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Leading at the edge of chaos: historical perspectives on the qualities of leadership for cultural diversity and conflict resolution

Sam Alfoqahaa (Department of Marketing, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine)
Eleri Jones (School of Management, Cardiff Metropolitan University-Llandaff Campus, Cardiff, UK)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 1 May 2020

Issue publication date: 18 May 2020




Building on the contributions of chaos and complexity theories, this paper aims to conceptualize how the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were able to transform chaos (randomness) into order (integration). More specifically, it aims to identify the qualities by which such leadership worked in the context of conflict and cultural confrontations, which is, leading at the edge of chaos.


This research follows a qualitative approach in data collection and analysis; it narrates and analyses biographic data as well as literature about these three prominent leaders. Common qualities of these leaders are explored in-depth, discussed and linked.


Success in leading at the edge of chaos was attributed to the following leadership qualities: vision, non-violence and tolerance. This paper conceptualizes Gandhi, King and Mandela's embodiment of these qualities in transforming difference and disagreement to unity and how they inspired and developed their societies at home and all over the world. This paper concludes with the following results: Dr King, Gandhi and Mandela were visionary leaders; the three leaders had a vision about the future of freedom, equality and peace. More importantly, they were able to hearts and minds, and convey their visions to followers and to society at large. They struggled to achieve their goals non-violently, but knew that violence could destroy society due to unbalanced power structures. In the fight for their people's emancipation/freedom, they avoided ethnic, racial and religious discrimination. The three leaders were politically, culturally and socially tolerant.

Research limitations/implications

By identifying their leadership qualities and analyzing their leadership mechanisms, this paper stresses the necessity of the emergence and preservation of leadership as exhibited by King, Gandhi, Mandela and many other influential leaders. Leaders, committed to enrichment and sustainability of cultural diversity and nurturing of tolerance, can play a role in unifying nations. Practically put, today’s leaders need to rethink their strategies, by taking into consideration what Gandhi, King and Mandela have contributed to leadership in dealing with cultural diversity and conflict. Furthermore, leaders must extend the applicability of such leadership to include the ending of violence in every facet of people's lives, and work publicly to overcome the challenges encountering human kind such as nuclear weapons, war, poverty, racism, global warming, drugs, religious bigotry and violence of any kind. That is, today's leaders need to lead at the edge of chaos due to the ongoing conflicts around the globe.


This paper uniquely conceptualizes leadership qualities by analyzing and comparing literature and biographical data of the above-mentioned leaders. The study also contributes to the existing literature on leadership using an interdisciplinary approach by proving the mechanisms by which leadership transforms chaos into order within the context of cultural diversity and confrontation, where studies are rare. This research contributes to the theory of leaderships at three levels. First, it offers an interdisciplinary theory on leadership qualities by linking these qualities with chaos and complexity theories. Second, unlike the majority of literature which views leadership from a business or public leadership perspective, this research provides a new perspective of leadership for cultural diversity. Third, it highlights the role models of three exemplary leaders for each of whom previous literature is lacking.



Alfoqahaa, S. and Jones, E. (2020), "Leading at the edge of chaos: historical perspectives on the qualities of leadership for cultural diversity and conflict resolution", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 217-248.



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