Caring Leadership as Nietzschean Slave Morality

Tomkins, Leah (2021). Caring Leadership as Nietzschean Slave Morality. Leadership, 17(3) pp. 278–295.



In this paper I respond to calls for more critical reflection on the power dynamics of caring leadership. I consider how a combination of care and impotence might unfold as Nietzsche’s ‘slave morality’, crystallised in the phenomenon of ressentiment. At the heart of slave morality is an inversion of values in which everything represented by the Other is denigrated so that the slave can find meaning and solace in his own place in the world. The Nietzschean inversion transforms impotence, inferiority and submission into virtue, identity and accomplishment. In contrast to recent elaborations of ressentiment in followers, I argue that slave morality is something to which leaders, especially caring leaders, are also vulnerable. When caring leadership awakens or exposes the slave-within, we are unable to take charge of - or responsibility for - ourselves, because we have ceded control of the self to forces beyond the self. This is the risk of ‘care ethics’ as a systemic inversion of values which constructs an ideology out of letting others define who and what we are. It creates a breeding ground for ressentiment, feeding off unspoken and unspeakable grievances about the injustices of one’s lot, especially those involving a clash between the rhetoric of empowerment and the experience of impotence. The Nietzschean warning is: Be wary of leadership models which might look and even feel nice, but which turn self-sacrifice into virtue and silence into necessity.

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