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Democratic Leadership: The Lessons of Exemplary Models for Democratic Governance

Author(s): Sanghan Choi  
Issue: 3  
Volume: 2  
Year: 2007

Since leadership plays a vital role in democratic movements, understanding the nature of democratic leadership is essential. However, the definition of democratic leadership is unclear (Gastil, 1994). Also, little research has defined democratic leadership in the context of democratic movements. The leadership literature has paid no attention to democratic leadership in such movements, focusing on democratic leadership within small groups and organizations. This study proposes a framework of democratic leadership in democratic movements. The framework includes contexts, motivations, characteristics, and outcomes of democratic leadership. The study considers sacrifice, courage, symbolism, citizen participation, and vision as major characteristics in the display of democratic leadership in various political, social, and cultural contexts. Applying the framework to Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, and Dae Jung Kim; the study considers them as exemplary models of democratic leadership in democratic movements for achieving democracy. They have showed crucial characteristics of democratic leadership, offering lessons for democratic governance.

In the 1980s and 1990s, across the world, democratic movements have contributed to promoting human rights, liberty, freedom, and democracy in developing countries. Democratic movements have accounted for the historical progress of democracy (Minier, 2001). In some countries, citizens have fought against dictatorship, military regimes, and racial segregation. They have subverted autocratic and military governments and contributed to the establishment of new democratic governments and institutions. The power of citizens has been the key factor in promoting democratically social changes and democratic systems (Fox & Brown, 2000; Wiseman, 1996). Leaders in democratic movements have organized the power of citizens and have struggled for democracy.

Since democratic leadership plays a critical role in democratic movements (Adorno, 1965; Gastil, 1994; Kunter, 1965), reviewing the definition of democratic leadership is essential to understanding both democratic leadership and the progress made in democratic movements. However, while the definition of democratic leadership is inconsistent and inadequate in the leadership literature, there is no clear and well-developed definition of the term (Gastil). Some literary accounts have distinguished democratic leadership from autocratic and laissez-faire leadership (Bass, 1990).

Democratic leadership in the leadership literature cannot explain “democratic leadership in democratic movements” (DLDM). While literature has underlined democratic leadership’s characteristics within small groups and organizations, it has ignored other demonstrated characteristics in democratic movements for achieving democratic values. The purpose of this study is to define DLDM and introduce exemplary models of democratic leadership for achieving democracy in political, socioeconomical, and cultural contexts.

This study defines DLDM as a political relationship among leaders and followers for achieving democracy through sacrifice, courage, symbolism, participation, and vision. The study also defines democratic movements as public struggles that are explicitly prodemocracy for democratic reforms, direct elections, and political liberalization in which participants express these demands for democracy physically, for instance, by public demonstration (Minier, 2001).

First, the study provides background information and reviews the definitions of democratic leadership found in the literature. Second, this study proposes a framework of DLDM. The framework includes the contexts, motivations, characteristics, and outcomes of DLDM. Third, the exemplary models of DLDM are presented to apply the framework. The models are Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Lech Walesa of Poland, and Dae Jung Kim of South Korea. Mandela, Walesa, and Kim have contributed to the progress of democracy in their countries. Fourth, the characteristics of democratic leadership that were shown by Mandela, Walesa, and Kim are discussed and compared with the framework of DLDM. Finally, the study identifies the unique questions and problems raised by the definition of DLDM that are topics for future research.


Leadership is one of the world’s oldest preoccupations and a universal phenomenon in humans (Bass, 1990). From ancient to modern history, leadership has played an integral role in developing groups, societies, and nations. Over centuries, leadership has been defined in terms of leaders’ behaviors. Bass attempted to define the concept of leadership from the classics of Western, Egyptian, Greek, and Chinese literature as early as the 6th century BC. The Old and New Testaments and the classics of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius noted the roles of leaders.

As civilization and administration intricately and intimately develop in history and flow through history (Waldo, 2001), leadership also emerges. Although the Oxford English Dictionary noted the appearance of the word leader in the English language as early as the year 1300, the word leadership did not appear until about 1800 (Bass, 1990; Stogdill, 1974). Concepts of leadership can be traced back to ancient history, but definitions and classifications of leadership start from the early 20th century (Rost, 1991). In the past 50 years, there have been as many as 65 different classification systems to define the dimensions of leadership (Northouse, 1997).

As with the definitions of leadership, the definitions of democratic leadership are also dynamic and abundant. For instance, from 1938 to 1985, there were 29 different definitions and styles of democratic leadership (Bass, 1990). Luthans (1998) reviewed 8 different democratic leadership styles drawn from the classic studies and theories of leadership. These different definitions and styles have contributed to the fact that there has been no clear, well-developed definition of democratic leadership (Gastil, 1994). Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis similar conclusions that there have been conceptual ambiguity and operational inconsistency over the last 4 decades of research on democratic leadership (Gastil).

While these different definitions and styles have focused on only the characteristics of democratic leadership within small groups and organizations, the leadership literature has paid no attention to democratic leadership in the diverse context of democratic movements. Thus, it is essential for researchers to address this issue; especially in different political, socioeconomical, and cultural situations and environments around the world.

