Business beyond politics? A-political corporate leadership in authoritarian Russia

Solovyeva, Olga and Bristow, Alexandra (2023). Business beyond politics? A-political corporate leadership in authoritarian Russia. In: Knights, David; Smolovic Jones, Owain; Liu, Helena and Wilson, Suze eds. The Routledge Critical Companion to Leadership Studies. London: Routledge (In Press).

Abstract

This chapter explores the changing approach to leadership at Yandex (often referred to as ‘the Russian Google’) in the context of increasingly authoritarian Russian state politics. We consider the transformation of the initially liberal, pro-democracy leadership ethos of the Yandex founders into a-political corporate leadership – a contradictory form of leadership that attempts to keep business beyond extra-organisational politics but in so doing itself constitutes political practice and involves political (ir)responsibilities. At Yandex it has become entwined with caring leadership, whereby the abdication of extra-organisational political responsibility is justified as a means of responding to employees’ material, social and political needs (the latter necessitating protection from the state). Identifying three interdependent strategies of a-political corporate leadership: construction of corporate sovereignty, political compromise, and focus on business growth, we discuss the ethical complexities of a-political caring leadership in authoritarian contexts and beyond. Specifically, we highlight the problematics of political compromise and responsibility in leadership practice and emphasise the importance of balancing intra- and extra-organisational corporate politics and ethics, and considerations of care and justice.

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