Published by Rachel Noel on 15th September 2016

Leadership: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, edited by Brigdid Carroll, Jackie Ford and Scott Taylor. Reviewed by Tim Harle

Leadership: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, edited by Brigdid Carroll, Jackie Ford and Scott Taylor

Sage, 2015, xxvii + 298pp, ISBN 978-1-4462-9438-3, £30.99

Purchase here

Reviewed by Tim Harle

leadership-contemporary-critical-perspectivesDon’t be put off by the opening words of this book’s foreword. The author suggests you would only be reading it because it’s a set text on a leadership course. Leadership: Contemporary Critical Perspectives may look like a text book, but it is far more than that. If you want to understand the landscape of current academic approaches to leadership studies, this is a very good place to start. Brigid Carroll and her co-editors have done us a great service by bringing together authors who not only are at the forefront of leadership studies, but are remarkably adept at explaining ideas in a readable, but never trite, manner. For those who have encountered the writings of the Critical Management (CMS) school, this is a breath of fresh air indeed. This approach is exemplified by Carroll’s readable introduction to Michel Foucault’s work or Neil Sutherland’s outline of critical leadership studies (CLS).

One of the book’s great strengths is its ability to present mainstream ideas without rubbishing them, before moving on to present the contemporary critical perspective of the book’s subtitle. Scott Taylor on traits and John Cullen on contingency theory are examples. Sutherland reminds us that Critical Leadership Studies should include a positive approach, rather than spending all their time on the ‘dark side’.

The editors tell us that a unifying theme woven through the book is that of power. It’s a favourite theme of critical scholars, but it is not dominant here. Each chapter concludes with a small number of suggestions for engaging with key published work, and a suggested film to watch about an aspect of leadership.

Some of the most thoughtful current writers are represented here (don’t take my word for who these authors are – I get similar feedback from Sarum College students). Donna Ladkin refreshes tired debates about leadership and management; Amanda Sinclair and Michelle Evans write about difference; Owain Smolović-Jones and Brad Jackson illustrate the aesthetics of leadership through portrait paintings.

Modem supporters may be particularly interested in Helen Delaney and Sverre Spoelstra’s chapter, ‘Transformational Leadership: Secularized Theology?’. They note how transformational leadership theory has ‘striking similarities to religious concepts like conversion, in which a follower is transformed from a lower morality to a higher one. It also echoes the concept of redemption, in which, people, organizations, business and the world are being redeemed from corruption and made ethical’ (p69).

The multi-disciplinary approach of the editors has more of a sociological flavour than a psychological one. If there is one contemporary approach missing, it is that from the perspectives of complexity theories. I looked in vain for reference to such authors as Ralph Stacey or Mary Uhl-Bien (Uhl-Bien does feature through her earlier work on relational leadership theories).

The book comes with an accompanying website containing videos, downloadable articles and web links. Sage should be congratulated for making this openly available. Check out https://study.sagepub.com/carroll

The Chartered Management Institute has shortlisted Leadership for its book of the year award. My only regret is that it was published too late to become recommended pre-reading for this year’s Leadership MA. It certainly will be next year. Which makes that opening sentence from the foreword all the more ironic.

Tim Harle is Programme Leader for the MA in Christian Approaches to Leadership at Sarum College, and a Visiting Fellow at Bristol Business School. He is Vice-Chair of Modem.

This review is scheduled to appear in MODEM Matters Issue 31, in early 2016.

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