Democratic Versus Autocratic Leadership Clusters

The notions of autocracy and democracy have been used openly to distinguish democratic leadership from autocratic leadership. White and Lippitt (1960) distinguished democratic leadership in terms of autocratic and laissez-faire leadership. Autocracy implies a high degree of control by the leaders without much freedom or participation of members in group decisions. Both democratic and laissez-faire leadership imply a low degree of control by the leader. Democracy is distinguished from laissez-faire, however, by the fact that a democratic leader is very active in stimulating group discussion and group decisions; a laissez-faire leader plays a passive, hands-off role (White & Lippitt).

The definitions of democratic leadership conceptualized by White and Lippitt (1960) emphasize group participation, discussion, and group decisions encouraged by the leader. On the other hand, an autocratic leader keeps tight control over group decisions and activities. The autocratic leader determines all policies, techniques, and activity steps and dictates the particular work tasks and work companions of each member. The autocratic leader tends to be personal in his or her praise and criticism of the work of each member but remains aloof from active group participation. However, the democratic leader tries to be a regular group member in spirit without doing too much of the work (White & Lippitt). While the main characteristic of the autocratic leader is the giving of orders, the major activity of the democratic leader is giving information or extending the knowledge of the members of his or her group. In practice, the distinctions between the roles of the autocratic and democratic leaders are not extreme. All roles of the autocratic and democratic leaders remain within the normal range of leaders’ behaviors in different situations in a society (White & Lippitt).

White and Lippitt (1960) identified the autocratic leader with the authoritarian leader. Other literature has placed the autocratic leader and the authoritarian leader in the same category without distinguishing the differences between them (Anderson, 1959; Bass, 1990; Bell, 1965; Kunter, 1965; Stogdill, 1974). Authoritarian leaders depend on their power to coerce and their ability to persuade (Bass), whereas autocratic leaders solve the problem or make the decision by themselves using the information available at the time (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1996). Another alternative to democratic leadership is undemocratic leadership (Gastil, 1994). Even though the dictionary definitions of autocratic, authoritarian, and undemocratic leadership differ from one to the other; coerciveness, control, and directiveness remain as the common characteristics of these three leadership styles.

On the other hand, the integral characteristic of democratic leadership is participation. Over several decades, control and participation have been defined as the main characteristics of autocratic and democratic leadership styles respectively. While participation is a core function of democratic leadership (Luthar, 1996), directive control and a top-down style with a heavy emphasis on command and control are the main characteristics of autocratic leadership. The terms participation and control are dichotomized for simplifying democratic and autocratic leadership. The autocratic and democratic dichotomy has been viewed as dominative versus integrative, employer centered versus employee centered, teacher centered versus learner centered, therapist centered versus client centered, supervisory versus participatory, and directive versus nondirective (Anderson, 1959).

The alternative styles of democratic leadership are group or educational leadership, participative leadership, servant leadership, nonconstitutive leadership, transformation leadership, super-leadership, and values leadership (Gastil, 1994). Describing path-goal theory; a framework for how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish designated goals; Northouse (1997) defined directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented leadership as leadership behaviors derived from the theory.

However, Gastil (1994) argued that the most common name for alternative styles may be democratic leadership which has appeared repeatedly during the last 70 years. Bass (1990) reviewed permissive leadership, Likert’s systems III and IV, open leadership, maintenance leadership, and supportive leadership as the cluster of democratic leadership. Bass listed the concepts of autocratic and democratic leadership established in the leadership literature. He focused on work-related and person-related concepts to cluster autocratic and democratic leadership.

The autocratic leadership cluster is described as authoritarian, directive, production centered, coercive, punitive, cold, task-oriented, persuasive, charismatic, and closed (Bass, 1990). McGregor’s theory X and Y are reviewed as autocratic and democratic leadership respectively, and “democratic leaders are Theory Y ideologists” (Bass, p. 417). The democratic leadership cluster is described as employee centered, permissive, nonpunitive, supportive, nondirective, relations oriented, participative, consultative, and open (Bass).

The cluster of autocratic and democratic leadership described by Luthans (1998) focuses on boss-centered and subordinate-centered leadership. Luthans also included Theory Y, participative and supportive leadership, to the cluster of democratic leadership. These alternative styles of democratic leadership make it difficult to define democratic leadership in a word.

Characteristics of Democratic Leadership

Anderson (1959) defined the democratic leader as one who shares decision making with the other members. He asserted that democratic leadership is associated with higher morale in most situations. He denied that democratic leadership is associated with low productivity and high morale and that authoritarian leadership is associated with high productivity and low morale. Hackman and Johnson (1996) supported Anderson’s explanation of the relationship between democratic leadership and productivity.

Democratic leadership is associated with increased follower productivity, satisfaction, involvement, and commitment (Hackman & Johnson, 1996). Member satisfaction and nominations for leadership are greater under democratic leadership (Bass, 1990; Stogdill, 1974). Although the significant drawbacks to democratic leadership are time consuming activities and lengthy debate over policy, participation plays a key role for increasing the productivity of leadership (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003; Hackman & Johnson).

