and evaluated. And there has rarely been a time in which the qualities of leadership at many levels have been subjected to such intensive scrutiny as during the last twelve months or so. In large part, of course, this has reflected events accompanying the global financial and economic crisis. Assumptions regarding what makes a good leader in the world of finance have been thrown into stark relief as a public mesmerised – and then probably anaesthetised – by the rapid collapse of some of the world’s leading financial institutions has watched the likes of Lehman’s Dick Fuld and Royal Bank of Scotland’s Fred Goodwin squirm before the inquisitorial gaze of legislative committees in Washington DC and London. At the political level, economic crisis has underscored the importance of leadership as the role of the state has been rescued from the semi-oblivion which some versions of globalisation argumentation would have cast it. Consequently political leadership has a renewed lease of life as attention is diverted from its manifestations in the decision to invade Iraq and all that has followed from it. This is encapsulated in Prime Minister Brown’s proclaimed blueprint for `saving the world’ and his (short lived) triumph at the London G20 summit. What the latter did, of course, was to throw the nature of leadership as manifested in such different personalities as (for example) Brown, Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Putin, Berlusconi and Lula da Silva (who the week before the G20 summit had personalised the financial crisis in terms of the `irrational behaviour of people who were white and blue-eyed’) into stark contrast. If political leadership is important, and clearly it is, it comes in vastly different shapes and forms.

Now none of this finds its way explicitly into the pages of Joseph Nye’s recent book on leadership since it was written before the full extent of global economic crisis had become apparent. The purpose, as the author explains, is to provide a `good, short analytical introduction’ to the concept of leadership which is plainly lacking. That is not to say – as noted above and as Nye quickly acknowledges – that there is a lack of writings on leadership; quite the contrary. But much of it is either abstract, rooted in management theory or assumes the form of self-help manuals (as with Sebastian Coe’s recent book explaining how we can all improve our leadership skills by drawing on the lessons of his Olympic sporting successes). Nye’s aim is very different: namely to provide a guide to enable people to make informed choices about those they select to lead them. Quite rightly, he argues that the ability (no small one) to make informed judgments on what constitutes good and bad leaders is crucial to a healthy democracy. And this underscores a key facet of the book: namely an evaluation of the leadership George W. Bush in an election year. But this is no diatribe. Indeed, many will see the evaluation of Bush the Leader as far too guarded. Thus in the chapter focusing on the significance of context for effective leadership, Nye observes (in a nice understatement) that Bush `was often described as a successful managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and a consensual governor of Texas: his performance in Washington proved more controversial’ – well, yes! More specifically, one of Bush’s weaknesses is identified as an inability to respond to changing situations and this, with related observations, begins to provide a relatively subtle (no doubt too subtle for many) evaluation.

The core of the book lies in the application of those concepts of power which readers of Nye’s extensive writings on the subject will be familiar: `hard’ and `soft’ power. A key theme on which the argument rests is that it is the power of attraction, the ability to persuade others to want what you want (soft power) rather than that of coercion that is increasingly a major determinant of successful leadership. That this is so reflects the familiar arguments that globalization has enhanced the significance of networks rather than traditional hierarchical command and control systems. Consequently, effective leadership requires that more emphasis be placed on encouraging participation through the development of networks. This provides both challenges and opportunities for leaders. National leaders are at once constrained to address their domestic and various international audiences. At the same time, increased mobility makes identity less clearly defined and thereby challenges the ability of leaders to fine tune their management of rapidly changing more complex environments. The criticism heaped on Obama following his overseas tour last April is indicative of how difficult it is for leaders to fine tune their messages to international and domestic audiences in an era of instant communication.

