‘No More Heroes’: Critical Perspectives on Leadership Romanticism

Collinson, David; Smolović Jones, Owain and Grint, Keith (2018). ‘No More Heroes’: Critical Perspectives on Leadership Romanticism. Organization Studies, 39(11) pp. 1625–1647.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840617727784

Abstract

This paper revisits Meindl et al’s (1985) ‘romance of leadership’ thesis and extends these ideas in a number of inter-related ways. First, it argues that the thesis has sometimes been neglected and/or misinterpreted in subsequent studies. Second, the paper suggests that romanticism is a much broader and more historically rich term with wider implications for leadership studies than originally proposed. Arguing that romanticism stretches beyond leader attribution, we connect leadership theory to a more enduring and naturalistic tradition of romantic thought that has survived and evolved since the mid-18th century. Third, the paper demonstrates the contemporary relevance of the romanticism critique. It reveals how the study of leadership continues to be characterized by romanticizing tendencies in many of its most influential theories, illustrating this argument with reference to spiritual and authentic leadership theories, which only recognize positive engagement with leaders. Equally, the paper suggests that romanticism can shape conceptions not only of leaders, but also of followers, their agency and their (potential for) resistance. We conclude by discussing future possible research directions for the romanticism critique that extend well beyond its original focus on leader attribution to inform a broader critical approach to leadership studies.

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