Who's Afrai



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Who's Afraid of Leadership?
Jacqueline Boaks

The University of Western Australia
Leadership has become one of the most used and little defined buzzwords of our time. This article explores what one might think of as the sceptical position against accounts of leadership through the lens of fear and loathing’. It explores what we are and should be concerned about regarding notions of leadership in contemporary culture and discourse. This article begins with an account of why we should be interested in the concept of leadership and the roles it plays in our culture. It then examines what we might call the case against leadership, that is, the range of concerns and fears we have about what is presented as leadership as well as the legitimate fears that leadership theory can mask. These are some of the difficulties any successful theory of leadership must avoid. The article then outlines a proposed solution that captures essential aspects of what we want from the concept of leadership (and from leaders). Finally, it outlines and addresses a potential problem that this theory of leadership faces.
Leadership’ has become one of the most used and little defined buzzwords of our time. We often call for politicians or others to show leadership. Business, education, sports-there is not any area or profession that does not discuss issues pertaining to leadership eventually. Discussions of leadership raise numerous important issues and reveal a variety of questionable commitments and assumptions. These are often expressed when we ask everyday questions such as: What is leadership? Is leadership a skill some people have or is it a trait of some persons? Are leaders born or made-and if the latter is true, can we teach people to be leaders? Must leaders be good? Was Hitler a good leader? What do we mean by 'good leaders'-effective? Morally good? Or both? Can a good leader fail? (Would Churchill be regarded as a good leader if the allies lost WWII?). Two key questions raised and often begged in the leadership literature are, firstly, whether there is a univocal concept that answers to the term leadership and, secondly, what is the relation, if any, between leadership and ethics. This article explores what one we might think of as the sceptical position against accounts of leadership through the lens of ‘fear and loathing and what we are and should be concerned about regarding notions of leadership in contemporary culture and discourse.

The article begins with an account of why we should be interested in the concept of leadership and the roles it plays in our culture. I then examine what we might call the case against leadership, that is, the range of concerns and fears we have about what is presented as ‘leadership, as well as the legitimate fears that leadership theory can mask, which are some of the difficulties any successful theory of leadership must avoid. I then outline my own proposed solution to the concept of leadership, which captures essential aspects of what we want from the concept of leadership and from leaders. Finally, I outline a potential problem that my theory of leadership faces, addressed separately because it is different in an important way from the other problems. Namely, it may be that saving leadership from the first list of fears and problems itself raises this last problem for leadership.


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