The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership
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The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

  • New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Georgia L.J. Sorenson

In this compelling book, top scholars from diverse fields describe the progress they have made in developing a general theory of leadership. Led by James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning author of the classic Leadership (1978), they tell the story of this intellectual venture and the conclusions and questions that arose from it.
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Chapter 4: Power

Michael Harvey

Extract

4. Power Michael Harvey We have power in ourselves to do it, but it is a power that we have no power to do. Third Citizen, Coriolanus (2.3.4–5)1 Coriolanus, a study of early 17th-century English political anxieties set in an­ cient Rome, is Shakespeare’s most searching meditation on power and leadership. It’s a bitter and ambiguous play, filled with largely unlikeable char­ acters jostling for power – one critic, Eric Bentley, called Coriolanus ‘the struggle of wrong and wrong’ (1954, 186). Caius Marcius Coriolanus, the im­ perious warrior who as a youth helped drive out the last king of Rome and bears the scars of a lifetime of warfare and command, decides to seek the consulship. The move from military to civil power requires him to learn a new kind of leadership and cultivate a truly reciprocal relationship with the commoners he has always disdained, for they have a crucial (though limited) voice in the elec­ tion of a consul. Shakespeare begins the play with images of conflict and power as physical force: mutinous citizens with rude weapons, Menenius’ fable of the belly with its literal imagining of the body politic (‘the arm our soldier’ [1.1.105]), war between Rome and the neighboring Volscians, soldiers armed with swords, and standing above all, the haughty, blood-drenched, heroic Cori­ olanus (the word ‘hero,’ a Coriolanus scholar reminds us, derives from the Greek word for ‘warrior’ [Maus 1997, 2785]). In the play, it is not the aristocratic Coriolanus but an anonymous commoner...

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