However, the argument has become more nuanced than some of the early soft power formulations and confronts objections voiced by writers such as Niall Ferguson who, drawing on British imperial experience, has argued that history demonstrates the weaknesses in the soft power logic. Possessing attractive economic and cultural assets does not necessarily lead to the acceptance of unattractive foreign policies. Equally, rather than soft power being qualitatively superior to coercive power, it is recognised that it can itself be coercive – something that has been the focus of discussion since the concept was articulated by Nye in Bound to Lead published in 1990. But more important to the argument advanced in this book, soft power and hard power are often intertwined and it is here that one of the main challenges arises for leadership – balancing the two into a coherent strategy. Nye argues that this proved to be one of the problems for US foreign policy in the Bush years; the inability to deploy soft power undercut the hard power strategy on which US policy in those years rested. This fact helps to explain the preoccupation with an instrument of soft power which seems to have received intensive examination over the last decade – public diplomacy. Arguably, the inability to formulate a coherent strategy of soft and hard power underlies the obvious exasperation in the seemingly endless ruminations over the deficiencies of US public diplomacy and the structures and policies which it requires. Hence the need for smart power - or the capacity to combine the two elements of power into an effective strategy.

Readers will, of course, be aware that this is not a new concept even though the term is a relatively recent addition to the diplomatic lexicon. It was coined not long after the invasion and occupation of Iraq (Suzanne Nossel employed the term as the title for her 2004 Foreign Affairs article) and was presented as a liberal alternative to the aggressive neo-conservatism of the Bush Administration. Since then it has become a badge for Obama’s foreign policy strategy. At her Senate confirmation hearing in January 2009, Hillary Clinton used the term to signal a shift of strategy from that of the Bush era: `We must use what has been called smart power – the full range of tools at our disposal. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy’. Not surprisingly, this has been variously regarded as a statement of the blindingly obvious, an example of misguided and vacuous `branding’ and (by the Right) as symptomatic of the new Administration’s deplorable weakness in dealing with friend and foe alike. Whether or not these beliefs are validated by events, the value of Nye’s book – as Chris Patten notes in his endorsement – is that of a `primer’ for an election year. More than that, as an essay in the quest for the essence of `good’ leadership, it articulates key premises on which the foreign policy of the Obama Administration rests – and the challenges for leadership at home and abroad that it confronts in delivering it.


In Powers to Lead, Joe Nye tells us that one of the characteristics of good leadership is contextual intelligence – the capacity to recognize and understand different situations and adapt accordingly. One could see it as the virtu of Machiavelli’s ideal prince, the ability to tame fortuna. As Nye recalls, ‘Bismarck once referred to this skill as the ability to intuit God’s movements in history and seize the hem of his garment as he sweeps by.’ (p. 88) In a similar manner, I would argue that contextual knowledge about a book and its author makes reading it a different experience. At times, it can shed new light to our understanding of a given text. To cite Machiavelli again, the fact that he was an experienced diplomat trying to gain the favour of the Medici’s, and that he deeply believed in Italy’s unification, helps to understand the bold guidelines for political ruling in The Prince. Reading the Discourses on Livy gives us a different story.

Very few contemporary authors have such a rich background as Joseph Nye. In the 1970s, working alongside Robert Keohane, Nye helped to redefine the scope and substance of IR discipline. One of their most famous co-authored works, Power and Interdependence, laid the basis for neoliberal approaches of IR. In the late 1980s, Nye was one of the main critics of declinists theories inspired by Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. In the following decades, Nye further developed his concept of soft power as an element of prudent advice on US foreign policy.

Throughout his career, Nye has been on both sides of the policy-academy divide; more importantly, he has always tried to bridge these two separate communities. His previous work on the concept of power – hard, soft and smart – aimed at providing sound advice to US foreign policy. At Harvard, he ‘tried to maintain a faculty in which some members had government experience while others were purely academic; the latter ensured rigor and the former brought relevance.’ (p. 117) In government, his academic background allowed him to pursue innovative solutions in more than one occasion. Nye recalls that, during the Carter administration, his theorizing about transnational relations helped him to approach problems of non-proliferation in a different manner. In Clinton’s Defence Department, he helped to design a new East Asia security strategy ‘that drew upon both realism and liberalism’ to realign relations with China and Japan. (p. 119) Last April, Nye wrote an op-ed piece on the Washington Post discussing the gap between the IR academic and policy community. In his analysis, the ‘fault for this growing gap lies not with the government but with the academics.’ Interestingly enough, Nye is one of the few exceptions of this divide.

In the preface of Powers to Lead, Nye recalls how he had the idea for the book after agreeing to teach a course on leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Surveying the literature on the theme, he could not find ‘a good short analytical introduction about power and leadership (...) There were short introductory books, but they were not analytical. I wanted something based on the scientific and historical record but written in an accessible style.’ (p. xi) The initial motivation ended up fitting very well into Nye’s common practice of bringing together relevant issues and academic discussion.

To some extent, this book on leadership is an extension of Nye’s work on soft power. As he puts it, he is ‘applying the concepts of hard and soft power to leadership’. (p. xii) Nye articulates leadership as a ‘social relationship with three key components – leaders, followers, and the contexts in which they interact’ (p. xi), and book is organized around this triad. The main quality of Nye’s argument is to recognize the fluidity of these three elements. At first, Nye presents a typology of leadership styles and its respective skills: an inspirational, soft power style, and a transactional, hard power style. But the right choices, the smart options of which styles and skills will create the desired results depend on who are you leading and in which context are you leading them. As Nye rightly emphasizes, leaders depend on and are also shaped by followers. Leadership styles that work with one group (in one situation) might not work with a different group. Moreover, in our modern society organized around multiple networks, many people are leaders and followers at the same time, ‘leading from the middle’. In the relationship between leaders and followers, group goals can be redefined. A fundamental part of leadership is to recognize who are you leading and which goals are you trying to achieve.

Just as with leaders and followers, the context in which they interact plays a most important role in defining good leadership. People do not exist in a vacuum; they are embedded in pre-existing cultural and institutional structures. Leaders need to recognize these patterns, the way in which they affect followers and the situation at hand, and adapt their strategies accordingly. In the same manner, leadership situations have different time constraints, higher or lower stakes at risk that can influence favour different styles and approaches. And one of the most daunting questions is how to recognize and respond to new and unforeseen situations. It takes a lot of good leadership and perseverance to come up with new policies and not fall in the easy trap of answering new problems with old solutions.

After articulating the relationship between leaders, followers and context, Nye finishes the book with a chapter discussing what ‘good’ leadership really means. If the previous chapters form a guide on how to lead, the last one is a manual on how to evaluate leadership. Nye differentiates between two concepts of ‘good’ leadership: effective leadership and ethical leadership. The theme is a recurrent one in political science, and can be referred to the simplified Machiavellian maxim that ‘ends justify means’ or to Max Weber’s classic distinction between ‘ethics of responsibility’ and ‘ethics of conviction’. According to Nye, effective leadership would assess its goals on a pragmatic basis, and chose its means based on its efficiency to the end-result; the consequences of such effective leadership would benefit only the referred group. In contrast to that, ethical leadership would assess its goals on the value of its intentions, and take into account the quality of the means to be used; the consequences would benefit not only the inner group but also outsiders. But there is a footnote to be made on Nye’s distinction; one that keeps in the general spirit of the book of recognizing followers’ needs and contextual backgrounds. If the qualities of ethical leadership are to be taken seriously, the value of goals, the quality of means, and the benefits from the results achieved must be evaluated not only by the leading group, but also by the outsiders in their own cultural and institutional background.

There is no doubt that the discussion of good and bad leadership in the last part of the book will benefit many interested and well-intentioned citizens. Powers to Lead attempts to be an academic work with practical relevance. Some might say it lacks the rigour of a purely academic text. The trade-off here is between academic sophistication and addressing a broader audience. In a book that presents good leadership in a period of leadership crisis, one can only hope that a broader audience will mean a higher impact. As Nye reminds us, ‘Nothing is more important than citizens having the tools to assess and judge their leaders, whether past or present, public or private. (...) Understanding how better to judge good and bad leaders will be crucial to our democratic future.’ (p. xii-xiii) In that, Nye’s book is a great contribution, and fits very well into the author’s academic and non-academic record.

The Author's Reply

By Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Harvard University

I would like to start by thanking my critics. The ultimate gift to an author is to have his ideas taken seriously. For that I am grateful to all of these critics. As they note, although The Powers to Lead did not focus on foreign policy, it certainly has implications for that field.

