On Tuesday, May 10, Allan Stam gave a talk titled "Why Leaders Fight" as part of the Hoover Library & Archives History & Policy Lecture Series. Stam, a professor and dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, focuses on the dynamics of armed conflict between and within states, with an emphasis on war durations and outcomes as well as mediation and alliance politics. A former communications specialist in the US Army Special Forces, Stam holds a US government top secret clearance and has worked on several consulting projects for the Department of Defense and the US Navy’s Joint Warfare Analysis Center. He is the recipient of the 2004 Karl Deutsch Award, given annually by the International Studies Association to the scholar under age forty who has made the year’s greatest contribution to the study of international politics.
Stam's latest book, Why Leaders Fight, coauthored with Michael Horowitz and Cali Mortensen Ellis, examines 2,400 world leaders and their decisions to engage in armed conflicts. During his talk, Stam defined leadership as "the art of getting things done" (though admitting that his definition is often questioned by academics) and explained that his interest in leadership began with his recognition that most of his academic colleagues "don't believe in leaders." Stam explained his view that leadership is an underrated component in current academic constructions of history and policy matters: economists emphasize markets, political scientists, institutions and governments, and sociologists, class, race, and ideologies. Few academic disciplines, Stam contended, adequately account for the power of good—and bad—leadership in nations’ rise and fall. Yet outside the academy—in business, sports, and the military, for example—leadership is a key component to success. Stam encouraged his audience to reevaluate, especially in light of the election season, the qualities that make a leader persuasive and effective, emphasizing a leader’s relationship to risk and the nation’s quality of life.