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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

A Critical Analysis of Leadership: How Fundamentalist Tendencies Can Be Overcome

Transformational leadership and the strong cultures that they aspire to lead are heralded by many as an answer to the challenge of how to create dynamic and committed company cultures across the diverse boundaries which exist in the contemporary workplace. The aim of the Transformational leader is to engineer organisational cultures (Kunda 1992) in an attempt to align employees' values behind a leadership vision, creating an energised collective actor with the ultimate goal of increasing output. Organisations, successfully led in this way, create a self-regulating solidarity which can be both inspiring and dynamic but can also lead to the formation of homogenising mono-cultures in which critical or creative thinking is evacuated, resulting in 'designer employees' (Casey 1995). This research finds that the leadership and the cultures created by the Transformational leader closely resemble the successful Christian Religious Fundamentalist leadership and cultures within the USA. The thesis critiques the rampant leaderism', which fills management bookshelves, hyping a reductionist message which attempts to explain Transformational and other leaders through competency frameworks and the like. It also challenges the polemic opposing view, which diminishes any form of leadership with agency, in favour of a romanticised view of dispersed, collaborative and'post-heroic' leadership styles. In recognition of the multi-faceted nature of leadership, the author takes a critical theory approach and applies a broad range of theory from diverse disciplines to gain a greater understanding of its complexity. After a critical leadership literature review the thesis turns to Religious Fundamentalism as a new resource to help account for the committed aligned and totalising organisational cultures established by the Transformational leader. The thesis then draws upon marginalised psychoanalytic theory to help explain how organisational cultures are formed and how leaders influence these cultures. Going beyond diagnosis and critique of the challenges, the thesis develops a psychoanalytically informed framework, which aims to provide leaders with a heuristic tool to improve performance. This new framework is then tested and applied to a longitudinal case study of the Quaker organisation, which survived over three centuries with an unusual organisational form. The results have implications for contemporary leaders and organisations. The contents of this thesis can be found in the book: Leadership, A Critical Text by Simon Western 2008 - SAGE Publications Ltd.