David Milne argues that soft power skills will have less utility for American foreign policy than hard power. As he says, ‘nation-states are the least romantic of entities and rarely fall in love… Self interest drives state action after all.’ True, but national interests can be defined in a number of ways – in narrowly exclusivist terms or broadly inclusive as in the production of global public goods. Leaders can help shape the way their states define interests. Moreover, while states rarely fall in love, it is worth remembering Machiavelli’s warning that although fear may be more powerful than love, the opposite of love is hatred and a wise prince avoids that above all else. In today’s world, hate-driven non-state actors such as Al Qaeda killed more Americans in September 2001 than the state of Japan did in December 1941. As for states, even if hard power often trumps, soft power can have an important effect by creating an enabling or disabling environment for foreign policy. For example, in 2003, Bush’s hard power approach proved counter-productive. When the United States requested permission for the 4th Infantry Division to cross Turkey, the Turkish Parliament refused. Inadequate soft power meant diminished hard power.

Geraldo Zahran makes the important point that in judging the qualities of ethical leadership, the value of goals, the quality of means, and the consequences ‘must be evaluated not only by the leading group, but also by the outsiders in their own cultural and institutional background.’ That reinforces the importance of the contextual intelligence of the leader. Listening makes a difference because soft power involves understanding the mind of the recipient. Polls show that George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” had a Wilsonian ring that sounded right to many Americans, but hollow in much of the Muslim world. In contrast, Obama’s Cairo speech was carefully attuned to the concerns of the audience, and initial polls showed a favourable response. It created a more enabling environment than Bush’s second inaugural address did, though it may take years to see the policy consequences.

Edward Lock correctly raises the agent/structure problem of whether to focus causal analysis on the actions of individual agents (in the tradition of Weber) or the complex social processes in which they are embedded (in the tradition of Durkheim). As he points out, neither is sufficient and the best answers often involve both. That is why I was surprised that he found my definition of leadership confusing simply because of the blurring of the distinction between leaders and followers (in structural positions.) My definition says that a leader is someone who helps a group create and achieve shared goals. Followers also can contribute, and often do. As I argue in Chapter 5 with the examples of Gandhi, Mandela, and Jean Monnet, some of the most interesting leaders are those who come to power promising achievement of goals that are already shared with followers, but then go on to spread wider goals to their followers. Soft power can involve both ‘the creation of new norms of attractiveness’ and ‘the modeling of oneself on existing norms and the consequent attraction of others.’ Similarly, I do not see a confusion in the relationship between culture and leadership. Culture determines the criteria for leadership but effective leaders can try to create a new culture. It is obviously a matter of degree. Every human group has its own culture, and it is often easier to change the culture of a small informal group than of a tribe or nation-state. But when Mandela put on a Springboks jersey, it was one of many symbolic acts he took to try to change the culture of the anti-apartheid movement that had brought him to power. I suppose that is formal academic notation, I could have used sub-scribts to refer to culture at time l and culture at time 2, or C.1 and C.2, but as Lock properly notes, that is not my style.

Brian Hocking points out that my aim is ‘to provide a guide to enable people to make informed choices about those they select to lead them’ including in foreign policy. He chides me for being too guarded in my criticism of George W. Bush. Again, that may be a problem of my style. I tried to be fair minded, knowing that incumbent leaders look different with the passage of time, but I addressed (critically) Bush’s belief that history will absolve him as it did Harry Truman. I pointed out that Bush’s self description of a leader as being “the decider” was woefully inadequate. Without contextual intelligence, such a leader can be decisively wrong.

As for the term “smart power,” I first used it in my 2004 book to make clear that I was not arguing that soft and hard power were exclusive in foreign policy strategies. I used it again in my 2008 book to refer to the ability of leaders to combine hard and soft power skills into effective strategies. Altering the mix in different situations requires the contextual intelligence that I discuss at length in Chapter 4. But it is important to note that smart power is an evaluative term whereas soft power is an analytic concept. As I have pointed out in several places, soft power can be normatively good or bad. As Hocking points out, smart power ‘has become a badge for Obama’s foreign policy strategy.’ As used by Hillary Clinton, it refers to using all the tools in our foreign policy arsenal. Whether this turns out to be “blindingly obvious” or “vacuous branding” will depend on the outcomes, but also on the contextual intelligence of our leaders as they combine the tools of hard and soft power into smart or dumb strategies in a variety of difficult situations.

Matthew Hill