Critical Perspectives on Leadership

Critical Perspectives on Leadership

Emotion, Toxicity, and Dysfunction

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by Jeanette Lemmergaard and Sara Louise Muhr

Situated in the field of critical leadership studies, the chapters of this book set out to challenge the general assumption that emotionality is the antithesis of rationality. The authors expand upon the existing discussions of leadership emotions and reveal how toxicity and dysfunctionality are not merely simple, negatively coercive, or repressive phenomena, but can also have productive and enabling connotations. The book includes comprehensive overviews of traditional leadership thinking and in addition provides readers with critical reflections on concepts such as ignorance, authenticity, functional stupidity and vanity in leadership.

Chapter 2: Introduction to Part II

Jeanette Lemmergaard and Sara Louise Muhr

Subjects: business and management, organisation studies, politics and public policy, leadership


This part consists of five empirically based chapters critically exploring positive as well as negative encounters with leadership principles and behaviours as they occur in a variety of settings. The chapters exhibit what characterizes leaders as people: their personalities and their strengths and foibles in a decisive, evaluative and forceful manner. In Chapter 3, Michael Walton discusses how leaders are vulnerable to the influence of their own emotions and how emotional power-plays can backfire and result in leader toxicity and dysfunction. Walton walks the readers through the emotional experiences of leaders from two different organizations demonstrating that leadership is not ‘emotional neutral’. One of the leaders in Walton’s case study exhibits increasingly arrogant and counter-productive behaviour and is eventually removed from office pending criminal charges. The other believes he is entitled to a seat on the Board and when denied this possibility becomes increasingly self- serving and insensitive to others. Both cases are about the seduction of power and privilege in the workplace and about how emotive motivations can, seemingly, blind leaders to their own dysfunctional behaviour and to the corrosive impact such behaviour exerts within the organization as a whole. Walton also illustrates how leadership is an intensely personal and idiosyncratic matter and not something that can be examined as a static, universally defined and discrete entity. One leader’s sense of perceived injustice and the other leader’s unconstrained authoritative behaviour emerged as Achilles’ heels to their ambitions and ultimately derailed their careers and damaged their organizations.

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