Rethinking Leadership
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Rethinking Leadership

A New Look at Old Leadership Questions

Donna Ladkin

A must-read for serious leadership studies scholars, Rethinking Leadership offers a radical reconceptualisation of leadership as a contextually embedded, physically embodied phenomenon. The book arrives at original and surprising answers to perennial questions such as ‘What is leadership?’ and ‘How do leaders lead change?’, by addressing them from a philosophical, rather than psychological or sociological standpoint.
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Chapter 9: What Has it Meant to Rethink Leadership?

Donna Ladkin


To teach how to live with uncertainty, yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy can do. Bertrand Russell History of Western Philosophy (1946 [1996], p. 2 At a recent leadership development event I was running one of the participants, a former officer in the military, approached me during the coffee break. ‘It’s all very well you trying to teach us something about leadership’, he said, ‘but at the end of the day, being a leader is a matter of breeding’. Although expressed in relatively extreme terms, his is not an uncommon view and one I regularly encounter (though expressed differently!) when speaking with participants on such programmes. ‘You either have what it takes or you don’t’, is a recurring theme. Such views belie the notion that leaders are somehow unique individuals born of certain lineages or blessed with special capabilities. What assumptions are behind such a point of view? More importantly perhaps, what purpose does such a view serve? Does the analysis of leadership offered here call it into question? This final chapter addresses these questions by reconsidering the implications of rethinking leadership through the lens of Continental philosophy. Firstly, let’s revisit one of the key assumptions at the heart of the aforementioned military Officer’s pronouncement, the conflation of ‘leaders’ and ‘leadership’. WHY IS DISTINGUISHING ‘LEADERS’ FROM ‘LEADERSHIP’ SO IMPORTANT? The ‘The leadership “moment” model’ (below) which has underpinned much of the framing of this book was introduced in Chapter 2. The diagram represents...

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