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Kofi Annan Leadership Traits Case Study

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2019

The Five Virtues of Kofi Annan: Case Study

Having sat at the helm of the United Nations for two terms, Kofi Annan exhibited astute and strong leadership skills. Admiration for his ability to bring different warring parties together was unending. He always wished for a world where sufferance of innocent global citizens would end. Among the virtues he stand out to have entrenched in his leadership is dignity.

He always believed that all people regardless of their social-economic status, nationality, race and other lines of segregation would have a dignified life. Indeed, the life that Annan envisaged for all people was free of atrocities, poverty and pandemics such as Aids.

Ciulla (2003) postulates that he always saw both sides of the coin in that he could negotiate with perceived criminals such as Saddam Hussein for the sake of innocent civilians who in many instances were caught in the crossfire. To him, dignity was a major virtue of leadership.

Second, throughout his mission as the Secretary General to the UN, he never fell short of confidence in all his actions and attitude. Despite taking positions that put him at loggerheads with major world leaders like Madeleine Albright, Annan had confidence that his cause of action was the best in delivering peace to the world. Third, Annan held courage as an important virtue that all leaders should learn.

He never feared to enhance access to medical care, food and other humanitarian assistance regardless of the risks and dangers this action predisposed him to. Fourth, Annan values compassion, which is a major aspect of transformative and supportive leadership.

He never shied away from the poor and the meek. Indeed, Ciulla (2003) pinpoints an instance where he randomly got out of his motorcade and spent over an hour with a refugee who had fled war in Iraq. Finally, Annan always preached faith. He believed that all leaders should have faith in their actions whenever their actions would end up bringing peace to the world.

Standpoints Held by Different Critical Thinkers

Ruth Benedict

  • The major concept of her works revolves around explaining anthropology and the way it affects normalcy of different people especially those holding leadership positions in organizations and groups.
  • She articulates that leadership is nurtured and can be uniform across the entire world despite different social, religious, racial and national backgrounds.
  • Leaders should be consistent in their actions regardless of the contexts they encounter.
  • To that end, Benedict says that all leaders are able to differentiate between right and wrong and inspire followership that brings about happiness to all people.

Mary Midgley

  • She concentrates her main ideas on themes of leadership by articulating that a leader should be ready to try out ‘his/her sword’.
  • By that, she means that every leader has special attributes, which he/she should use to achieve the goals that the followers.
  • It is important to note that Midgley holds the view that different leaders are unique and their leadership skills are dependent on the goals they seek to accomplish.
  • It is therefore upon the leaders to understand their ‘swords’ and act in a way that can provide the best form of leadership to their organizations.

F.G Bailey

  • Bailey emphasizes on values and beliefs in leadership.
  • He asserts that virtuous leaders should be able to make decisions that do not contradict the beliefs of the followers.
  • Beliefs and values should shape the common goal in a group.
  • No leaders should exert their personal beliefs and values to the followers.

UN Commission on Human Rights

  • The global body focuses its attention and activities on the need to uphold human rights regardless of where people live.
  • UNCHR emphasizes on the importance of human dignity and the need to remove impediments that lead to violation of human rights.
  • In many instances, UNCHR has spearheaded democratic leadership and governance where governments enshrine human rights as a way of dignifying the lives of their citizens.
  • Indeed, the organization holds the view that all human beings are important regardless of their location in the world and governments should abide by global standards in enshrining human rights.

Isaiah Berlin

  • Berlin asserts that leaders face numerous challenges and upheavals in pursuit of ideal societies and organizations.
  • These challenges hinder their ability to perform nobly although they provide different insights to the leaders.
  • To him, leadership should entail the ability of leaders to overcome such hurdles and achieve their objectives in line with the wishes and aspirations of the followers.
  • In pursuit of idealistic leadership, Berlin articulates that leaders and organizations should be able to differentiate actions that could impede the achievement of the goals that are in the best interest of the majority.

Application of the Theoretical Standpoints on the Case Study

From the above case study, we learn of a global icon who exercised leadership using virtues. Annan was global leader despite his roots being in Africa. He always perceived the world from the lens of globalization and nobleness. Benedict cite him as an example of a leader who defied social and economic backgrounds to achieve his objective of uniting the world and delivering peace to war-torn regions.

His virtues were consistent throughout his life as the UN Secretary General. Despite many setbacks that impeded his ability to achieve some of his goals, Annan represents a leader whose ‘anthropology’ did not lead to ‘abnormal’ leadership style (Ciulla, 2003). Since his school days, Ciulla (2003) asserts that Annan was able to nurture his astuteness as a leader and adopt virtues that are important in enhancing effective leadership.

His virtues of dignity, confidence, courage, compassion and faith stuck with him throughout his reign at the UN. As elucidated by Benedict, Annan depicts a leader who has the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and inspire followership that brings about happiness to all people.

Midgley on the other hand would attribute the leadership abilities of Annan to uniqueness of specific leaders. She pinpoints that leaders have ‘their own swords’, which they use to exercise leadership. To her, Kofi Annan was a unique leader whose traits and virtues were outstanding.

To cement her assertions, it is important to highlight that his predecessor and successor have different traits. Indeed, they have ‘different swords’ to exercise leadership. Midgley tends to disagree that leadership is nurtured and asserts that it is inborn and not all leaders are able to exercise leadership qualities in a similar way.

The aspirations and objectives of UNCHR seem to coincide with the virtues of leadership offered by Annan. In particular, UNCHCR emphasizes on the need for human dignity in the world. This would imply that leaders work towards ending atrocities, poverty, diseases and wars that demean and devalue human dignity.

Annan’s virtues dictated that all human beings should live in a peaceful and loving way and instances of wars ought to end (Ciulla, 2003). In fact, Annan pointed out that no government should shield itself in the name of sovereignty given the fact that its citizens have suffered in a huge way.

To this end, he called for other nations to bear the responsibility and obligation to prevent atrocities that occur in some countries. This way, Annan was convinced that the world would uphold human dignity, importance of peace and the need to reduce pandemics.

Berlin perceives Annan from a standpoint of idealism. He sees his leadership style to draw inspiration from his virtues as too optimistic for the world to achieve.

While Annan believes that world peace is possible, Berlin tends to be cautious by saying that there are many challenges for leadership that pursues idealism. Nonetheless, Berlin sees such leadership being very important since it helps leaders to address similar situations in future.

In essence, the objectives that UNCHR has seem to explain the case study in a more elaborate way than the rest of the theories. This is partly because Annan was the custodian of these objectives when serving as the Secretary General of the UN. To this end, his goals and perception of the global society were motivated by the need to uphold human dignity and peace.

His articulation that no country could shield itself in the pretext of sovereignty provided a clear indication of the levels that he could reach in achieving the goals of the organization.

Nonetheless, Annan was an outstanding leader whose virtues provided guidance not only to him but also to the international organization that he served. Virtuous leadership brings about effectiveness. All leaders should therefore aspire to have virtues that uphold human dignity.


Ciulla, J. (2003). The Ethics of Leadership. New York: Thompson-Wadsworth Publishers.

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