Critical Perspectives on Leadership
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Critical Perspectives on Leadership

Emotion, Toxicity, and Dysfunction

Edited by Jeanette Lemmergaard and Sara Louise Muhr

Situated in the field of critical leadership studies, the chapters of this book set out to challenge the general assumption that emotionality is the antithesis of rationality. The authors expand upon the existing discussions of leadership emotions and reveal how toxicity and dysfunctionality are not merely simple, negatively coercive, or repressive phenomena, but can also have productive and enabling connotations. The book includes comprehensive overviews of traditional leadership thinking and in addition provides readers with critical reflections on concepts such as ignorance, authenticity, functional stupidity and vanity in leadership.
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Chapter 3: The Rottweiler and the flying penguin: ‘peacock power’ in the workplace

Emotion, Toxicity, and Dysfunction

Michael Walton


It is interesting to note, in spite of the publicity generated by the dysfunctional and criminal behaviour of high profile leaders in recent years (Byron 2004; Gray et al. 2005; Hamilton and Micklethwait 2006; McLean and Elkind 2004; Mitchell 2001; Newton 2006) how much of the leadership literature has focused on the constructive and positive aspects of ‘leadership’. This is not too surprising perhaps as an emphasis on leadership as grandiose, beautiful, transformational, charismatic and heroic may reflect a basic human desire to retreat from engaging with the less positive and appealing – yet complementary – toxic, duplicitous, destructive, criminal and dysfunctional dimensions of leadership. While there have been exceptions (Conger 1990; Goldman 2009a; Kets de Vries 2006; Lindgren et al. 2011; Padilla et al. 2007; Walton 2007; 2008a; Whicker 1996; Yukl 1998) the prevalence of counter-productive leader- ship behaviour makes a mockery of this seeming oversight by many of those concerned with examining leadership and management. The workplace triggers behaviour, which can result in personally and organizationally damaging dysfunctional, disruptive and destructive behaviour from leaders (Dotlich and Cairo 2003; Furnham 2010; Lubit 2004a; McCall and Lombardo 1983; McCall 1998; Schell 1999). Yet from much of the leadership literature it can appear as if emotions at work do not exist. As Goldman (2009a) comments ‘… the absence or denial of emotions in the workplace is reason for concern’ (p. 13). Business organizations are hot-houses of emotionally charged labour; they are cauldrons of activity capable of generating intense feelings, dynamic interactions and highly charged emotional exchanges

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