Is There a Difference Between Political Leadership and Corporate Leadership? Does Success in The Corporate World Guarantee Success In The Political World?


The party nominations for the August elective positions are over. Nairobi county has elicited heated discussions with the entry of Polycarp Igathe as the Governor Nominee for the Azimio la Umoja coalition. The Kenya Kwanza Governor Nominee Johnson Sakaja has also nominated James Muchiri former COO of ABSA bank to be his deputy governor. A leader has to be a politician to be effective and efficient but a politician does not always have to be a leader.

I have seen many argue that Igathe is a better choice because he is from the corporate world. Others have argued that Sakaja is better because he understands how to navigate the murky world of politics. Some have gone ahead and castigated Igathe for resigning from being Deputy Governor which to them could mean he is unable to endure the fire that comes with such positions. Some argue that Timothy Wanyonyi would have been a better bet given his corporate and political experience. Political leaders require thick skin to deal with unfair, personalized criticism and do the right thing. This is unlike in the corporate world where the bosses get their way and employees respect them to avoid getting fired.

I am of the opinion that there are some leadership skills that are necessary whether one is a corporate or political leader. All leaders must have the right values and exercise integrity. Every leader should exhibit some general traits and behaviors and patterns irrespective of where they are exercising their skills. Those in corporate leadership argue that they can transfer their leadership skills from context to context. However, they fail to understand that leadership is highly contextual and depends on the organization’s purpose and the environment in which the organization operates.

However, there are also major differences in how you lead in the corporate and political world. You can succeed in the corporate world but fail in the political world. The political ecosystem is very different from that of a corporate organization. The working practices, the methods of problem-solving, and the culture are very different in the political and corporate world. The leadership skills required to drive each of these ecosystems are likely to be different.

Unlike in a corporate organization where the focus is profit and commercial in nature, a county or a nation is complex and a leader must be able to balance a number of elements and ensure the well-being of its citizens. Political leadership looks at the social, political, and economic domains. The work of the government is to create an enabling environment for its citizens to do business.

The deliverables for corporate and political leadership are also very different. Whereas in the corporate world financial performance is the measure of success, in the political world success is measured through economic performance. Your success in politics is measured through the successful completion of social or economic programs, Purchasing Power Parity, and Gross Domestic Product among many others.

Corporate leaders normally work with policies and procedures, and budgets and are concerned with profitability and shareholder returns. They easily fire employees for non-performance and can pull out of any unprofitable market. However, in a county, you cannot fire employees anyhow and one is literally stuck with them. Whereas corporate leaders easily understand the risks associated with their decisions, political decisions must be calculative for a small move in political decision making can cause huge ramifications.

What are your thoughts on whether there is a difference between political and corporate leadership? Leave a comment in the article and let the conversation continue.

Dr. Mary Mugo
Strategy, Governance and Management Consultant.


2 thoughts on “Is There a Difference Between Political Leadership and Corporate Leadership? Does Success in The Corporate World Guarantee Success In The Political World?”

  1. A nice persuasive n comparative article..but I think the profit & firing aspect in corporate world seems more attractive than the accountability sins n theatrics in political world – no viable accountability on performance.

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