Article Review

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Is ‘Things Fall Apart’ a Good portrayal of Leadership in Change situations?

Gosling, Jonathan. “Will We Know What Counts As Good Leadership If Things Fall Apart? Questions Prompted By Chinua Achebe’s Novel.” Leadership 13.1 (2016): 35-47. Web.

In a changing world faced by old and even novel challenges, the role that leadership plays and what is considered as effective leadership comes into the limelight. It is an important question on what leadership entails in times of change. Jonathan Gosling, Professor of Leadership at Exeter University, tries to assess the role of leadership using Chinua Achebe’s literary acclaimed book ‘Things Fall apart.’ In his paper, Gosling(35-47) assesses the process that shape leaders, their interaction with society, society’s perceptions, and leadership hardships during times of change. He then concludes that in times of change, just like in Okonkwo’s case in the case study, leaders often fail.

Drawing from the experiences of Okonkwo, Gosling (44-45) sees Okonkwo’s failure to avert the change that Christian missionaries brought as a failure of leadership on his side. Gosling’s conclusion, however, is flawed considering that the evidence he presents is based on a work of fiction. In real life, on numerous occasions, leaders have been able to effectively negotiate change situations successfully. For instance, according to Aruleba (1), Obama successfully navigated the financial crisis by introducing sound economic policies that fostered significant economic recovery. The criterion used by Gosling to arrive at the conclusion is also simplistic and does not consider numerous aspects of crisis leadership, a fact that Boin, Kuipers, and Overdijk (79-91) recognize as a major failure of Gosling’s approach.

The theory of poetic justice is a prominent feature of Goslings explanation of the rise of leaders. Gosling asserts that leaders become so as a result of their actions. He uses the theory of poetic justice to validate Okonkwo’s rise to leadership in Umuofia. Goslings view is that the leadership mantle falls on those who really deserve it. Okonkwo, in ‘Things Fall Apart,’ deserved to be a leader because of his hard work, wealth, and fighting prowess. In spite of this view being plausible, in a much more changed world, rising to positions of leadership today does not solely depend on personal actions. Other more important factors determine rise to leadership such as the party or allies in one’s disposal.

Gosling also focuses on leaders association with the society in which they live and lead. He elaborates on society’s expectations and how they shape and design leaders decisions and demeanor. Leaders also pay attention to society’s demands and morals. They are not infallible and suffer consequences of breaking norms as was the case for Okonkwo who after beating his wife in the week of peace against societal norms was punished. Gosling also likens Okonkwo’s actions to tendencies of narcissist leaders to disregard societal expectations by giving an example of how such behavior fuels corporate scandals. Gosling’s observation on the interaction between leaders and society is very much solidly backed and even true today. Most contemporary political leaderships conform to such a structure where leadership is shaped by society (Tsai, par 2). Further, as is the case with Okonkwo, certain political leaders display narcissistic tendencies (Braun par 1-2).

‘Power corrupts’ is such a common and largely true anecdote. According to Gosling, positions of authority are occasionally abused by those at the top. Leaders also seek to be seen as strong and shun portrayals of weakness. Gosling uses the example of Okonkwo, who was not fond of festivities and dances, as he viewed them as a sign of weakness. Gosling’s position is such that leadership is invariably linked with power and domineering tendencies. This observation by Gosling is very much correct and true even today. Kakkar and Sivanathan (6734-6738) concur with this viewpoint by documenting the current rise of authoritarian leaders. Moreover, since time immemorial, campaigns designed to make workplaces free of abuse is a testament to Gosling’s conclusion.

Gosling, using ‘Things Fall Apart,’ casts a fragile picture of masculinity means. He portrays manliness as being overly dependent on others opinion to validate itself. Gosling further bemoans the association of manliness with violence, drawing conclusions from an instance when Okonkwo abused one of his wives. The depiction of manliness in such a negative manner by Gosling could be argued to be biased, considering that he draws conclusions primarily based only on Okonkwo’s behavior, a person the paper earlier identified as a megalomaniac. His display of masculinity could, therefore, be more succinctly described as actions of a narcissist and not be used to shape views on masculinity.

The other theme of Goslings focus is Justice; throughout the paper, he points at instances where justice was served. It was this justice and in the true meaning of it that led to the very downfall of Okonkwo. After the conviction of killing a clansman, he was cast out for seven years. On top of this, despite being a leader, he was stripped of his role as justice for his transgressions. The theme of justice is thus, well illustrated by Gosling; the illustrations used in particular are subtle and convincing. In particular, the justice meted on Okonkwo, in spite of his stature, is a testament to justice being served. Neighboring villages atoning for wrongdoing also serve well to support this theme

In conclusion, Gosling recognizes the hard role that leaders have to play in change situations. He casts a grim prospect of leadership in such situations, a position this critical review has argued against. On how leaders rise, Gosling asserts the theory of poetic justice as an explanation. However, with contemporary leadership dynamics, such a position is far from the truth. Gosling also touches on themes of justice, masculinity, and authority, which to a large part are true.



Works cited

Aruleba, Ayodele. “Obama And The Economic Recovery: Keynesian Policies, Gridlock, And The New Global Economy.” Inquiries 9.3 (2017): 1. Web. 13 July 2018.

Boin, Arjen, Sanneke Kuipers, and Werner Overdijk. “Leadership In Times Of Crisis: A Framework For Assessment.” International Review of Public Administration 18.1 (2013): 79-91. Web.

Braun, Susanne. “Leader Narcissism And Outcomes In Organizations: A Review At Multiple Levels Of Analysis And Implications For Future Research.” Frontiers in Psychology 8 (2017): n. pag. Web.

Kakkar, Hemant, and Niro Sivanathan. “When The Appeal Of A Dominant Leader Is Greater Than A Prestige Leader.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017): 6734-6738. Web.

Tsai, Yafang. “Relationship Between Organizational Culture, Leadership Behavior And Job Satisfaction.” BMC Health Services Research 11.1 (2011): n. pag. Web.