As noted earlier, participation is a core characteristic of democratic leadership; and the ideal of democratic leadership is friendly, helpful, and encouraging participation (Luthar, 1996). Furthermore; Wilson, George, Wellins, and Byham (1994) categorized autocratic leadership participative leadership, and high involvement leadership by the level of participation encouraged by the leader. Chemers (1984) also defined democratic leadership as emphasizing group participation. Thus, participation is the major characteristic of democratic leadership (Bass, 1990).

On the other hand, Kuczmarski and Kuczmarski (1995) cited the characteristics of a democratic leader as knowledgeable, influential, stimulating, a winner of cooperation, a provider of logical consequences, encouraging, permitting of self-determination, guiding, a good listener and respecting, and situation-centered. Gastil (1994) defined the characteristics of democratic leadership as distributing responsibility among the membership, empowering group members, and aiding the group’s decision-making process.

The varied characteristics of democratic leadership contribute to the fact that there has been no clear definition of democratic leadership. Gastil (1994) argued that “the absence of a clear definition may have also contributed to the decreased amount of research on democratic leadership” (p. 956).

DLDM Rather Than in Small Organizations

The characteristics of democratic leadership tend to be derived from the phenomenon within small groups and organizations. The conceptualization of democratic leadership as being about participation and member-relations underscores only a few group behaviors in small organizations rather than large political, economical, and social dimensions. The characteristics of participation and control in democratic and autocratic leadership within small organizations are not adequate to explain the role of DLDM in major social changes.

The context of democratic movements and social changes produces totally different political, socioeconomical, and cultural situations and environments as opposed to the context of small organizations. The generalization of democratic leadership as participation overlooks the critical characteristics of DLDM because democratic leadership, like democracy itself, grows better in some social, economic, and political environments than in a small group or organization (Gastil, 1994). “If the democratic leadership spreads through economic, political, and cultural networks, it may make people even more prepared for democratic social change, making democratic leadership increasingly viable” (Gastil, p. 971).

Democratic leadership does not grow in a single dimension and is essential in democratic movements for achieving democracy. Democratic enlightenment imposes very definite demands upon democratic leadership (Adorno, 1965). The French Revolution and the European underground movement were the results of resistance movements and democratic leadership (Kunter, 1965). Thus, democratic movements depend on democratic leadership; it enhances democratic values and the common good (Adorno).

However, the dynamics of democratic movements and democratic leadership are not well understood (Gastil, 1994). This study defines democratic movements as public struggles that are explicitly prodemocracy for democratic reforms, direct elections, and political liberalization in which participants express these demands for democracy physically (Minier, 2001). According to Minier, who defined democratic movements based on a wide range of historical and political sources, a democratic movement must satisfy three criteria: (a) the movement must be fairly large in scale relative to the population of the country; (b) the people in the movement must express their desire for democracy physically (i.e., widespread protests, demonstrations, or strikes) which demands the willingness of the people to endanger their physical safety for achieving democracy; and (c) the movement should be explicitly prodemocracy in their calling for democracy reforms, direct elections, and political liberalization.

Some of the well known democratic movements include the work of the African National Congress and others in South Africa to end the nondemocratic system of apartheid from 1960 to 1990, the prodemocracy movement of solidarity against martial law in Poland during the 1980s, and the demonstration of white-collar workers and students for democracy in South Korea during the 1980s (Minier, 2001). This study pays attention to democratic leadership in such movements and considers Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Lech Walesa in Poland, and Dae Jung Kim in South Korea as exemplary models of DLDM.

Democratic leadership plays an integral role in achieving democracy because leadership is associated with public values, freedom, equality, and justice (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). As public officials create public value (Moore, 2000), democratic leaders create democratic value. Democratic leadership relies on the fundamental value of democracy that is “a striving toward equality and freedom” (Waldo, 2001, p. 86).

Democratic leadership in small groups and organizations emphasizes group participation and member relationships, but it ignores the dimensions of democratic movements. Through the lens of groups and organizational behaviors, democratic leadership cannot adequately explain the dynamic dimensions of democratic movements because DLDM needs different characteristics for achieving democratic value, freedom, equality, and justice. These characteristics include sacrifice, courage, symbolism, participation, and vision. The following section proposes a framework of democratic leadership identified in democratic movements from the different lenses of political, socioeconomical, and cultural contexts.

A Framework of DLDM

This study proposes a framework of DLDM shown in Figure 1. DLDM consists of contexts, motivations, characteristics, outcomes, and leader-follower interactions. The horizontal arrows in the framework depict an influence on another construct, whereas the vertical arrows indicate the interactions between leaders and followers who engage in the motivations and characteristics of DLDM. Given the framework, this study defines DLDM as a political and social relationship among leaders and followers for achieving democracy through sacrifice, courage, symbolism, participation, and vision. The relationship implies that a leader affects and is affected by followers (Northouse, 1997). The relationship emphasizes that DLDM is an interactive event for democracy between the leaders and followers.

The contexts, motivations, characteristics, and outcomes of DLDM are interconnected with each other. The political, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts lead the leaders and followers to desire more democracy (Minier, 2001). The demand for democracy is the fundamental motivation of DLDM. The demand for democracy seeks certain outcomes that include democratic reforms, direct elections, and political liberalization. The outcomes enhance human rights and the pursuit of happiness of the people in a democratic society. The outcomes are essential for the progress of democracy. In this study, democracy means to entail a rule of law, promotion of civil and political liberties, and free and fair election; democratic progress is to promote legal, administrative, and social changes toward greater justice (Young, 2000).

