Emotion, Toxicity, and Dysfunction
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Jeanette Lemmergaard and Sara Louise Muhr
Chapter 12: Vain and vainglorious leaders?
Is leadership a vanity? Or, more to the point, is there a connection between leadership and vanity, and if so, what is this connection? Leaders are of course supposed to be above such petty things – particularly if we subscribe to the notion that the term leadership refers to the manner in which special individuals can influence and enlist others into achieving something grander than what is possible for an individual. If leadership is a process of social influence where those who succeed will be charismatic, wise and emotionally intelligent (see, for example, Goleman et al. 2002), then vanity would seem to be of no use to understanding it, except as an example of barriers to leadership and what not to do. Still, most of us have come across people in a leadership position who are nothing if not vain and vainglorious – although leadership scholars tend to quickly dismiss these as ‘mere managers’ and not really examples of leadership at all (see Bass and Bass 2008). On the other hand, vanity is connected to striving for excellence and to pride, both aspects of business life that can be exceptionally important for leadership. While only very few would see constant primping and attention to one’s looks (for instance, vanity towards one’s own image) as a desirable treat in a leader, just as many would probably agree that a leader who does not particularly care about the end-result of a project (for instance, pride in one’s accomplishments) is not really a leader.
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