Policy and Practice for Developmental Leadership

In Tribute to Adrian Leftwich

1940 - 2013

It is with profound sadness that the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) team advises you of the recent death of Adrian Leftwich, our inspirational Director of Research and the heart and soul of DLP and our politics-leadership-development work. Most importantly, at this difficult time the DLP team’s thoughts and support are with Adrian’s two wonderful children, Maddy and Ben.

As a highly regarded political scientist, and through DLP and its predecessors, Adrian has influenced development thinking internationally. His work through DLP contributed significantly to both UK and Australian development thinking, policies and programs, and his impact can also been seen elsewhere, for example with stakeholders such as the international Development Assistance Committee (DAC). We’re confident that Adrian achieved his ambition to challenge and influence international aid orthodoxy: across the board, international aid agencies now recognise and better understand the centrality and complexity of politics in development, the political dynamics of economic growth, and role of local power and leaderships in legitimate institutional change. Adrian’s work contributed to these achievements in no small measure. Few individuals can lay claim to such a contribution and it is a sign of Adrian’s intellect and global influence that we can state it so confidently here.  

View more messages of tribute here.

Over the past eight years Adrian directed his immense intellect, passion, and integrity towards better understanding the politics and leadership of development.  On many occasions Adrian said that the politics, leadership and development work was the most enriching of his career.  In October 2012, Adrian wrote “I do want to say that working on this DLP stuff for the past 5 years or more has been the best and most fascinating experience of my life. And I will always be grateful beyond words to you, especially, and AusAID for giving me the opportunity to do so. Thank you.  I have learned so much and seen so much that it will take a life-time to digest and deploy”.

Adrian was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2012 and, despite undergoing intense treatment, his health continued to deteriorate.  Even through this most gruelling period Adrian continued to assist DLP researchers, liaise with DLP collaborators, and draft papers. He died on 2 April, after a short and immensely courageous battle.  In late November, he declared that “if DLP were brought to an end it would be a crime against humanity. We have created a space and a platform that any new director of research, or director, or whatever she or he may be called, could use to keep the flag of our ideas flying. It is the time to push on, not fall back.

For Adrian, an inherent idealist, his drive and passion and his target was clear: to challenge international aid orthodoxy.  In his own words, to “bring politics back in” and to recognise that development was fundamentally a political process. In that spirit, he took the politics-leadership message to intellectual stages across the globe: from London, to Oxford and Glasgow; from Washington to Los Angeles and Grenada; Paris, Geneva, Berlin and Frankfurt; Jordan, Beirut; Harare; Manila, Jakarta; Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Suva and Port Moresby; and, for Adrian most importantly, to Cape Town and Pretoria. Adrian's early childhood in South Africa was idyllic, but his student activist days were controversial and well documented, most notably by Adrian himself in his 2002 Granta piece. 

Over recent days as devastated DLP friends and colleagues have tried to come to terms with Adrian’s sudden passing, they have reflected on his many, many strengths and attributes.  Four stand out: 

  • Firstly, Adrian’s deep rooted humility and integrity. In the time I knew Adrian he seemed to value integrity above all else – his own and that of others.  He was immutable on DLP’s integrity and for that he has my highest respect.  He was dogged in insisting that all DLP researchers gave appropriate and due recognition to their sources, and to ensuring the rigour and quality of their work. When I began my masters’ study he was both generous and insistent when he provided his ‘little red book’ on essay writing and proper referencing.
  • Secondly, his extraordinary and genuine interest in and support for others.  Adrian was above all a humanist, wanting to know and understand the people he met and worked with - important leaders and charismatic taxi-drivers alike. Adrian wanted to understand the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ weft and weave of the person, and in doing so invariably left an enduring impression on people.  As a mentor Adrian was deeply valued and respected by DLP researchers and the whole team.  He educated and enthused us, had the unique ability to shine a search-light and illuminate complex issues, but also the skill to encourage and bring out the ideas and thoughts of others. There were so many times where I witnessed Adrian’s endless generosity in intellect and time, but what stands out is that, on the day he was diagnosed with cancer, he somehow took time to provide detailed feedback on the draft manuscript of an AusAID colleague.  In a word, selfless.  To a person DLP friends and former colleagues have said that it was an honour and privilege to have worked with Adrian and that they truly valued his shared wisdom.
  • Thirdly, his immense intellect, underpinned by deep enquiry, passion and intensity. An intellect driven by a forensic desire to understand in detail, and importantly, by understanding, to make a real difference to peoples’ lives. Adrian didn’t do ambiguity.  Nor delegation. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, his profound love for and commitment to his children, Maddy and Ben. During visits to York and through conversations it was clear that Adrian was a devoted father, deeply proud of both Maddy and Ben’s achievements, and very protective of their well-being. He gave priority to being at home and to guiding Maddy and Ben towards adulthood. He was proud as punch of Ben’s emergent successful music exploits - never missing an opportunity to promote his songs - and equally of Maddy’s bold missions to India and Africa, and her university exploits. Like others who visited the Leftwich abode, my trips to York meant long walks along the Ouse and Kings Manor discussing politics, and walking his faithful golden retriever Marley.