The contexts of DLDM feed into the motivations which mold the characteristics. The characteristics directly impact the outcomes. Leader-follower interactions occur between the "contexts and motivations" and the "characteristics and outcomes."
Figure 1. Framework of DLDM.

The political philosophy of John Locke; who asserted that the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; has influenced the basic principles of modern democracy and government (Griffith, 1998). According to Locke’s political philosophy and the Declaration of Independence; when a form of government becomes destructive of these purposes, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government (Griffith; Lee & Rosenbloom, 2005).

Democratic movements are directly related to the political philosophy for establishing modern democracy and government (Minier, 2001). Democratic movements seek the demand for democracy under undemocratic situations and undemocratic government. Undemocratic situations create political, socioeconomical, and cultural contexts of democratic movements that require critical characteristics of democratic leadership. The characteristics of DLDM are sacrifice, courage, symbolism, participation, and vision. These characteristics are essential to achieve democracy in democratic movements and play a significant role in the political, socioeconomic, and cultural context of DLDM.

First, under undemocratic government or in situations of political oppression, achieving democracy demands tremendous sacrifice and courage on the part of democratic leaders as well as followers. The military regimes and dictators in the world in the past decades forfeited civil rights, freedom of speech, and democratic principles. Around the world, we are observing that democratic leaders have sacrificed and struggled against dictatorship and for democratic government.

During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s; from South Africa to South Korea and from Eastern Communist nations to South Asian nations; many political prisoners made sacrifices for democracy (Minier, 2001). They were democratic leaders striving to achieve democratic values. Progress toward democracy meant making the sacrifice for it. Sacrifice involves courage. “Socrates said the first virtue is courage, and so he had to show courage in dying for what he believed” (Chandler, 1992, p. 68).

Second, organizational culture is recognized as a major dimension for the understanding and practice of leadership (Bass, 1990, Cameron & Quinn, 1999; Schein, 1985; Yukl, 2002). Most definitions of organizational culture refer to a system of shared values and beliefs that produce norms of behavior in the organization (Bass; Koberg & Chusmir, 1987; Luthans, Peterson, & Ibrayeva, 1998; Schein, 1985). The created culture of the organization exerts an influence on the leader and shapes his or her actions and styles (Ogbonna & Harris, 2000; Schein, 1992). In a large scale organization such as a democratic movement, democratic leaders function as a model or symbol (Bell, 1965; Morgan, 1998).

Third, supportive culture is related to participation and involvement of followers (Cameron & Quinn, 1999; Shadur, Kienzle, & Rodwell, 1999). Supportive culture produces a friendly place where people share their values and encourage participation (Cameron & Quinn). Participation is an essential characteristic of democratic leadership. Courage and symbolism associated with democratic leadership comprise the power and influence to encourage participation and the premises for participation in democratic movements.

Finally, the most common characteristic of leadership is vision (Bass, 1990; Northhouse, 1997; Yukl, 2002). Under undemocratic and undeveloped economic situations; democratic leadership involves a vision for democratic values, human rights, equality, freedom, and welfare. The vision of democratic leadership is enhanced with courage and participation. Democratic leaders not only create a vision, they also inculcate it in the hearts of followers. Societies, governments, and nations that have to consolidate and guarantee the principle of democracy are the ultimate vision of leadership (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). This vision cannot be accomplished without courage, participation, and the interactions between democratic leaders and followers in democratic movements.

These five characteristics of DLDM play a critical role in achieving the outcomes of democratic leadership. As previously noted; the outcomes refer to democratic reforms, direct election, and political liberalization that are the main goals of the demand for democracy. The outcomes and the demand are directly interconnected in democratic movements because the demand seeks certain outcomes of the progress of democracy. The desired outcomes are aspects of democratic governance that entail democratic citizenship, democratic accountability, civic engagement, and the public interest (deLeon & Denhardt, 2000).

Interactions Between Democratic Leaders and Followers

The characteristics of DLDM require interactions between leaders and followers. First, under democratic movements, people who desire more democracy and follow democratic leaders also make sacrifices for achieving democracy. Democracy emerges with the blood of people since dictatorship in undemocratic government oppresses democratic movements, democratic leaders, and followers to retain undemocratic authority.

Autocratic leaders will not tolerate any reinterpretations that might reduce their effective control (Kunter, 1965). Some people oppose democratic leadership because it directly threatens their undemocratic government (Gastil, 1994). Without sacrifice and courage by democratic leaders and followers in democratic movements, democracy vanishes into the centralized control of dictatorial and military regimes. Gawthrop (1998) argued that “the pathway to the common good demands considerable personal sacrifice with the hope of attaining a happiness and peace at some future point in time” (pp. 136-137).

Additionally, a symbol is created based on shared values and beliefs among democratic leaders and citizens. Citizens depend on leaders to protect their security, welfare, and basic interests (Dobel, 1998). While a democratic leader attempts to achieve democracy and to protect the rights of the people, his or her tremendous enthusiasm becomes a symbol in democratic movements.

The sacrifice and enthusiasm of the democratic leader for democracy influence followers to respect and to symbolize him or her in the progress of democratic movements. The democratic leader wields a form of symbolic power that exerts a decisive influence on how people perceive their realities and the way they act (Morgan, 1998). The behaviors of the democratic leader become messages and directions for followers to act upon to achieve democracy. The behaviors and symbol of the democratic leader contribute to persuading followers who prefer democratic outcomes to participate in democratic movements. Thus, democratic leadership creates a symbol for democracy.

Since democratic movements are a great wave for social change, democratic leaders cannot move forward without the participation of followers. Thousands of people have embraced the desire to achieve democratic value around the world. Democratic leaders and followers work together to establish their democratic institutions. Participation is not only a core function during social change (Luthar, 1996), it is the power to build a democratic society. Participation is encouraged by the sacrifice, courage, symbolism, and vision of the democratic leaders in democratic movements.

Finally, the vision for democracy is a fundamental characteristic of democratic leadership since it creates the environment that leaders and followers pursue to improve their society and nation in terms of the demand for democracy. Achieving a vision requires motivation and inspiration; keeping people moving in the right direction despite major obstacles to change by appealing to basic but often untapped human needs, values, and emotions (Kotter, 1990). The interactions between democratic leaders and followers in democratic movements consolidate the vision for democracy during the process of the movement despite tremendous obstacles.

Exemplary Models of DLDM: Mandela, Walesa, and Kim

The roles of democratic leaders in democratic movements have been significant for the progress of democracy. Most of these leaders not only devoted themselves to democracy but also sacrificed themselves for enhancing democracy. Although the leadership styles of these leaders differed, the general principle of leadership focused on democratic value that entails human rights and establishes democratic government and societies.

In democratic movements during the 1980s and 1990s, democratic leaders extended democratic principles and progresses. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Lech Walesa of Poland, and Dae Jung Kim of South Korea exemplified democratic leadership that shined as an example of the progress for democracy in democratic movements.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born on July 25, 1919 in Transkei, South Africa. He was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. In 1944, he joined the antiapartheid African National Congress (ANC). He was engaged in resistance against the ruling national party’s apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961. From 1964 to 1990, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison for his conviction for democracy and antiapartheid.

During his years in prison, he was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the antiapartheid movement gathered strength (Les Prix Nobel, 1993). Mandela was released on February 18, 1990. After 27 years in prison, he became the president of the ANC and strived to attain the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.

In 1993, Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with F. W. de Klerk for dismantling apartheid. The Norwegian Nobel Committee (1993) explained that the Nobel Peace Prize for 1993 was awarded to them in recognition of their efforts and as a pledge of support for the forces of good, in the hope that the advance towards equality and democracy would reach its goal in the very near future. In his Nobel lecture, Mandela (1993) reported,

We devote what remains of our lives to the use of our country’s unique and painful experience to demonstrate, in practice, that the normal condition for human existence is democracy, justice, peace, non-racism, non-sexism, prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among the peoples. (p. 3)

In 1994, Mandela became the first democratically elected President of South Africa. The life of Nelson Mandela has grown the ideas of antiapartheid, sacrifice, equality, freedom, liberty, and democracy. In his speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1963, Mandela proclaimed (as cited in Brink, 1998),

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. (p. 190)

Mandela’s ideal was a national vision as well as a world principle of democracy. Mandela has shown us great sacrifice, political courage, symbolism, and vision for the progress of democracy in South Africa. Hallengren (1999) remarked,

We see how one man’s remarkable life has reached its fulfillment and has blossomed into a national vision. Inspired by myriad influences, taking the best from both his Native heritage, from the example of foreign freedom movements, and even from the history and literature of his oppressors, Nelson Mandela forged a vision of humanity that encompasses all peoples and that sets the hallmark for the rest of the world. (p. 8)

Despite his devotion to democracy and equality, the members of the ANC sometimes criticized him.

Mandela was accused of being an autocrat because he did not properly consult other ANC delegates in consultative group at the talks. In July 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC to be held in South Africa in thirty years, he was again criticized for not properly consulting with local branches of the ANC. (Glad & Blanton, 1997, p. 7)

However, the criticism did not challenge his role as the political and moral leader of the ANC (Glad & Blanton). “Given his lifetime of service in the name of freedom, Mandela deserves such gratitude. Yet no amount of praise will change the fact that he is, like all human beings, flawed” (Contreras, 1994, p. 12).

In sum, Mandela showed some characteristics of DLDM with the tremendous support of his followers. He and his followers sacrificed themselves against the apartheid system of government in South Africa. He was symbolized as the leader of South Africa against the system and for democratic reforms. The ongoing democratic movements continued and were repressed until the government began talk with the ANC and opposition in 1990 (Minier, 2001). As a result, the people of South Africa abolished the apartheid system, achieved political rights, and held the direct and fair election that made Mandela the president.

