Studying Leaders and Leadership Critically

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Chapter summary

Leadership researchers have described a number of leadership styles. These include for example autocratic, heroic, charismatic, democratic and servant leadership. Can you identify people who exhibit these styles? In what contexts are such styles deemed to be effective? What about such styles might generate resistance and under what conditions? Might there be a link between the mutual attraction of particular leaders and followers that have their explanation in the subconscious, in the archetypes described by Carl Jung? If so, how can we recognise in ourselves and others the difference between the blind or the responsible following of leaders? Should the emotional intelligence deemed to be the most significant character trait of leaders be enhanced with notions of spiritual intelligence? What is the risk of seeing spiritual intelligence as a measurable trait of a potential leader in the employment context? Can a single manager in a large or small organisation lead significance change? Can an individual or group make a difference to any issue of significance in the face of seemly overwhelming pressure to subject themselves to a prevailing regime? Who are Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi and Anita Roddick? How did their personal position on the ethical issues of their day have long-wave repercussions? Many leaders claim that they do not work ‘alone’. They share the credit for their achievements with all those working ‘behind the scenes’; supporting the cause, funding activities, voting in supportive ways, and so on. As well as individuals and their recognised or unrecognised supporters, groups of people may also work to lead change. Dumpster Divers and Detroit ex-car factory employees turned inner-city gardeners are just two examples. These people did not wait for the leadership of the government or of the corporation to come to their aid when their cities became economic deserts. In fact, they led their communities to action. Who are the leaders you admire? Why?

Leaders or wreckers?

While Wikipeadia is not always considered the most reliable of sources for university students, the service has been a leader in the creation of an accessible body of diverse ideas. So long as the internet is accessible it puts a vast library at your fingertips. For surveying the vast field of leadership theory, it is a good place to start – as it is for many topics we cover in Understanding Management Critically. We encourage you to explore the notions of leadership and the responsibilities of managers more critically if the two broad values of justice and environmental responsibilities this book has been exploring are to be fostered. Below are some starting ideas.

Julian Assange: Leader or villain?

Wikileaks released the so-called Minton Report into Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste along the Ivory Coast, resulting in illness for tens of thousands. The ‘Minton report’ was a document which exposed a toxic waste dumping incident, which affected up to 108,000 people, according to a September 2009 United Nations report. The report was commissioned through Waterson & Hicks, a UK law firm possibly to claim client-attorney privilege should it leak. The company concerned, Trafigura, is a giant multi-national oil and commodity trader. The Minton report assesses an incident involving Trafigura and the Ivory Coast town of Abidjan – possibly most culpable mass contamination incident since Bhopal.

Julian Assange has been deemed responsible for Wikileaks. Is he to be considered a leader or a wrecker? Is he to be judged as a dangerous spy or as politically silenced by the accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour that soon followed his identification as the source of the leaks? Since this issue became headlines, the notion of the state as spy-on-our-lives has not strayed far from the headlines in the media. The State has shown itself to be secretive in its political use of technology and rather selective about what interests their ‘intelligence’ might serve.

The Global Compact: Leaders of delusions?

The Global Compact is an attempt to encourage and support voluntary commitment to a set of principles believed to generate radical changes needed to meet the United Nations’ aspirations to eliminate poverty, ensure justice for all, and restore the environment. A number of the companies known for their impressive reporting of their leadership in CRS and sustainability are struggling to maintain that image. One such, Nokia, has been hard pressed to defend the purity of its supply chain and was held to account by very ordinary people using very ordinary means. Who, in this case, is showing leadership? Build an enquiry into one or two of the corporations who have signed the Global Compact and so claim leadership in achieving its aspirations. Follow their actions and assess their leadership. You might like to start with the video clip: Is the leadership of the UN and of the participating signatories sound? Who are their critics? Fleming and Jones go so far as to argue that the whole Corporate Social Responsibility genre is a bit of a ruse; a deflection of attention from the intentional and unintentional exploitations of neo-colonialism. Do they have a case? Are there actions you can take to ensure claims to leadership are fairly made? Start a blog and see what others think on the matter.

Other examples to build up

People to meet, [web]places to go, actions to take

People to meet

[Web]places to go

Actions to take

  • Build your awareness of current affair and critical insight into high profile examples of leadership to discuss in class, generate research ideas, discuss in your social gatherings.
  • Begin a Critical Management Studies reading group with your peers.
  • Invite radical speakers to your campus.

Could you, would you, should you?

Challenge the leadership of your University in the education of future leaders?


Knowing oneself and responsibility for self-development are deemed important characteristics of leaders. What aspects of your management education have been devoted to self-reflection? How self-aware are you about your leadership and your followership behaviour?