Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 7 June 2007

Following the Leader

Disarmament Insight note: this is part 2 of a 2 part posting.

In my last blog entry I noted that there’s been minimal systematic attention given to subject of individual leadership in the literature on arms control and disarmament processes. However, leadership is an issue that concerns many organizational psychologists, which could have relevance to multilateral arms control and disarmament negotiations.

A couple of people have wondered, however, if I’m comparing apples with oranges. After all, leadership of the kind studied by organizational psychologists refers, most often, to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). As Peter C. Flood et al explained the CEO is “a central member of the top management group” and “has a disproportionate impact on team characteristics and outcomes”. On the other hand, a chairperson in a multilateral negotiation has limited authority. Moreover, as Daniël Prins noted, “although the rules of procedure describe what the Chair’s role is, this is always a matter of interpretation.”

However, the aims of leadership are similar in both the commercial and multilateral negotiation setting. As Flood et al noted:

Top management groups make strategic decisions, the quality of which influences organizational performance. As consensus among team members facilitates the implementation of those decisions, consensus also influences organizational performance. Thus, decision processes promoting consensus among team members are more likely to enhance organizational performance than decision processes that do not promote consensus. (See reference below)

In a paper entitled “Chief executive leadership style, consensus decision making, and top management team effectiveness”, Flood et al characterized ‘decision processes promoting consensus’ as those where there is a) greater information sharing among the group; b) greater collaboration amongst group members; and c) a focus on group rather than individual goals.

Likewise, a consensus decision-making process in a multilateral negotiation is preferable if the treaty has any chance of being willingly implemented by all its parties.

Flood et al found that a CEO’s leadership style played an influential role in determining whether a decision-making process was “consensus-style” or not. They explored four different leadership styles:

1. Authoritarian or autocratic leadership.
2. Transactional leadership: influence via exchange of valued rewards for services/behaviours.
3. Transformational leadership: inspiring followers to do more than originally expected;
4. Laissez-faire leadership: avoiding decision making and supervisory responsibility.

They concluded that:
1. Each of these leadership styles corresponds to varying levels of CEO dominance in group decision-making; and
2. These levels of CEO dominance can positively or negatively influence consensus style decision-making.

Not surprisingly, decision-making processes were more “consensus style” when CEOs were less dominant i.e. they had a more transactional or transformational leadership style. Conversely, a CEO with an “autocratic style” often transformed a collaborative situation into a competitive one. Consensus decision-making was not forthcoming with leaders of a “laissez-faire” style as they did not give their team any coherent direction or strategic focus.

What makes this information important to the practice of multilateral arms control and disarmament negotiations?

First, the fact that different leadership styles can negatively or positively affect consensus decision-making has important implications, I believe, for the design of multilateral processes.

In order to make multilateral processes more manageable, the issues under negotiation are often divided into “clusters”, with each cluster chaired by a different individual. It’s not uncommon, therefore, for a multilateral negotiation to have more than one chairperson and numerous co-chairs. However, knowing what we know now, is this really the most efficient way of organizing a multilateral negotiation? This is a particularly important point to consider, especially when consensus on the final document depends on collective agreement being reached in all cluster groups.

Second, it brings further into question the wisdom of certain rules, procedures and standard practices governing the chairing of multilateral negotiating bodies and processes. The rules of procedure in the CD, for example, dictate that the chair rotates every 4 weeks on the basis of alphabetical order of member states. To what extent do the different leadership styles and approaches to consensus-decision making by each new chairperson impact progress in the CD?

Can certain steps be taken to optimize the impact of leadership styles in multilateral negotiation processes? In my opinion there’s still a lot of research to be done before this question can be definitively answered. In the meantime this type of research may provide some food for thought for those who believe that the success and failure in arms control and disarmament is determined solely by the level of ‘political will’ among states.

Vanessa Martin Randin


Patrick C. Flood et al, “Chief executive leadership style, consensus decision making, and top management team effectiveness” in European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 2000, 9 (3), pp. 401-420.

D. Prins, “Engineering progress: a diplomat’s perspective on multilateral disarmament”, in J. Borrie & V. Martin Randin (eds.), Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations, Geneva: UNIDIR: 2006, pp. 109-128, p.118. (Click on the cover of the top book from the column on the left)

Photo retrieved from Flickr.