Lech Walesa

To compare Nelson Mandela with Lech Walesa, Sikorski (1990) pointed out that Mandela could take his cue from Walesa who was facing the most difficult period of his career. Since Lech Walesa opened the gates of democracy in Poland before Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, the conditions for Walesa’s strategy of moral revolution were far more favorable in South Africa than in Poland (Sikorski).

During the 1980s, Walesa’s contribution to the end of communism in Europe and the end of the cold war stands beside those of his fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II, and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Ash, 1998). Walesa was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo, Poland. He worked as a car mechanic from 1961 to 1965 after graduating from vocational school. During the clash in December 1970 between the workers and the government, he was one of the leaders of the shipyard workers and briefly detained.

In 1978, with other activists, he began to organize free noncommunist trade unions. However, he was kept under surveillance by the state security service and frequently detained (Les Prix Nobel, 1983). In 1980, he became the leader of Solidarity whose primary demands were for workers’ rights. The communist authorities were forced to capitulate and negotiate with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of August 21, 1980 which gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent union (Les Prix Nobel). However, in 1981, martial law suspended Solidarity; and the government arrested many of its leaders. Walesa was interned for 11 months in a country house in a remote spot. Yet, Solidarity would not die, and Walesa remained as its symbol (Ash, 1998). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Aarvik (1983) suggested that Walesa contributed to the establishment of the universal freedom to organize in all countries as the cornerstone in the building of freedom and democracy in the world.

The announcement of Walesa’s Nobel Prize raised the spirits of the underground movement, but the award was attacked by the government press (Les Prix Nobel, 1983). In 1989, Solidarity was legalized. The result was the holding of parliamentary elections that led to the establishment of a noncommunist government (Les Prix Nobel). In 1990, Walesa was elected President of the Republic of Poland. In 1995, he was defeated in a presidential election.

Ash (1998) noted that during his presidency, Walesa developed close links with the military and security services; and his political career was controversial. “His critics accused him of being authoritarian, a President with an ax” (Ash, p. 181). Walesa’s demise was the result of several factors including his authoritarian tendencies, his desire to hold onto power for as long as possible, and his disrespect for political opponents (Mihas, 1998). Walesa’s autocratic style alienated many Poles (Husarska, 1994; Nemeth, 1990; Pope, 1990). Even though Walesa was criticized for his autocratic style, he was an example of someone who was magnificent in the struggle for freedom and the establishment for a stable democracy (Ash). Ash noted that

Without him, Solidarity might never have been born. Without him, it might not have survived martial law and come back triumphantly to negotiate the transition from communism to democracy. And without the Polish icebreaking, Eastern Europe might still be frozen in a Soviet sphere of influence, and the world would be a very different place. With all Walesa’s personal faults, his legacy is a huge gain in freedom. (p. 181)

Walesa represented peaceful courage, human value, and human rights. Aarvik (1983) pointed out that “the power of Walesa’s belief and vision was unweakened. His actions have become a chapter in the history of international labor, and the future will recognize his name among those who contributed to humanity’s legacy of freedom” (p. 3).

In sum, Walesa’s personal behavior in the autocratic style cannot reduce his achievements and his legacy for inspiring human rights, freedom, and democracy. Walesa’s democratic leadership with the support of his followers contributed to abolishing martial law, legalizing Solidarity, and holding parliamentary elections that led to the establishment of democratic government in Poland.

Dae Jung Kim

Kim’s story has much in common with the experience of Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, and Mahatma Gandhi (Berge, 2000). Kim was born on January 5, 1925 in South Korea. In the 1950s, when Kim ran for election to the national assembly, the police were used to prevent support for any other candidates than the regime’s own (Berge). He was not elected until 1961, but that success was short-lived since a military coup 3 days later led to the dissolution of the assembly. In 1971, Kim ran in the presidential election, winning 46% of the votes despite considerable ballot rigging. This made him a serious threat to the military regime. As a result, he spent many long years in prison, in house arrest, and in exile in Japan and the United States. But, Kim kept up his outspoken opposition to the military regime (Berge). D. J. Kim (2000) said,

Five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators, six years I spent in prison, and forty years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. (p. 3)

In 1980, Kim was sentenced to death by the military regime. The military regime sought to execute Kim on tromped-up sedition charges, blaming him for that year’s democratic movements in the southwestern city of Kwangju. The military regime used Kim’s death sentence as a bargaining chip to coax an early state visit out of the incoming Reagan administration to shore up its legitimacy (Cumings & Mesler, 1998). After coming back to Seoul from his exile in the United States in 1985, Kim was under house arrest for the next 2 years, prevented from attending any rallies or writing anything in the Korean press until the military regime was overthrown.

Kim ran in the presidential elections of 1987 and 1992 and was defeated. “If no military regime stood in his way, the argument was used against him, in a country of sharp regional divisions, that he came from the wrong region” (Berge, 2000, p. 2). Finally, in 1997, Kim was elected President of South Korea. “His election in 1997 as the republic’s president marked South Korea’s definitive entry among the world’s democracies. As president, Kim Dae Jung has sought to consolidate democratic government and to promote internal reconciliation within South Korea” (Norwegian Nobel Committee, 2000, p. 1).

