Political Leadership and Economic Growth: A Comparative Analysis of the Arab Gulf Region, Western Europe and Southeast Asia

Comprehensive studies that offer systematic theory building or comparisons of the political strategies and practices of national executives across regime types and cultural regions in the realm of economic policy remain uncommon.

In this research project I seek to bridge that gap by studying the mechanisms of how and to what extent different patterns of political leadership performance shape a country’s economic growth in relation to its political institutional design (e.g. democracy vs. non-democracy). In particular, I focus on trends of personalization in democracies and study leaders’ institutional embeddedness in single-party regimes and dynastic monarchies. Specifically, I am interested in the performance and leadership styles of heads of government and state in Western Europe, the Arab Gulf states and Southeast Asia, their strategies of political communication and public representation, and their multifarious relations with the economic sector. Publications of this project are forthcoming/under review, e.g. “Leaders around the World: New Horizons in the Comparative Study of Political Leadership” in Tolstikov-Mast et al. (eds.), Routledge Handbook of International Leadership Research (2021), and Political Leaders in Different Regime Types: Exploring the Impact of Crises (under review).

Leadership and Economic Growth


Book Project: Women and Leadership in Global Perspective

I have also started a research project that focuses on women and leadership from an international perspective and in the context of global gender studies. It focuses on how women act and interact as leaders in different political and cultural contexts as well as in international arenas, such as the United Nations. Given the challenges to democracy in the 21st century, the status of gender equality and equity especially in the exercise of public and political leadership is a central yardstick for the state of democracy and the international society at large. In particular, I compare women’s conceptualizations of leadership, alongside their pathways to power. I specifically study the exercise of leadership by women in the institutions of the European Union, the United Nations, and in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia).

In the context of this project, I have built a database on the socioeconomic backgrounds and leadership positions of more than 500 women leaders in the six GCC states—the first of its kind. Moreover, I am currently conducting a comparative analysis of media attention and attitudes toward women’s empowerment across the Arab Gulf region together with Christin Camia, a psychologist from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Further international research collaborations also include a study on the relationship of national female executives and corruption from an international perspective together with Ina Kubbe from the University of Tel Aviv, Israel. This project has yielded several publications, including “Between Leadership and Kinship: Women Empowerment in the GCC Countries” in Ina Kubbe and Aiysha Varraich (eds.), Corruption and Informal Practices in the Middle East (2019), and “The Politics of Female Empowerment: Women Leaders in the UAE” in HAWWA: Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World (both co-authored with Rahma Abdulkadir).



Women and Leadership in the European Union (together with Ingeborg Tömmel, University of Osnabrück)

Together with my colleague, Ingeborg Tömmel (University of Osnabrück), we are conducting the first research project that studies both the positional and behavioral leadership of women within and across EU institutions.

Taking a broad view of the concept of European leadership, this project studies the current state of women’s leadership and role of women in the realm of EU politics and policy-making past and present. It thus encompasses the analysis of a variety of women actors and their impact, ranging from the performance of national leaders in European affairs, such as Theresa May and Angela Merkel, to the leadership of female political elites within EU institutions from Viviane Reding to Catherine Day. In this pursuit, we combine both single-case and comparative analyses with qualitative and quantitative methods, e.g. studying leaders’ rhetoric, drawing from the example of female and male Commissioners in the European Commission; using software such as DICTION; and conducting expert interviews with EU women leaders on their understanding and experiences of exercising leadership in a supranational context.

With generous funding from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and New York University Abu Dhabi, we also organized an international conference in early January 2020 at the University of Osnabrück, bringing together 21 renowned scholars from Europe, the US and Canada, including Michelle Cini (University of Bristol), Amy Verdun (University of Leiden/University of Victoria), and Johanna Kantola (Tampere University). The edited volume has been accepted by Oxford University Press (planned to be published in 2022).

Poster_Women and Leadership Final


Collaborative Leadership in European Governance (together with Femke van Esch, Utrecht University)

In addition to my research focus on leadership and gender, I am also interested in new forms of leadership, especially collaborative leadership. I am thus conducting a research project on collaborative leadership in European governance together with Femke van Esch (University of Utrecht). On the one hand, our research collaboration has provided the first comprehensive overview on the development of the study of European leadership from the 1990s onwards. We identified the different conceptualizations, theoretical approaches and findings that the study of leadership in the European Union has produced to date.

On the other hand, we have studied the role of collaborative leadership in the European Union, arguing that it has stood at the center of European politics since its inception. We thus examined the nature, conditions and consequences of EU leader-leader interactions based on theories of collaborative leadership, exploring the nexus between leadership, collaboration and policy-making. Moreover, we systematically compared the similarities and differences between the belief systems of four EU leadership trios that played a vital role in the development and implementation of European economic and monetary union: (1) Mitterrand-Kohl-Delors; (2) Chirac-Schröder-Prodi; (3) Sarkozy-Merkel-Barroso; and finally, (4) Hollande-Merkel-Juncker. Using Comparative Cognitive Mapping in combination with an expert survey of academics, we revealed that cognitive proximity in leaders’ economic paradigm and vision on the finalité of European integration are essential for successful collaboration in the European Union.

In our ongoing research, we further deconstruct the concept of collaborative leadership, studying in-depth the (1) conditions, (2) performance and (3) outcomes of the process of collaboration and the causal mechanisms between them. With a focus on the collaboration between the French president, German chancellor and EU Commission president during times of severe European crisis, we ask to what extent successful collaboration leads to better crisis management.

This research collaboration has culminated so far in a special issue of West European Politics on the role of leadership in EU politics and policy-making, published in January 2020, that brought together distinguished scholars from across Europe, including Joachim Schild (University of Trier), Ingeborg Tömmel (University of Osnabrück), and Magnus Schoeller (University of Vienna).

Collaborative Leadership