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 10: Leadership studies: out of business

Sverre Spoelstra

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


Popular management books often stress that leadership is not a function: Leaders are leaders because they have followers, not because of their formal position in an organization. This is also one of the central ideas in Robin Sharma’s (2010) recent business bestseller The Leader Who Had No Title. In the book, Blake Davis, the protagonist of the story, meets a mysterious leader whose business card simply identifies him as ‘human being’. The mysterious man happens to know all the secrets of leadership, which he shares with Blake. At the end of the story Blake himself has also become a leader and he gets a Porsche in reward. That leadership is not to be equated with a formal function in an organizational hierarchy is not surprising, but it is perhaps less obvious to say that leadership may not be understood as existing for functional purposes. This, however, is precisely how leadership is generally understood within popular books on the subject. Leaders are not supposed to think functionally, for instance, in terms of inputs and outputs. A calculating leader is not considered to be a ‘real’ leader. Sharma’s book also makes this point, and it summarizes the nonfunctional nature of leadership as follows: Leadership has nothing to do with what you get [return on investment] or where you sit [formal position]. Leadership’s a lot more about how brilliantly you work and how masterfully you behave [leadership as a good in itself]. (2010, p. 18) Of course, this is not where the story ends

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