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Leadership, Gender and Ethics: Embodied Reason in Challenging Masculinities

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsBook

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Abstract

As a phenomenon, leadership has a long history extending at least as far back as Ancient Greece when Homer’s mythical stories about a heroic leader King Oddysseus around 1000BC and Plato’s Rebublic around 600 years later and then perhaps the gaining of political traction through the prescriptive writings of Machiavelli in the 16th century. As a field of study, but largely in the form of anecdotal deliberations, it emerged in the 19th century in the in the form of ‘Great Man’ (sic) theories that saw leadership as heroic and primarily an inherited quality. Anticipating the situational theories of a century later, the idea of ‘born to lead’ was challenged by Herbert Spencer (1860) who argued that leaders emerged from the historical social conditions in which they found themselves. While anecdotal and often autobiographical narratives of practitioners dominated the literature until the early 20th century when gradually a more ‘scientific’ psychological discourse appropriated the subject matter of leadership.

This ‘scientific’ psychological approach dominated leadership studies until quite recently although it had substantial faith in prescriptive interventions thus seeing itself as an applied science. As such, it went through numerous renewals each believing itself to represent ‘progress’ but none of which offered practitioners the golden bullet in terms of solutions to practical problems. Over recent time, a more critical approach has gained ground where there has been a challenge to the individualistic, often heroic, masculine and prescriptive approach of mainstream leadership studies (Collinson, 2014). This has partly taken the path of examining actual practices of, rather than imposing theoretical ideas, on leadership. The book extends beyond these approaches to offer a posthumanist perspective on leadership that seeks also to transcend the dominant masculine discourses and practices of leadership.