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 7: Change and continuity in the truth about leadership

Suze Wilson

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


The preceding four chapters have focused on examining what Western scholars have claimed to be the truth about leadership in different epistemes, including our own. In this chapter, attention turns to examine what changes and continuities are notable when comparing these discourses. To do this, the analysis now moves back and forth across the whole gamut of leadership discourses previously examined. Changes in thought which are of particular interest here are those that are unexpected, which run counter to the normal expectation and assumption that what we have today is superior to that of the past. Similarly, the continuities in thought of particular interest here are also those which run counter to the normal expectation that the present is significantly different from the past. Identifying these possibly unexpected changes and continuities extends the scope of my earlier analysis by identifying connections between the present and the past in leadership discourse, consistent with Foucault’s concept of the ‘history of the present’. The examination undertaken here offers insight into the historical influences embedded within current understandings. It also enables consideration of past truths no longer operant for their potential utility in respect of current concerns and values. Cumulatively, surfacing these matters could help provide us with a potential ‘rallying point for the counterattack’ to challenge current norms and understandings. This focus on identifying both change and continuity in leadership thought calls into doubt conventional assumptions about the accumulation of knowledge.

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