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 11: Does leadership create stupidity?

Mats Alvesson and André Spicer


Leadership is typically associated with strong cognitive capacities. We assume that leaders are smart and according to conventional theories, ‘modern business leaders are knowledge workers of the highest order’ (McKenna et al. 2009, p. 183). This means leaders have high IQs and have the ability to work with complex bodies or knowledge. It also means that leaders should have the practical wisdom, which allows them to negotiate particular complex situations (Grint 2007). Leaders are thought to possess superior wisdom insofar as they are able to set a vision for their followers, using their superior intelligence to convince followers and engage in other intellectually demanding tasks. They are also wise enough to seek to harness the wisdom of their followers. To raise the capacity of followers is a key task for leaders. They do this by being humble, listening to their subordinates and even encouraging employees to find their inner smartness to lead themselves. In short, ‘Wise leaders lead others to lead themselves’ (Manz 1998, p. 99). They do this through the use of reason and superior observation, by allowing for non-rational aspects, valuing humane outcomes, being practically oriented and valuing aesthetic dimensions (McKenna et al. 2009). While we think intelligence and wisdom are certainly desirable, it is not necessarily a dominant capacity in the world of leadership. Leaders sometimes engage in extremely irrational and stupid courses of action – and convince their followers to do the same (Kets de Vries 1980; Tourish and Pinnington 2002; Tourish and Vatcha 2005).

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