Paradox and Power in Caring Leadership
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Paradox and Power in Caring Leadership

Critical and Philosophical Reflections

Edited by Leah Tomkins

Why does it matter that our leaders care about us? What might we reasonably expect from a caring leader, and what price are we prepared to pay for it? Is caring leadership something ‘soft’, or can it be linked to strategy and delivery? International scholars from the fields of ancient and modern philosophy, psychology, organization studies and leadership development offer a strikingly original debate on what it means for leaders to care.
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Chapter 6: The shepherd king and his flock: paradoxes of leadership and care in classical Greek philosophy

Carol Atack


This chapter draws on Plato and Xenophon to explore the analogy of the shepherd king and his flock – a relationship depicted explicitly as one of caring, but potentially exploitative, leadership. The shepherd king provided a useful device for the ancient Greeks in considering the ethical obligations of leaders in both political and military contexts, and paradoxes arising from the conflict between the advantages of clear leadership and the loss of individual agency and autonomy in submitting to such rule. This chapter considers how and why there might be a question of care in the leader/follower relationship, and on what basis such power relations might be justified. While it originated in a context of rulers with special access to the divine, the possession of skill and intelligence emerged as prime justification for granting a ruler the status of shepherd king, enabling leaders to extricate the led from difficult military and political situations.

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