Fact and Fantasy about Leadership

Fact and Fantasy about Leadership

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Micha Popper

This inspiring book posits that followers are the key to understanding the leadership phenomenon. It analyses leader–follower dynamics in social and organizational settings and in politics which will strongly appeal to students of social psychology, sociology, management and political sciences. The book provides examples and in-depth analyses of ‘the psychology of followership in everyday life’ and will therefore prove invaluable for managers. A special emphasis is given to leader–follower dynamics at various levels of organizational life.

Chapter 3: Fictionalization of Leadership

Micha Popper

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, organisational behaviour, politics and public policy, leadership


Our senses don’t deceive us: our judgment does. (Goethe) ONCE A LEADER, ALWAYS A LEADER? It is surprising to what extent people in the Western world who are diverse in age, education, gender and socioeconomic status cite the same names when they are asked to give examples of leadership. Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, Charles de Gaulle, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mustafa Ataturk, David Ben-Gurion, Thomas Jefferson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and John Kennedy are always mentioned. Many people think that great leaders belong only to the past; they long for them and refer to them as a standard by which to compare the leaders of today and explain why they are not real leaders like those who existed in the past. This list of names1 arouses some questions to which I alluded in relation to the psychological explanations presented in the previous chapter. Was Churchill a projection screen – a source of unwitting attraction of the followers to the leader – whose psychological validity was relevant only during wartime? Why were leaders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who kept slaves, considered symbols of leaders with high moral principles? Were they carved out of the ‘right’ narrative materials that made it possible to ignore these facts? In general why do some people and not others constitute the materials for the ‘right story’, which becomes a narrative of leadership that lives beyond their time? And what are these narrative materials? How is it that a certain person (e.g...

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