Thinking Differently about Leadership

Thinking Differently about Leadership

A Critical History of Leadership Studies

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Suze Wilson

This book is a critical historical analysis of leadership thought in the Western tradition, examining Classical Greek, medieval and modern social scientific theories of leadership, focussing on the assumptions and effects which arise from these ways of understanding leadership and offering a new basis for leadership theory-building.

Chapter 2: Questioning leadership knowledge

Suze Wilson

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


My overarching purpose in this chapter is to explain why we ought to wonder about the triumphant stance, exemplified in the quote from Avolio et al. above, which is being taken by mainstream leadership scholars today in respect of leadership and our knowledge of it. I begin, however, by providing an overview of the Western leadership literature so as to orient you to the overall scope and nature of the different approaches to generating leadership knowledge in the Western tradition. Following this, I turn to the social science literature, for which I also provide an orienting overview, before then critically reviewing the state and focus of mainstream contemporary leadership studies. I then adopt a problematizing approach to the assumptions informing this mainstream thought, thereby further building the case for the approach taken in this study. After that, I examine alternative perspectives on leadership and prior analyses of the history of leadership thought, these being the two key literatures from which this study draws and to which it makes a contribution. Finally, I identify how the key findings which arise from this questioning of the literature link directly to the research questions which inform this book. Leadership has been studied and analyzed in the West for literally thousands of years. Many of the West’s most influential thinkers, scholars such as Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Erasmus, Luther, Hobbes and Locke, have turned their minds to the question of who should lead and on what basis – and we will look at some of these contributions in this book.

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