So how did Adrian come to leave university life at York to lead an Australian-led research programme? Adrian and I first met in the DFID atrium coffee shop in London in late 2005.  I had just ‘parachuted’ into the highly regarded Department of International Development (DfID) from the chaos of Papua New Guinea and was having difficulties finding my feet.  A DFID colleague, hearing me bang on about the importance of leadership in fragile states, encouraged me to meet Adrian who was working on DFID’s next generation of political economy analysis. Adrian, dressed in his iconic corduroy jacket, beige corduroy trousers, and carrying a battered grey satchel, was immediately engaging and genuinely interested in what I had to say.  Thus begun an intense, passionate journey to better understand the politics and leadership of development – and a wonderful and enriching friendship.

In what I came to realise as his central tenet, Adrian swung his full intellectual force, passion and integrity behind the issues and the work. As for many others, it has been an absolute privilege and rich personal learning journey to work and have a friendship with Adrian.  And, as with so many others, Adrian treated me with utmost respect and patience.

Over the ensuing years, Adrian, through carefully constructed research and papers and by providing careful mentoring and guidance for DLP researchers, patiently and systematically began establishing the intellectual scaffolding around our complex and contested concepts: leadership, politics, institutions, elites, coalitions, collective action…

We first toyed with the World Bank’s Global Integrity Alliance leadership approach, established an initial international research program ‘Leaders, Elites & Coalitions Research Program’ (LECRP), evolved our thinking further under the ‘Leadership Program: Developmental Leaders, Elites & Coalitions’ (LPDLEC), and started to punch through – and, given the program’s impact, to punch above our weight – with the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP). 

Adrian’s passing is a profound and devastating loss for DLP, and, given his wish to keep a tight control of information concerning his deteriorating health, it is most likely that his passing has come as a deep shock to his many friends, former work colleagues and students. 

I met Adrian when he was 65 and looked barely 50.  For Adrian, intellect and body were inexorably intertwined and he invested in both equally. His prolific work output was underpinned by this investment and to see him play squash, swim and work out in the gym was to see a person who was going to live to 100.  

But he didn’t, and we at DLP will miss him terribly. 

Adrian, you implored that DLP continue – and it will. DLP will continue as a legacy to your immense intellect and achievements. Through DLP, your passion and light on politics, leadership and development will continue to burn.  

It was truly an honour that you chose to focus your awesome mind and inspiration on the work of DLP. 

You were a deeply charming, inspiring and rare soul, who touched a lot of people including all of us. 

We have been inundated with messages of loss and profound sadness at the news of the death of our friend, but most strongly we’ve heard messages of tribute to his life, his generosity, his work and his achievements. 

As a tribute to Adrian’s immense intellect, his generosity of spirit and his desire to learn and to help others to learn with him, DLP will be organising a number of legacies, including: a conference on the Politics of Development; a scholarship fund in the name of Adrian Leftwich; and a publication of collected writing on the politics and leadership of development. 

Goodbye and rest in peace, Adrian, dear friend.

Steve Hogg

On behalf of DLP