Zombie leadership: dead ideas that still walk among us

S. Alexander Haslam*, Mats Alvesson, Stephen D. Reicher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Considerable progress has been made in the field of leadership in recent years. However, we argue that this is undermined by a strong residual commitment to an older set of ideas which have been repeatedly debunked but which nevertheless resolutely refuse to die. These, we term zombie leadership. Zombie leadership lives on not because it has empirical support but because it flatters and appeals to elites, to the leadership industrial complex that supports them, and also to the anxieties of ordinary people in a world seemingly beyond their control. It is propagated in everyday discourse surrounding leadership but also by the media, popular books, consultants, HR practices, policy makers, and academics who are adept at catering to the tastes of the powerful and telling them what they like to hear. This review paper outlines eight core claims (axioms) of zombie leadership. As well as isolating the problematic metatheory which holds these ideas together, we reflect on ways in which they might finally be laid to rest.Considerable progress has been made in the field of leadership in recent years. However, we argue that this is undermined by a strong residual commitment to an older set of ideas which have been repeatedly debunked but which nevertheless resolutely refuse to die. These, we term zombie leadership. Zombie leadership lives on not because it has empirical support but because it flatters and appeals to elites, to the leadership industrial complex that supports them, and also to the anxieties of ordinary people in a world seemingly beyond their control. It is propagated in everyday discourse surrounding leadership but also by the media, popular books, consultants, HR practices, policy makers, and academics who are adept at catering to the tastes of the powerful and telling them what they like to hear. This review paper outlines eight core claims (axioms) of zombie leadership. As well as isolating the problematic metatheory which holds these ideas together, we reflect on ways in which they might finally be laid to rest.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101770
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
VolumeIn press
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Dec 2023

Keywords

  • Leadership
  • Leadership theory
  • Transformational leadership
  • Zombie leadership
  • Great man theory

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