Leadership and the Art of the Invisible

Tomkins, Leah (2019). Leadership and the Art of the Invisible. In: Abreu Pederzini, Gerardo ed. Considering Leadership Anew: A Handbook on Alternative Leadership Theory. Cambridge Scholars.


In this chapter, I argue that leaders have become relatively invisible, especially with the apparent popularity of models of distributed, shared and inclusive leadership (and related discourses of collaborative agency and empowerment), which encourage us to look to ‘leadership’ not ‘leaders’ for the dynamics of organisation (Crevani et al., 2010; Raelin, 2016). The individual leader is currently an unfashionable, uncomfortable presence in critical academic discourse, easily vulnerable to accusations of heroism, individualism and/or psychologism. I suggest that this makes the leader’s invisible efforts and experiences more, not less, significant. Invisible leaders exercise skill, patience and tolerance, especially in the face of the risk that their contribution will not be recognised or understood. To my mind, this combination of technique, restraint, understanding and resilience allows us to think of invisibility as an ‘art’. To understand leaders’ art-work in practice, I draw both on my own experiences of corporate leadership and on a particular philosophy of experience, hermeneutics. Through the famous motif of the hermeneutic circle, I reflect on the relationship between the leadership we apparently see and the less visible work of those who make it happen.

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