Moreover, Shriver and Shriver (1998) pointed out that “the past decade has seen at least three unpredicted, impossible political events: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, and the election of Kim as president of South Korea” (p. 1). Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work not only for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia but also for peace and reconciliation with North Korea. Kim’s endless sacrifice and struggle for democracy and human rights became one of the symbols for Asian democracy. D. J. Kim (2000) stressed the fact that democracy is the absolute value that makes for human dignity as well as the only road to sustained economic development and social justice.

Despite Kim’s democratic and economic reforms, criticism emerged from his political style. H. N. Kim (2000) argued that contrary to his reputation as a champion of democracy, Kim’s leadership style was not much different from the imperial presidents of his authoritarian predecessors. Kim has proven vindictive toward opponents and has frequently used the investigative powers of state prosecutors and tax auditors to punish political opponents (H. N. Kim).

How the autocratic style of Kim negatively affected Korean democratic and economic reforms will be judged by history. While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, D. J. Kim (2000) articulated,

In all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his life, but will be triumphant and honored in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. (p. 3)

In sum, Kim also showed the characteristics of DLDM like Mandela and Walesa. Kim consolidated democratic government and human rights in South Korea. Under the Korean democratic movements, Kim was symbolized as the democratic leader while he showed courage and vision for democracy to lead his followers to participate in the movement. Despite fatal threats to him from military government; Kim and the Korean people achieved direct election, democratic reforms, and political rights. As a result, Kim became the president of South Korea with the supports of his followers.

Discussion and Implications

Since DLDM is a process for achieving democracy; Mandela, Walesa, and Kim can be considered exemplary models of democratic leaders. Mandela, Walesa, and Kim showed great similarities during their lifetimes. They struggled for democracy and human rights, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and became president of their respective countries. The resemblances raise questions about the characteristics, roles, and contributions of democratic leadership for achieving democratic value.

What are the key characteristics of democratic leadership for achieving democracy? Can the definition of democratic leadership in the leadership literature explain the roles of democratic leaders in democratic movements? Is democratic leadership relevant to productivity and effectiveness for improving democratic value? Generally, democratic leadership is placed in opposition to autocratic leadership (Bass, 1990; Gastile, 1994). However, why do Mandela, Walesa, and Kim each show both democratic and autocratic leadership during their lifetimes? Finally, what are the implications of democratic leadership to public administration for improving democratic value and governance?

Mandela, Walesa, and Kim have attempted to achieve democracy under political oppression and undeveloped economic situations through coalition of citizens’ participation. The dictatorship or military regimes of their country produced unstable political and economical situations. With tremendous sacrifice and political courage, they have devoted themselves to antiapartheid, human rights, freedom, equality, and democracy. Their vision for democratic value positioned their struggles against dictators and military regimes. They became symbols and champions of democracy. People in South Africa, Poland, and South Korea encouraged by Mandela, Walesa, and Kim participated in great waves of democratic movements (Minier, 2001).

The sacrifice, courage, and vision of Mandela, Walesa, and Kim were the motives for people’s participation in democratic movements. Without the support and participation of people to work for democracy; Mandela, Walesa, and Kim could not achieve democracy and be elected president of their countries. Democracy comes from the bottom up through the sacrifices of millions of ordinary people (Cumings & Mesler, 1998).

Without the sacrifice, courage, and vision of Mandela, Walesa, and Kim for democracy; there could not be the progress made to protect human rights and secure equality in their countries. As a result; sacrifice, courage, and vision; as the characteristics of DLDM; play important roles in achieving democracy and in encouraging participation of the people. These characteristics of democratic leadership correlate with each other and contribute to creating supportive cultures among leaders and followers for achieving democracy.

For achieving democracy; sacrifice, courage, vision, symbolism, and participation are the critical characteristics of democratic leadership. Mandela, Walesa, and Kim not only demonstrated these characteristics of democratic leadership during their struggle for democracy; they also imbued their organizations with these characteristics. The demand for democracy in democratic movements motivated Mandela, Walesa, Kim, and their people to seek democratic outcomes. Table 1 describes demonstrated common characteristics of Mandela, Walesa, and Kim in democratic movements.

While the critical role of DLDM focuses on achieving democracy; the characteristics of democratic leadership that include sacrifice, courage, vision, symbolism, and participation play key roles for the expansion of democracy. These characteristics of democratic leadership bring about democratic value productively and effectively. The productiveness and effectiveness of democratic leadership demand a long-term process because the process toward democracy entails enduring hardships, patience, and sacrifice.

Democratic leaders try to overcome obstacles in front of them with the support of followers. Mandela, Walesa, and Kim’s struggles for democracy have paved the democratic road productively and effectively throughout the decades. In the long run, the positive effects of democratic leadership are evident (Bass, 1990). We could not predict the progress of democracy in South Africa, Poland, and South Korea as well as the election of Mandela, Walesa, and Kim as democratic presidents in their countries. Democratic leadership accumulates its power productively and effectively during sudden democratic events.

However, political and economic experts have argued that the most effective way to undertake needed reforms during crises is through the use of an autocratic leadership with centralized control (Luthans et al., 1998). This study shows that Mandela, Walesa, and Kim; who are considered democratic leaders and have the characteristics of democratic leadership; are not immune to reverting to autocratic leadership.

