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Tribal Leadership - Multi-Leadership Styles for a Multi-cultural World

Updated on September 20, 2012

One size Democracy May Not Fit All

Democracy is often touted as the best political system for all situations. It is a one size fits all solution to promote the rights of the people. However, social scientists and practitioners recently found that traditional tribal leadership styles are not necessarily flawed and may best fit the situation of a given people group.

Tribes can be classified broadly to include every ethnic group and polity from aborigine in jungle areas to so-called advanced societies such as European, Asian, and American. The type of leadership that works best in the USA and Sweden may not translate well to the outskirts of Kalimonton or Papua New Guinea in Indonesia.

Western Leadership Styles Fail in Papua New Guinea

Ambang, 2007, studied the role tribal leadership in the context of governance systems of Papua New Guinea. Since gaining independence, Papua New Guinea a former European colony adopted West leadership models and governance systems to run the affairs at all levels of the nation. However, Ambang observed and postulated that Western leadership systems at the local levels of governance undermined the authority and influence of tribal leaders because they are fundamentally different in approach. Moreover, he argued that the Western approach to leadership was a hindrance to the development process to improve on social and economic conditions.

Tribal Leadership Structures That Make Sense

In light of this problem, Ambang argued for the need to identify a leadership structure model that would be more appropriate for governance of local levels of Papua New Guinea society. In prefacing his argument for a paradigm shift in leadership structure, Ambang seemed to suggest the need for what Andrea Ramirez found and stated in her post i.e. to study “the various impacts of cultural dimensions on decision making, followership, and leader behavior”i (personal communication, 2011). From his research, Ambang posited that not including tribal leadership in contemporary government systems at the district level of Papua New Guinea could impact development and traditional leadership roles in the following ways:

•Ineffectiveness of local level government in the development process

•Ethnic differences and unequal distribution of goods and services

•Ethnic differences causing leadership instability

•Development of a hand-out mentality; not self reliance

•Compensation demands that hindered development

•Ineffective communication

•Insufficient community participation in development

•Decline in valuing traditional leadership

•Decline in a clan leader’s authority and influence.

Ambang, T. (2007). Re-Defining the Role of Tribal Leadership in the Contemporary Governance of Papua New Guinea. Contemporary PNG Studies,7, 87-99. Retrieved May 24, 2011 from


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    • honeybee2u profile image

      honeybee2u 5 years ago from PNG

      Well said Ecoggins. Yes, we are experiencing the crumbling of that Western-style adopted democracy here in PNG since August 2011. Please correct your last sentence in the second paragraph - Papua New Guinea is not in Indonesia. Otherwise, great article. Looking forward to reading more of your hubs.