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Tuomas Kuronen and Aki-Mauri Huhtinen

In this essay, we associate leadership with desire as understood by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. We start from Jacques Derrida's notion of the sovereign resembling beasts and criminals, contrary to common, elevated accounts of leaders. In the course of the essay, we show that desire is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for enduring charismatic leadership to occur. In other words, to become and remain a leader, the leader has to evince desire not only towards leading and having followers, but also towards desire itself. This second-order desire or ‘desirefulness’ makes leadership a business of gathering and displaying excess. We exemplify our theoretical treatment with two micro-biographies of contemporary charismatic leaders, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and Vladimir Putin of Russia. We do this in order to highlight the aspect of leadership that is charismatic, effective and unethical, something that is most often omitted from analyses of leadership. Our findings are twofold: first, we identify a triple hermeneutic of leadership between leader and followers, and second, we understand leadership as being profoundly meta-ethical, defining the boundaries of the social and the ethical.