Research about why democratic leaders become autocratic leaders has been limited. After becoming president, Walesa and Kim showed autocratic styles. Mandela was also criticized due to his autocratic style. The change from autocracy to democracy seemed to take somewhat more time than it takes to move from democracy to autocracy (Lewin, 1965). In this regard, democratic leaders may have the characteristics of autocratic leadership and could become autocratic leaders.

This table demonstrates characteristics of democratic leadership by exemplary models such as Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, and Dae Jung Kim.

Autocratic and democratic leadership function differently with stratified economic purposes (Kellerman, 1984). In more democratic systems; there appears to be a disjunction between economic and political systems, and political leaders are less directly in control of economic matters (Kellerman). On the other hand, autocratic leadership systems seem to exist in societies where the economy is directly subordinated to the political leadership system (Kellerman). Sometimes, economic reform in developing countries is successfully achieved under dictatorial leadership (Luthans et al., 1998). To maintain order and stability, leaders revert to a form of autocratic leadership (Luthans et al., 1998).

The transformation from democratic leadership to autocratic leadership might be attributed to situations that leaders face dealing with economic crisis and traditional values (Luthans et al., 1998). According to Luthans et al. (1998), some of the past decade economic crises were leading many Koreans to yearn for the good old days of autocratic leadership. Second, because of an interest in avoiding ethnic conflict or upholding traditional cultural values, democratic leaders have had to exercise a directive and autocratic style as opposed to participative practices.

However, D. J. Kim (2000) emphasized democracy as the absolute value that makes the only road to sustained economic development. This study is limited in determining whether Mandela, Walesa, and Kim used an autocratic style as centralized control not only to solve economic crises but also to maintain traditional cultural values in their countries. Thus, the research about why a democratic leader becomes an autocratic leader will remain in the future.

The autocratic style that appeared in the behaviors of Mandela, Walesa, and Kim does not limit their contributions to democracy. Their sacrifice and courage for democratic values are lessons that are applicable to elected public officials as well as public managers who devote themselves to the common good. The characteristics of democratic leadership such as vision, symbolism, and participation also contribute to the development of public administration and democratic governance. Since the primary task of elected public officials and public managers is to make democracy suitable for modern conditions (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003; Gawthrop, 1998); they might learn democratic leadership from Mandela, Walesa, and Kim.

Public officials might understand the enduring patience and sacrifice that are essential for serving the public. For example; at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks; firefighters, police officers, and other public officials showed tremendous sacrifices to the public (Terry, 2002). While citizens were coming out of the fire, firefighters were going into the fire. We have eulogized the tremendous sacrifice of firefighters for serving the public.

On the other hand; public officials might encourage citizen participation in enhancing democratic governance, because government is us (Box, 1998; King & Stivers, 1998). They might apply democratic leadership to the efforts for promoting constitutional principles of democracy, equality, human rights, and freedom. The lessons that Mandela, Walesa, and Kim brought us are human dignity, democratic governance, and the process for improving democratic value. The application of democratic leadership to the field of public administration will expand the responsibility and accountability for democratic value and democratic governance.


During the 1980s and 1990s; Mandela, Walesa, and Kim played tremendous roles in achieving democracy. Their democratic leadership influenced the historical progress of democracy around the world. The definitions of democratic leadership in the literature have been limited in explaining the dynamic changes and progress in democratic movements as well as the roles of such democratic leaders. With the democratic leadership that Mandela, Walesa, and Kim have shown us; we should redefine the concept of democratic leadership and apply it to our current political and administrative contexts.

First, the definition of DLDM is a political and social relationship between democratic leaders and followers for achieving democracy. The relationship demands the essential characteristics of democratic leadership. Sacrifice, courage, symbolism, participation, and vision are the characteristics of democratic leadership. These characteristics strengthen the roles of public officials for creating public value.

Second; the fact that Mandela, Walesa, and Kim have shown autocratic styles during their lifetimes raises questions about the relationship between democratic and autocratic leadership. Why do democratic leaders become autocratic leaders? Can autocratic leaders become democratic leaders? What are the factors that influence democratic leaders to become autocratic leaders? For the price of economic development, can democratic value be replaced by dictatorship and coercive control? These questions should be answered to analyze the transformation from democratic leaders to autocratic leaders and vice versa.

Finally, the implication of democratic leadership for public administration is expanded democracy. The characteristics of democratic leadership remind public officials to seek their leadership roles in government for the purpose of expanding democratic governance. The process for achieving democracy and democratic governance entails responsibility as well as accountability on the part of public officials, since public administration operates under the principles of democracy and constitution (Lee & Rosenbloom, 2005; Rohr, 1986; Terry, 2003).

About the Author

Dr. Sanghan Choi earned his Ph.D. in public administration from Florida Atlantic University and is currently an adjunct professor in the School of Public Administration at the university and a research associate of the Public Procurement Research Center in Boca Raton, Florida. His research interests include public leadership, public and nonprofit management, organization theory and behavior, and globalization. Email:


The author would like to thank Particia M. Patterson, Clifford P. McCue, and Floydette Cory-Scruggs for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. A previous version of this article was presented at the National Conference of the American Society for Public Administration in March 2002.


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