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Leadership in Politics and Diplomacy: Practitioners' Perspectives


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

At least three 100-level courses as well as one of the following courses:

  • Power in World Politics,

  • Foundational Texts in World Politics, or

  • Diplomacy of International Conflict


This course gives students insights into the practice of world politics. A number of successful and seasoned practitioners – including diplomats, UN officials and others – will come to LUC to share their first-hand experiences and to provide career advice.

The core aim of the course is two-fold. First, it introduces you to how specific problems in world politics are tackled on the ground. For example, how are inter-state conflicts mediated in practice? What role do individual personalities – and the ‘chemistry’ between them – play? What actually happens in face-to-face negotiations? Why are these encounters so essential to the practice of world politics that they cannot simply be replaced with, say, a Zoom meeting? What happens when negotiations become stalemated or risk breaking down altogether? The course will show you how accomplished professionals work, how they prepare and strategize, how they build personal relationships with partners as well as adversaries, and how they respond to the many pressures and uncertainties that are the stuff of professional life.

Second, the course will help you understand the relationship between theory and practice. In everyday parlance, ideas and actions are commonly juxtaposed. We often hear people talk about a gap between practice and theory, between the ‘Ivory Tower’ (or ‘Bubble’) and ‘the Real World’ etc. But this juxtaposition is profoundly unhelpful for understanding, navigating, and changing the world around us. Concrete actions are always intertwined with abstract ideas in important ways. For instance, practitioners take decisions based on their general understanding of ‘how the world works’, a set of more-or-less theoretical ideas. Importantly, many of these ideas predate their professional careers. In the words of one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century, Henry Kissinger: ‘It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. […] The convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect […].’ In other words, ideas are unavoidable guides that enable practitioners to take decisions even though time is lacking, information is incomplete, and multiple outcomes are possible while none are certain. In a nutshell, the course will provide you with a realistic understanding of the interrelationship between practice and theory, ideas and actions.

Course Objectives


  • Understand the interrelationship between practice and theory

  • Understand the roles that diplomacy and mediation play in international conflicts

  • Understand the practical and personal dimension of world politics, including the importance of negotiation style, diplomatic etiquette, and of inter-personal relationships

  • Understand career paths in world politics and the experiences and skills required to succeed


  • Ability to relate theory to practice and to identify the real-world effects of abstract ideas

  • Ability to analyze the practical dimension of international conflicts and to evaluate the role that individuals play in conflict mediation

  • Ability to craft clear and concise essays and minutes


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars, using a mix of talks by practitioners, lectures by the two instructors, and group discussions. Students are expected to actively and consistently participate in discussions.

Assessment Method

Participation (15%)
Minutes (15%)
Mid-term essay (35%)
Final essay (35%)

Reading list

This is a course with a significant reading load, which provides students with the opportunity to engage directly with seminal texts on the theory and practice of world politics. A specific reading list will be made available before the first session of the course. Advance reading is required; for more information, see ‘Remarks’ below.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Aernout van Lynden:


Before the start of the seminar, students are required to read Max Weber’s seminal lecture ‘Politics as Vocation’ (1919), in Weber, M., Dreijmanis, J. & Wells, G. C. (2008): Max Weber’s Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations. New York: Algora Pub. (Available online via the LU Library: