The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Georgia L.J. Sorenson

In this compelling book, top scholars from diverse fields describe the progress they have made in developing a general theory of leadership. Led by James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning author of the classic Leadership (1978), they tell the story of this intellectual venture and the conclusions and questions that arose from it.

Chapter 6: A Framework for a General Theory of Leadership Ethics

Terry L. Price and Douglas A. Hicks

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


Terry L. Price and Douglas A. Hicks INTRODUCTION The phenomenon of leadership presents a problem for moral philosophers and social critics alike. Leadership is so central a response to the human condition that it is difficult to imagine what we might do without it.1 Yet this relationship is distinctive in its tendencies toward hierarchy and inequality.2 First, role dif­ ferentiation between leaders and followers is something of a descriptive truth about leadership. There are obvious disparities between the capacities and be­ haviors of leaders, on the one hand, and the capacities and behaviors of followers, on the other. For example, leaders generally exert greater influence than followers on the group, usually by means of the greater power and privi­ leges derived from their positions of leadership. Second, associated with leadership are standard assumptions about the permissibility of differential treatment between groups. Leadership often demands giving special attention to the group of which one is a leader or – for that matter – a follower, even when so doing comes at the expense of outsiders. The problem, then, is to make moral sense of a ubiquitous human relationship that cuts against some of our best in­ tuitions and commitments, in particular, about the ethical importance of equality. This problem derives from the more general proposition that unequal treatment requires justification. Acceptance of this proposition is at least partially constitu­ tive of what it is to be a reasonable participant in an argument. For example, if an individual holds that two claims are similar...

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